About Us

About Section 1

Education for Heroic Citizenship! 

Towards a curriculum for the liberal democratic citizen.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Charles Dickens, David Copperfield 

“Let me exhort and conjure you, never to suffer an invasion of your political constitution, however minute the instance may appear, to pass by, without a determined, persevering resistance.”  Junius

Safeguarding our democracy is the responsibility of each one of us, not “someone else’s job”!

“Citizenship is then a grateful responsibility. It is not the sort of share in the ownership of the country; it is a gift that we receive in the sharing of it.” Mary Jo Leddy, Why Are We Here?

Section 1 is dedicated to helping us recognize, combat and reverse democratic backsliding wherever and however it is occuring in our society, and to promote the core values – the “fundamentals” – of a liberal constitutional democracy or, as Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms calls it, a truly “free and democratic society”.

We operate as think-tank, convening conferences and commissioning research and writing, as educators, focusing on the essential content of an education for liberal democratic citizenship, and as public interest advocates for the cause of a liberal democratic civic culture.

We are a nonpartisan organization promoting the values of a society in which each citizen is armed with both an intellectual understanding of the core values of liberal constitutionalism and a civic immune system conditioned to viscerally recognize and react to the ubiquitous and unrelenting threats to the values and practices that define a “free and democratic society”.

As liberal democrats, we assume our responsibility to become the heroes of our shared civic life.

Section 1 is a Registered Charity under the Income Tax Act (Canada) and a corporation under the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act – CBN: 736845017RR0001.

Why Section 1

Liberal Democracy: A Curriculum for Citizenship

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

When President Barack Obama addressed Canadian Parliamentarians in the House of Commons in June of 2016, he famously said that “the world needs more Canada”. He was referring broadly to Canada’s contribution to liberal democratic values and institutions and to internationalism in world affairs. Those values are the very essence of Canada’s constitutionally enshrined commitment to promoting and preserving an exalted kind of democratic society: one in which the will of the people is both necessarily informed and constrained by the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens, and which rights and freedoms must occasionally be qualified and restricted in the cause of greater freedom and democracy for all.  

Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a most glorious bit of constitutional prose, stands out as a beacon of democracy in its most eminent expression, and is where that constitutionally enshrined commitment is most elegantly articulated. It is through Section 1 that we acknowledge our government’s power over the scope of our liberties, but only in circumstances in which that power is legitimately exercised, that is, only when the imposition of a limitation on rights and freedoms in a particular instance is justifiable in the greater cause of safeguarding and promoting freedom and democracy in society.

In a sense, the Canada of which the “world needs more” is a society informed and regulated by the values expressed in Section 1 of the Charter.

We are living in a dark age. We are witnessing, throughout the Western world, an unmistakable retreat from the allegiance to the liberal democratic principles that saw political theorists prematurely proclaim the triumph of liberal democracy and the arrival of a post-ideological universe.  We are living in a time in which citizens are unable to engage with each other across party lines and outside of ideologically entrenched standpoints.  It is a time of polarized politics and society. It is an age in which reason, science and the pursuit of truth are no longer universally prized ends. Nor are they accepted as reliable means to the attainment of our highest goals and the performance of our most important collective undertakings.

The cardinal values of liberal democracy are under attack and are being eroded and, indeed, repudiated outright in some quarters. They are: pluralism, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association, mobility rights of free persons, legal rights.  These values, which find institutional expression in our laws, in our government agencies, and in our political and civic practices are all very much at risk and in need of rescuing and rehabilitating.

The democratic character of “democracies” throughout the world is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  It is commonplace to find elected leaders and popular governments dispensing with the niceties of judicial independence, jurisdictional limitations on executive authority, the accountability functions of the fourth estate (a free press), opposition and minority representation, independent oversight and regulatory agencies.  The demonization, vilification and ultimate delegitimization by autocratic leaders of their perceived political opponents and adversaries, indeed, of all who simply disagree, has become the dominant mode of discourse in many quarters. And that, compounded by our inescapable natural inclination as a species to divide along ideological and religious lines6, and facilitated by the modern technology of social and political communication, has produced a level of toxicity in our political discourse and gridlock in our legislatures that puts into question our long-term prospects for self-government and renders us especially vulnerable to seduction and domination by populists, demagogues and other wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Democracy, which, from Plato to J.S. Mill, assumed an informed citizenry (of one sort or another), had been predicated on the universal commitment to freedom of inquiry, to the pursuit of truth, to reason, to criticism and refutation, to science and, ultimately, to the growth of knowledge. That was the philosophical backdrop against which we could comfortably rely on a true “marketplace of ideas” to generate credible as well as virtuous, political visions and policy options.

But the marketplace of ideas is not functioning as it was intended to do. In a sense, it is on life support. Instead of a marketplace of ideas, we live in a world of “info-wars”!  Propaganda and the appeal of populist demagogues to our basest instincts, our greatest fears and our ugliest prejudices appears to be gaining traction in the public squares – physical and virtual – everywhere and crowding out, indeed, drowning out, rational, fact-based, evidence-based reflection, deliberation and discourse.

Social media, by its very nature and structure, has fragmented the “public square”, cultivating a universe of self-affirming, metastasizing echo chambers.

And hate is on the rise everywhere.  Europe appears, once again, to be a bastion of extreme nationalism, xenophobia, antisemitism, islamophobia and racism the likes of which it has not seen overtly since the 1920s and 30s. And North America is not free from these scourges either.

We seem incapable of joining issue with one another and, therefore, of unifying and healing our inflamed, ailing polity.

What seems clear is that we have lost the capacity for any sort of political communion, any engagement with one another across ideological and party lines, across differing belief systems, across competing values on vital questions concerning our societal arrangements.  We have lost the capacity to speak and listen to each other, to deliberate together. We have even lost the capacity to disagree and argue with one another. We are, instead, entrenched in an inescapable, intractable Babelesque war of all against all.

We need to return, collectively, to first principles in order to identify the core values and civic allegiances that have, in fact, united citizens and communities for generations . . . those values and allegiances that serve as foundation-stones for the political framework in which institutions were established and laws were passed and in which we have always aspired to regulate our own affairs within a governing system and culture that we call “democracy”.  We need to endeavor to identify ground that is hallowed because it is foundational and both pre and post-ideological, transcending partisan interests and policy disagreements altogether.

When we re-engage with each other as citizens on this hallowed ground of allegiance to common foundational principles, we are reminded of our shared nature and inescapably shared fate as members of a particular community, as citizens of a particular society, indeed, as members of a singular species that occupies and depends upon the continued viability and health of a single planet.  Such a communion, such a common engagement, such a mutual recognition of interest and allegiance would be nothing if not therapeutic on a grand scale.

Thus, we propose to remind ourselves that a healthy, viable, brilliant democratic culture is one that requires continuous reinforcement of truly democratic and just practices.  In a phrase, such a culture is what we refer to as a “liberal democracy”.

“SECTION 1″ endeavors to serve as an intellectual bulwark and moral force-field against the rising regressive, anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-civil liberties, politics of illiberalism as it is being manifested throughout Western societies.  By endeavoring to revisit the underpinnings of a “just society”, free from consideration of where any of us may be situated on the ideological axis or political spectrum or where we may stand on particular policy questions or on the sorts of societal arrangements that we think best for our discrete communities, SECTION 1 aspires to engage citizens everywhere –  citizens in communities and countries around the world – in conversations aimed at identifying and embracing the indispensable, indeed, unassailable, conditions for a sustainable, peaceful, cooperative pluralism, premised on respect for the equal moral personality of all members of society.

But more than that, SECTION 1 is about learning how to speak and cooperate with each other as fellow citizens and neighbors.  Mindful as we must be of our seemingly intractable differences and respective prejudices, we must no longer permit these to set us against each other, nor must we allow others to weaponize our differences, our prejudices, our grievances in the service of evil causes, chief among which is the substitution of authoritarian rule for free and just democracy.

Free citizens must, therefore, be “armed” to safeguard and defend their liberties and their democracies. Therefore, they must take up “arms” against the threat of demagoguery, autocracy, populist nativism, dictatorship and wannabe strongmen bearing gifts.  And with what shall they “arm” themselves? Not with guns and other lethal weapons, but with knowledge of and allegiance to the non-negotiable values of a just constitution.  The SECTION 1 “Pledge” that we invite you to consider (see Fundamentals and Pledge) as an expression of every citizen’s allegiance to the cardinal values of constitutional democracy.

Good laws and institutions cannot be counted on to fend off those who would commandeer the machinery of government for pernicious purposes.  History, old and recent, is replete with examples of authoritarian bait and switch. Democratic processes have always been the pathway for the arrival of undemocratic programs and regimes.

Good laws and institutions, while vitally crucial vehicles for the preservation of democracy and freedom, are poor proxies for free citizens vigilantly guarding and exercising their own agency.  We have seen, all too often, how political leaders and legislators are wont to acquiesce in their disregard for constitutional norms.

Better to speak of the Fundamentals for a liberal democracy as being the civic serum necessary to inoculate free citizens living in free and democratic societies against the ravages of anti-democratic populism, authoritarianism, racism, nativism, discrimination, xenophobia, corruption, self-dealing and hate promotion.

Liberal democracy is not just any old form of democracy; it has a particular logic and very exacting criteria, which are elegantly and concisely embodied in the first article of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Hence, our name: Section 1

1 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of The Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, S. 1.

2 President Barack Obama, Address to the House of Commons, June 29, 2016.

3 Peter L. Biro, “In the Name of Constitutional Democracy”, The Globe and Mail, March 16, 2005. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/peter-biro/article13449072/

4 Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), Viking

5 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, (1992), The Free Press

6 Moral Psychologist, Jonathan Haidt has investigated this extensively, most notably in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, (2012) Vintage Book



A civil society in which every citizen is imbued with a sense of civic duty to come to the defence of the fundamentals of liberal constitutional democracy.


To promote a civics education for liberal democratic citizens. Education that prepares every student for a life of “heroic citizenship”.  To undertake research and to advocate in the public interest against the forces of democratic backsliding and in service of liberal constitutional democracy.

Political leaders everywhere – including those starting out with the noblest of intentions – tend, after a time, to lose sight of the greater public interest and the most virtuous political norms when the opportunity to prefer their own narrow interests, be they personal, financial or political, presents itself.

We must never forget Lord Acton’s famous observation about the corrupting influence of power and we must understand that the responsibility to defend liberty and to promote justice in a constitutional democracy belongs to each and every citizen. An education for liberal democratic citizens is concerned principally with the cultivation and refinement of our political sensibilities so as to instill in each of us a sense of civic duty to come to the rescue of freedom and democracy when these are threatened by unaccountable government, the unchecked ambitions of aspiring demagogues, the malevolent intent of hostile foreign state and non-state actors, our own departure from democratic norms, and failure to keep our democratic institutions from falling into disrepair.

Education for Heroic Citizenship.



The Section 1 Fundamentals

As a person wishing to live in a free and democratic society, I acknowledge these fundamental principles of a constitutional democracy:

  1. Every person is born and remains free and equal.

Every person is endowed with certain inalienable rights and with equal moral personality. This means that, regardless of the actual political, economic or social circumstances of a person, and regardless of the physical or mental capacities of a person, each person has inherent dignity and moral worth and, therefore, entitlement to equal basic recognition and respect. This principle grounds the injunction against slavery in any form.

2. Every person has the right to share in society’s bounty to the extent of ensuring their welfare so long as all wealth accumulation is consistent with the greater good and benefits the least well-off members of society.

Democracy is only sustainable with a relative degree of economic equality of all citizens. Otherwise stated, democracy can tolerate a certain degree of economic inequality and wealth disparity before the allegiance of its citizens becomes excessively strained.

3. Pluralism is a cardinal value and essential organizing principle.

There are diverse ways of realizing a person’s right to determine the course of their life and their relation to culture and identity. People must be respected for what they have reason to value in their lives, except where that would entail promoting or defending the denial of another’s right of self-determination and self-actualization. Every citizen must exercise tolerance towards those of a different faith, belief, creed, gender, group or identity.  In this way, there is an overriding universality that both transcends and applies to – is included in – each person’s and each community’s discrete value system. Pluralism can only flourish in a secular state. 

4. Apostasy is not a crime.

There can be no official belief system. Independent conscience and belief, even including dissent from these very fundamentals, must be protected.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms articulates this fundamental principle in Section 2 (a), Freedom of Conscience and Religion. This grounds the principle of the secular state.

5. The pursuit of truth is THE indispensable public undertaking.

There can be no common epistemic foundation, no consensus generation, no growth of knowledge, no political accountability, and no justice, without a societal commitment to truth seeking. A free press, which speaks truth to power, a just tribunal, which relies on the integrity of its fact-finding, and science, all depend on the shared value of the pursuit of truth. Freedom of expression  is an inescapable corollary of this principle.

6. The law shall apply evenly, consistently, fairly and reasonably to each person and shall be subject to oversight by and recourse to an independent judiciary. 

This enshrines the rule of law, ensures that no person, state or non-state actor is above the law and insulates the judicial and prosecutorial branches of government from interference or arbitrary direction by the political (i.e., executive and legislative) branches of government.

7. A free people makes its own laws, selects its own leaders among a field of competitive contenders and never relinquishes the right to do so.

The general will establishes the political agenda and shapes the collective understanding of the public good, while the right to do so, including the right to select leaders and political representatives in free, fair and competitive elections, is exercised from time to time in perpetuity. A free people cannot, therefore, confer on its elected government the right to change this rule, to govern in perpetuity, to make laws that are inconsistent with or to suspend the application of these fundamentals. This also means that no office has unreviewable or absolute power and no exercise of political authority is unlimited or immune to public scrutiny.  

8. The will of the majority must never prevail if it denies or violates any of the preceding Fundamentals, subject only to 9.

Accordingly, unless a limitation  or restriction on a right or freedom is justified under 9, 7 can never be used to abridge or violate 1 to 6.  This is, in fact, a special case, if not a restatement, of the pluralism principle.  Individual and minority rights and freedoms cannot be curtailed by majority rule. This also means that the legitimacy of a law or policy is not a function of the level of popular support that it commands alone.  

9. Any limitations on the preceding Fundamentals (i.e., on 1 to 8) are permissible only to the extent that they safeguard and advance the causes of justice, freedom and democracy.

A limitation on the preceding Fundamentals is not an outright denial of such fundamentals so long as it can be justified as respecting and defending the Fundamentals themselves. This principle is embodied in the first article of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 1: “The rights and freedoms in this Charter are guaranteed and subject only to such reasonable limits as prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

10. Without the stewardship and vigilance of Heroic Citizens, just laws and strong institutions will inevitably fail to safeguard freedom and democracy. 

Every law and institution, no matter how virtuous, is capable of being misused, disregarded or undermined. It is always necessary for citizens to hold governments to account and to ensure that the fundamentals of constitutional democracy are respected and upheld.  In the absence of the insistence and vigilance of citizens, institutions and lawmakers cannot be counted upon to promote justice, uphold the constitution and provide the oversight of the exercise of executive power. Constitutional Citizens are the ultimate gatekeepers of a constitutional democracy.

The Citizen’s Pledge

As a person wishing to live in a free and democratic society, I pledge to honor and defend these fundamental principles, even if that requires me to challenge a policy or an official I would otherwise support. This is one way in which I will exemplify heroic citizenship.

Coming Soon

Bootcamp for Heroic

An intensive, multi-module “core curriculum for liberal democratic citizenship” for use by teachers, students and anyone interested in arming their civic immune system against the forces of democratic backsliding.

Get Involved 

Invite us to address your school, organization, community.  Send us questions and ideas.  Volunteer, help us manage our social media, promote our mission, raise much needed funding to support our work.

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