Want Tighter Restrictions on Protests? Progressive Politicians Should Beware What They Wish For

CommentaryPeople were aghast at the behaviour of a small group of protesters who recently surrounded NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at a Peterborough, Ontario, provincial election campaign event. The protesters were intimidating and pressing as they shouted a string of obscenities at Singh and followed him to a waiting van. Few rational people condone that kind of behaviour, and it was roundly condemned by people on all sides of the political spectrum. What is concerning though is we now have federal politicians using this incident as a reason to pursue tighter legal restrictions upon protests. This is a very dangerous road to wander down, and we could be risking the loss of essential democratic rights of assembly and expression. The invocation of the Emergencies Act by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led to the suspension of some civil rights for citizens during the truckers’ Freedom Convoy protests. That was an overreaction by the government to protests but at least it was temporary. What members of Parliament are now talking about is the creation of permanent legislative measures to stunt protests. Public protests have occasionally led to violence and heated rhetoric since the beginning of protests. It is baked into the nature of protests. Most people would rather not take time from their days to travel and gather with others at events to express themselves unless they are taking a cause or issue very seriously. To attend a protest usually means one feels they have run out of options to have their concerns addressed. Protest attendees can often feel frustrated and emotional, and this can create a recipe for disorder. Civil disobedience is a part of many protests. It usually refers to a number of people purposely disobeying government orders and laws in order to bring attention to their cause. This is usually done in the form of blocking traffic or access to buildings or ignoring things such as mandated back-to-work orders. Civil disobedience actions are usually peaceful and temporary. Civil disobedience is considered a valid tactic for protests, and authorities are usually loathe to interfere with it if they can avoid it. That gives protesters a lot more leeway in pushing legal limits when they demonstrate. If an individual sits in the middle of a road and blocks traffic, they will likely be removed and possibly charged within minutes. If a couple of dozen people do so, it becomes a form of expression and arrests may violate charter rights. It’s a complicated part of the law. As frustrating as the actions of some protesters can be to us at times, it is a price we pay to ensure the right to protest remains unfettered. We already have laws on the books to cover criminal actions during protests. Assaulting people, threatening people, and damaging property are not considered valid forms of civil disobedience. People can and should be charged for doing those things during protests. We don’t need new laws to do so. The problem is, that enforcing those laws can be tough, and it tempts authoritarian legislators to try and ban protests altogether rather than just the illegal actions within them. What the progressive politicians pushing for restrictions or bans on protests should bear in mind is that the Liberal-NDP coalition won’t be in power forever. One day, we will have a conservative government in power again, and most of the protests will be coming from left-wing activists. Do the NDP and Liberal MPs pushing for protest restrictions think a conservative government would think twice about applying those laws against left-wing protesters? We can’t pretend that belligerent protests are just the domain of right-wing protesters. Counter protestors to the anti-restriction protesters often were screaming “F*** you Nazis” among other things. At the recent March for Life demonstration at Parliament Hill, bikini-clad counter-protesters held signs saying “Abortion is a gift from God” and “Get your hands off my f***ing body.” Provocative and offensive, but should it be illegal? It could be if the Liberal-NDP brings in reactionary legislation restricting protest activities. I don’t think some of these progressive lawmakers understand that when they aren’t in power, they won’t be able to apply a double standard to protests. Their own legislative weapons could be turned against the demonstrations they support. One is only truly committed to rights if they support protecting those rights for ideological opponents. That means we will have to endure speech that is offensive and protests that are annoying. Democracy can be a messy thing, but it’s the best system we have. Before progressive politicians and their supporters bring in any legislation limiting protests, I will offer this old but still sage advice: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow

Want Tighter Restrictions on Protests? Progressive Politicians Should Beware What They Wish For

Commentary

People were aghast at the behaviour of a small group of protesters who recently surrounded NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at a Peterborough, Ontario, provincial election campaign event. The protesters were intimidating and pressing as they shouted a string of obscenities at Singh and followed him to a waiting van. Few rational people condone that kind of behaviour, and it was roundly condemned by people on all sides of the political spectrum.

What is concerning though is we now have federal politicians using this incident as a reason to pursue tighter legal restrictions upon protests. This is a very dangerous road to wander down, and we could be risking the loss of essential democratic rights of assembly and expression.

The invocation of the Emergencies Act by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led to the suspension of some civil rights for citizens during the truckers’ Freedom Convoy protests. That was an overreaction by the government to protests but at least it was temporary. What members of Parliament are now talking about is the creation of permanent legislative measures to stunt protests.

Public protests have occasionally led to violence and heated rhetoric since the beginning of protests. It is baked into the nature of protests. Most people would rather not take time from their days to travel and gather with others at events to express themselves unless they are taking a cause or issue very seriously. To attend a protest usually means one feels they have run out of options to have their concerns addressed. Protest attendees can often feel frustrated and emotional, and this can create a recipe for disorder.

Civil disobedience is a part of many protests. It usually refers to a number of people purposely disobeying government orders and laws in order to bring attention to their cause. This is usually done in the form of blocking traffic or access to buildings or ignoring things such as mandated back-to-work orders. Civil disobedience actions are usually peaceful and temporary. Civil disobedience is considered a valid tactic for protests, and authorities are usually loathe to interfere with it if they can avoid it.

That gives protesters a lot more leeway in pushing legal limits when they demonstrate. If an individual sits in the middle of a road and blocks traffic, they will likely be removed and possibly charged within minutes. If a couple of dozen people do so, it becomes a form of expression and arrests may violate charter rights. It’s a complicated part of the law. As frustrating as the actions of some protesters can be to us at times, it is a price we pay to ensure the right to protest remains unfettered.

We already have laws on the books to cover criminal actions during protests. Assaulting people, threatening people, and damaging property are not considered valid forms of civil disobedience. People can and should be charged for doing those things during protests. We don’t need new laws to do so. The problem is, that enforcing those laws can be tough, and it tempts authoritarian legislators to try and ban protests altogether rather than just the illegal actions within them.

What the progressive politicians pushing for restrictions or bans on protests should bear in mind is that the Liberal-NDP coalition won’t be in power forever.

One day, we will have a conservative government in power again, and most of the protests will be coming from left-wing activists. Do the NDP and Liberal MPs pushing for protest restrictions think a conservative government would think twice about applying those laws against left-wing protesters?

We can’t pretend that belligerent protests are just the domain of right-wing protesters. Counter protestors to the anti-restriction protesters often were screaming “F*** you Nazis” among other things. At the recent March for Life demonstration at Parliament Hill, bikini-clad counter-protesters held signs saying “Abortion is a gift from God” and “Get your hands off my f***ing body.” Provocative and offensive, but should it be illegal? It could be if the Liberal-NDP brings in reactionary legislation restricting protest activities.

I don’t think some of these progressive lawmakers understand that when they aren’t in power, they won’t be able to apply a double standard to protests. Their own legislative weapons could be turned against the demonstrations they support.

One is only truly committed to rights if they support protecting those rights for ideological opponents. That means we will have to endure speech that is offensive and protests that are annoying. Democracy can be a messy thing, but it’s the best system we have.

Before progressive politicians and their supporters bring in any legislation limiting protests, I will offer this old but still sage advice:

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Cory Morgan is a columnist based in Calgary.