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July 7, 2014
Richard Handler

This week’s episode, Exposed: Corruption, was compelling especially the last segment with the interview of the refugee family who still cannot be named.

The episode left me asking all sorts of questions—which was the intention.  What would you do about corruption if you uncovered it at your workplace?

The refugee couple are from an unnamed country.  They were well educated professionals (the man has a PhD in psychology, his wife is an engineer).  They ran a business for children with learning disabilities and had 13 offices and 72 employees.  When they discovered some employees stealing from the business, they went to the police.

The police refused to open an investigation unless bribes were paid.  The couple and their family were harassed and threatened. Their daughter was nearly kidnapped.  Still, the police refused to offer protection. 

So, eventually under threats, their business collapsing, four years ago they fled to Canada.  They are good, church- going Christians.  They place their faith in God.  From the brief snapshot we saw on Context, they seem like faithful and sincere people.

But I must admit I am perplexed.  Maybe I don’t have enough information about the story.  Maybe I am more inclined to be more practical and less idealistic.  As your “Stubborn Agnostic,” perhaps I see things in a “morally relative” manner. 

We’re told the family refused to pay bribes because they would not be party to corrupt practices.  They felt they paid their taxes.  So why shouldn’t they be entitled to police services?

But surely it was well known that in a developing county, bribery were as much the rule as the exception.  No doubt the police were corrupt (and badly paid, corruption being another avenue of compensation).  In many developing (and dare I say, more developed locales) corruption is a standard, if tawdry, practice.    

So let me ask this difficult question: if you ran a business, with many offices and employees, and you were providing a needed service, would you refuse to offer the police the additional “incentive” for them to do their  “job”?

Draw a line down a sheet of paper with a positive and negative column.  On the plus side, paying protection saves your flourishing business.  It protects your family.  It offers well paid work to your employees.  And it extends help to children with learning disabilities and their families, all in a country where social services are difficult to obtain.  

On the negative side, list the rank stink of corruption.  The anger at being bullied.  The unfairness of having to bend to unsavory people.  And as a person of faith, the knowledge that corruption is aiding and abetting sin.

You should live your life to a higher standard.

How would you decide?  Your faith, your conscience is to be cherished, yes.  But there will be a cost.  Must you flee your country with $40 in your pocket, after living a comfortable, useful middle class existence?  This is a difficult calculus.  Even if you believe an invisible God is your ultimate protector.

Once years ago, I resigned from an organization over a matter of conscience.  People came to me in amazement.  They thought I was courageous.  I couldn’t believe it.

No one threatened me.  I could afford my decision: I was young, had no mortgage and my wife and I wouldn’t starve.  

No, my courage didn’t cost me a thing.  I thought: if I couldn’t do this, under the best of circumstances, when could I? 

Just think: The refugee family’s plight was a million times more difficult.  How many “good” people would come to their decision?

Context is a program that celebrates the life of faith and the strength it provides to people.  But even a faithful, well meaning believer might arrive at another decision--- and “compromise” with injustice in order to keep doing the good your doing. 

That’s the knot at the heart of the question.

Richard Handler - the Stubborn Agnostic - is a former CBC Radio Producer and former producer for CBC's Ideas. He lives in Toronto.



Justice is a costly pursuit, but when your eyes are fixed on the reality that this world is not as good as it gets, and we are here to create some heaven on earth, (realizing corruption in government levels keep millions in poverty) - that idealism against corruption comes from that divine justice view. Update -- this couple featured just received their status to stay in Canada - our immigration system worked for justice, but that too was hard fought for.
July 13, 2014 | Lorna Dueck

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