Sunday, May 17, 2009

Public protests in a democratic society

In a liberal democracy the right to dissent and protest by minorities is a given. It is just part of the democratic fabric we admire in our secular system.

Periodically the streets around our capital buildings get choked with farmers protesting farm policies or truckers objecting to high diesel fuel prices or over-bearing regulations. These demonstrations last a day, inconvenience other people who need to use those streets, garner some media stories and photo-ops, and then fade from memory.

With a huge immigrant population, Canada has been treated to the new phenomenon of street protests over wars and injustices in far flung parts of the globe that have little relevance to Canada geographically or politically. We seem to be paralyzed by these protests. To what extent should we tolerate them?

If you go near any Chinese government building you will regularly find Chinese protestors carrying signs and handing out literature decrying the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Falun Gong is a meditative spiritual movement that has been outlawed by the Chinese government. Its leaders and adherents have been jailed, tortured, and there is some evidence have even been killed for their organs. Yet, the streets are not blocked to bring this injustice to light and life for the other citizens goes on.

It could not be otherwise, because the practitioners of Falun Gong are essentially pacifists, so comparison with other grievance groups is not that instructive.

Closer to home is the relationship between native Indians and the larger society.

A few years ago, native Indian protestors began a campaign of public harassment to draw attention to various issues that were bugging those folks. In some instances, not only were roads and railroads blocked, but public and private property was damaged or destroyed. This culminated in an unfortunate shooting death of an Indian protestor by a policeman and a subsequent political firestorm over his death.

Then, more than two years ago, Indians moved in and occupied a tract of land near Caledonia, Ontario. That they were there illegally is beyond question. They have remained there ever since and the occupation has been accompanied by a kind of “wild west” string of violence, intimidation, and property damage. The Ontario Provincial Police has lost credibility because it is seen as an enabler of this illegal and violent activity.

A few months ago, pro-Hamas protestors marched in various cities to object to the fighting between Israel and Hamas. In Calgary they targeted a shopping mall owned by Jews (not Israelis). A few counter-protestors showed up. The police chased them away.

So, with all those examples of how our authorities deal with disruptive ethnic protests, sitting on their thumbs in the legislatures, and the police enabling the disruption, even in the in the name of support for terrorist organizations (financial support for which is a criminal offense in this country), what do the Tamils who wish to protest the 26 year civil war in Sri Lanka learn. They know that they can shut down Canada’s largest city and openly carry the banners of a terrorist organization with impunity.

It is in the nature of the militants to always try to push the envelope a little farther. The Tamils outraged the Citizens of Toronto when they took their children onto an elevated expressway which they closed down for some five hours.

You have to draw the line somewhere and it is time that our craven, vote-seeking politicians stopped being afraid of every ethnic minority with a gripe and started drafting some reasonable and balanced protest laws that allow democracy to run its course while protecting the rights of others, and making sure that the police enforce those rules. It would also be advisable to draft some rules regarding the safety of children in such protests and pinning responsibility on their parents.

We have managed to achieve a reasonable balance or rights with labour protests and strikes, so why should ethnic minorities be treated differently than we treat our labour unions?

No comments: