"Teachable Moments" And The Charter Of Rights And Freedoms

We have all experienced "teachable moments" over the course of our lives either through a structured educative environment like a classroom or informally in a social context. By its very nature such a "moment" arises unexpectedly and it is a mark of a good educator or critical thinker who can make what is merely serendipitous into a meaningful enrichment of ideas.

In the social context, a "teachable moment" turns what may be an embarrassing or inappropriate moment into a life lesson. Usually this is accomplished by a person sharing another side to the "moment," adding another dimension to the situation. Like an "aha" moment, the seemingly innocuous interaction becomes clearly relevant.

Such was the case when a Calgary man went to have a seasonal flu shot at a local Co-op pharmacy. When the man disclosed he was HIV positive, the pharmacist turned the man away on the basis the pharmacy was "not set up for this." Subsequently it was revealed there was no reason not to give the man his shot and he should not have been turned away. The incident left the man feeling "dirty, embarrassed, and humiliated." According to AIDS Calgary, an outreach AIDS awareness program, the situation was an unfortunate example of the stigma attached to the disease and the misinformation, even among some health care professionals, of the true nature of the condition. The resultant stereotyping was a clear example of discrimination.

But this is where the "teachable moment" arrives. As a result of this unacceptable exchange, Co-op informed themselves of the true state of facts and their pharmacists learned a life lesson on how to treat people, no matter their condition, with dignity and respect. December 1 was World AIDS Day and therefore this "teachable moment" needs to be recounted and remembered. 

We should also remember that the outcome of this moment was made possible by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a legal incarnation of "teachable moments" whereby our fundamental values as a society are codified and given life through the rule of law. These fundamental values permeate the Charter and provide context or even the "aha" moment which makes a situation that much clearer.

Thus, case law imports meaning to equality and turns discrimination, like the incident at Co-op, into a precedent for what not to do. In future blogs, I will share some cases which speak of these values and discuss how Charter values provide us with "teachable moments."