Public Law 

Section 1

Lesson 5: Rights and Responsibilities

Moira had looked forward to getting her driver's license for years. When she finally got it, she decided to celebrate. She drove a few friends out to a spot they knew in the country, where they had a few beers.

Then, the group piled into the truck and went cruising along some back roads, far exceeding safe driving speeds for the type of terrain. Finally, coming up over the crest of a hill and driving in the middle of the road, Moira smashed head-on into a grain truck going the other way. Moira was thrown clear of the collision, but two of her friends were killed.

You likely have heard many stories like this. The media is full of such accounts as part of an attempt to get people to drive more safely. The unfortunate fact is, though, that such incidents are all too common and they underline an important issue- the relationship of rights and responsibilities . Moira was given the right to drive a motor vehicle on the understanding that she would do so responsibly. When she failed to live up to that responsibility , there was a heavy price to be paid.

Rights and responsibilities (obligations)always go hand in hand. It is society that gives a right to an individual, and that individual then owes society the responsibility of exercising that right in a careful manner that will not interfere with the rights of others.

Many issues confronting Canadians today concern the balancing of rights against responsibilities. Following are examples of such issues: 

  • the right to own firearms versus the responsibility to use and store them safely and to have them registered;
  • freedom of speech versus the responsibility not to encourage violence and abuse toward others;
  • the right of doctors to assist terminally ill patients in great pain to end their suffering versus the doctors' responsibility to save lives;
  • the right of athletes to participate in athletic competitions and to strive to their utmost to win versus their responsibility not to use banned drugs (and to supply blood or urine samples to be tested).


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