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EDITORIAL – Confrontation raises questions about freedom of speech

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.

mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca

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About Mel Rothenburger (4815 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Confrontation raises questions about freedom of speech

  1. You can bet if this had been the other way around and anyone had tried to censure the indigenous people there would have been a massive outcry about that. If we are going to allow free speech, it cannot just go one way.

  2. Marching them out of the Forces is a bad idea for many reasons. A sit down between the two groups is the best way to go about making g peace AND maybe a fine and extra duty for the military guys. When you hit the pocket book people have a tendency to listen.

  3. Ken McClelland // July 6, 2017 at 8:47 AM // Reply

    Won’t happen. Racism/sexism and all of the negativity and connotations that go along with it is viewed as the sole domain of white males, especially older white males. This is drummed into us on a daily basis by mainstream media and many other liberal elites. A recent “No Whites on Campus” day in neighboring Washington state barely made the news. Is this not also racism? Apparently not, as it seems to be okay to direct hatred at whites, and apparently does not meet the definition of racism. The “R” word is trotted out regularly if there is a disagreement where whites are involved, but seldom, if ever, at other times. When logical argument and debate fails, play the race card. Revenge or payback racism as practiced by some ethnic groups is not justified by so-called white privilege. It is still racism, and it is wrong. You make a good point regarding the right of counter-protest. I’m fine with peaceful protest, but the same rules need to apply to all. One group’s protest should not necessarily be viewed as more or less virtuous than another’s based on ethnic origin. “Racism – prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

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