Written by: Michael Kravshik.
Freedom of expression is the most important of all our rights. While introducing my concept of Westernism, I stated the following, “Every right that citizens of a modern democracy enjoy is dependent on maintaining free speech.Free speech allows the public to ask and, if necessary, fight for what they want from their governments. Free speech is a necessary requirement for governments to remain truly accountable to the desires of the population.” This quote should make clear my stance on the necessity of protests as an important part of the democratic process. I don’t think this is much contested but where practical people tend to disagree is in the details. What is reasonable to allow and for how long? How should the police respond? And when the police do something that’s over the line, how should we respond in turn? These issues are not cut and dry and require some serious discussion and contemplation.
Some issues however, are very cut and dry. This is quite obviously the case when it comes to death threats. Last Thursday (June 7), F1 racer Jacques Villeneuve was asked a question and gave a quick comment on his opinion of the Quebec student protests currently going on. Mr. Villeneuve’s opinion is quite the opposite of those chanting in the protests (you can read some of his comments and the situation surrounding them here), which has apparently made him few friends in that circle. Now I didn’t expect Mr. Villeneuve to receive a gift basket from the student movement. However, what did come was a disgraceful, unconscionable, and entirely un-shocking (unfortunately) example of extreme politics, which should not be condoned. Mr. Villeneuve has received death threats.
I don’t care which side of the debate you side with, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. I disagree with many people, but violence or the threat of it, is not an acceptable form of disagreement in a democratic society. I don’t think I’ll find too many objectors to that comment either, but I wanted to point this situation out because I think it’s unfortunately illustrative of the extremity that political fervor can be taken to. Polarization is never useful to dialogue or for making improvements to the system. Given their die-hard (pun very much intended) support for this cause, whoever left those messages have, in all likeliness, been on the streets protesting. Quite ironically, this person or group of people, unequivocally do not actually believe in free speech. If the protesters are allowed to protest, why can’t people protest the protest? If someone wants to protest the protesting of the protest, that’s ok too (I’ll stop there, you get the point). What isn’t ok is the threat of physical violence. It’s undemocratic, it’s immoral, it’s un-Canadian, and it goes against every core facet of Western values.
If this attitude was isolated to a single event it would be less worrisome, but over the past few years we have experienced a slew of extremely violent situations at protests. From the G20, to occupy, and now with Quebec students, there is an unsettling trend of protesters unmistakably crossing the line. Now I know that the people perpetrating these undemocratic acts are not representative of the entire protest, but that’s why I just can’t understand why there isn’t loud condemnation of it every time it occurs. I would have expected the leaders of these activist groups to denounce such actions as loudly as possible, if only because it is antithetical to their cause. Some are doing so, I assume, but clearly not loud or often enough since the only “brutality” I commonly hear protested is that of the police trying to manage these difficult situations. I challenge all protest and activist groups to not only stand up for their own freedom of speech, but to stand up for freedom of speech in general. When physical violence or death threats occur, I would certainly feel much better supporting any group that vocally spoke out against it. Whether its throwing rocks through windows, throwing Molotov Cocktails at police cars, or intimidating people to keep their mouth shut, its about time the people of democracy stand up and say enough.
This isn’t partisan, this isn’t politics, its just defending democracy and free speech. This time it’s about tuition fee’s, last time it was about the divide between rich and poor (kind of), and before that it was about…well who knows… anti-capitalism or something. Truth is, it doesn’t matter. Whatever immediate issue people are riled up about could never be more important than free speech and non-violent democratic process. Remember this phrase, “I may not like what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it”. I don’t remember it being, “I may not like what you say, so I will end your life (or perhaps just destroy someone’s property) to deny it.” I hope that isn’t what our children will be saying, learning from our example.
I believe that violence at any protest should immediately begin to discredit the protest itself. Perhaps the people genuinely concerned with whatever issue is being protested will then work with the police, not against them, to ensure these violent/intimidating actions do not occur. At the same time, if this attitude were truly homogenous within the activists themselves, it would influence against such practices as death threats from fringe elements.
So everybody, please support Mr. Villeneuve, not his opinion, but his right to say it without fear of bodily harm.
This is my opinion. What’s yours?