An Armchair Mayor editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IN WEDNESDAY’S editorial, I referred to the interruption of a Canada Day protest in Halifax by five men identifying themselves as members of the Proud Boys organization as “dumbass.”
I haven’t changed my mind on that, because the incident did nothing to further engagement on important Indigenous issues and maybe even inflamed the situation.
Upon reflection, though, I’m of the opinion that some of the official reaction to what happened at that protest is a bit over the top.
Before I wrote the editorial, I viewed several videos of the incident. I’ve viewed them again. What strikes me is the low-key manner in which the five men approached the event and debated with participants.
If anything, it was the participants who got hot under the collar, while the Proud Boys kept their cool and calmly argued their point. At times, it seemed like it was all about dueling flags — the Red Ensign vs. an upside-down Maple Leaf.
Make no mistake about it: glorifying the good old days when Canada was a colony of the empire, arguing with First Nations protesters on the question of unceded territory, and asking provocative questions about whether they have healthcare cards and so on, is not the way to have a productive discussion. Most of us would likely disagree with the very basis of their ideas about Canada.
But freedom of expression, even when objectionable, is fundamental to democracy. In this case, both sides avoided physical confrontation and it ended within 10 minutes. As disruptions go, it was pretty minor. If one group has the right to stage a protest, doesn’t another group have the right to stage a counter-protest?
Yet the response has been overwhelmingly on the side of the Indigenous protesters, who were making a point about colonialization. The five men at the center of it all — who are members of the armed forces — have been removed from duty and training while an investigation into their conduct takes place. Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defense staff, has called their actions “deplorable” and says their future in the military is in doubt.
Maritime Forces Atlantic Commander Rear Admiral John Newton said the men “crossed a line.”
Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan quickly issued a public apology for the men’s behavior.
It was even suggested that a police investigation might be in the cards.
There’s no question the Halifax Five were disrespectful to the Indigenous protesters, and they certainly received no respect in return. They deserve criticism, but being drummed out of the armed forces for the brief encounter at the Canada Day protest seems extreme.
A much more appropriate response would be to get both sides together for a mediated group session to look for some mutual understanding and maybe a little healing.