When the law is used to promote or shield specific causes and interests, people only obey the law when it is convenient to do so.
I'm a left voter who remembers the unequal application of the law during the 1960/70ss against civil rights, gay rights, women's rights and anti-war protesters: The rule of law requires consistency or it's just a political football used to bully our opponents.
If we deplore the convoy for holding transportation infrastructure hostage, we should equally deplore the rail blockade that took transportation infrastructure hostage (for far longer).
If we deplore the idea of negotiating with convoy hostage takers, we should equally deplore the negotiations with rail infrastructure hostage takers who had defied multiple injunctions. (We should, in addition, deplore that those negotiations shut out all leaders of the elected band councils who had played by the rules, which sent the terrible message you effect change by breaking the law. Note, too, that the agreement was kept secret, when those of us on the left demand transparency on other occasions.)
If we deplore foreign funding of the convoy, we should equally deplore the foreign funding of the rail blockaders.
(We should also remember that protesters never represent everyone they claim to. The convoy doesn't represent all truckers. The rail blockaders didn't represent *any* of the elected band councils or the female hereditary chiefs in the disputed area.)
Reminds me of a metaphor David French used to describe the toxic nature of partisan politics/life which is getting dialed up to 11 these days.
"Since my political divorce, however, I’ve been able to see more clearly the nature of partisanship itself, including the way in which it distorts our view of the world. To use a legal analogy, at a fundamental level, partisanship converts a person from a judge (one who decides among competing arguments, hopefully without bias) to a lawyer (one who steadfastly and relentlessly defends their client, almost regardless of the facts).
The partisan is prone to act like a lawyer, and the party is their client. He or she picks a side, and then—convinced that the common good or social justice is ultimately served by their triumph—behaves exactly how lawyers behave. Are there facts that make your “client” (Democrats or Republicans) look good? Emphasize those facts. Do negative developments harm your case? Find a way to change the focus.
The operative rule of partisanship is that once any issue becomes partisan, the lawyer model locks in. The two sides double down on their positions, amplify supporting facts, and deny, minimize, or rationalize negative information.
Respect for the rule of law? The poor are given no choice; it's the rich (HSBC, SNC Lavalin, Boris Johnson) that flout it with impunity. Or the rich just set up laws that apply only to others, "The Law, in its majesty, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges."
The article is attempting something that's a constant in right-wing journalism: spark up arguments between culturally-left working class people and culturally-right working-class people over which is treated worse by police, regulators, corporations. The real conflict is between the entire economic class and the ones above it.
The real flouters of rule-of-law are Boris Johnson and his parties. Demonstrations are actually the ONLY time that any working class can break the law and get away with it.
Excellent column. Lays out the bleeding obvious.
Good article. Sad state of affairs in this country when politicians undermine the law and police are afraid to enforce it.
One of the most debated social issues in Canada is equality. The fundamental notions of equality is the impartial application of the law. We, as a society, can only remain such where this equality is recognized, respected and and maintained by our institutions. When subsections of our society disagree with laws or feel that they are not being treated impartially under the law, they can exercise their lawful right to protest, but not to break, the law.
Protestors do not have the right to break any law as apart of their right of assembly other than where sheer numbers cannot convene temporarily without doing so.
Nor can protests inflict harm on anyone - other than temporary inconvenience.
Once a protest becomes more than a temporary display of preference that leads to more than temporary inconvenience to those subject to its effects, where laws are broken continuously and with escalating collateral damage impact on those not party to the objectives of the protest, it is time for the law to be enforced.
The possibility of violence always exists where those protesting the law think that enforcing the law is simply evidence that it is being applied partially against them.
At the stage where the protest has been made and temporary exclusions made for assembly are no longer appropriate, it is time for the protestors to turn to the orthodox avenues available to them and stand down from public dissent.
Some may feel it is appropriate to confront those charged with disbursing protests that seek to morph into long term opposition institutions embedded in the public realm.
It is not.
The government and law enforcement agencies must act to ensure that protest does not result in the occupation of public or private spaces for indeterminate periods.
Protestors who become lawbreakers must be dealt with - no matter what the political price.
There has been an unfortunate departure from this reality over the past decade and unfortunate precedents have been set - primarily by government - that have resulted in the legitimate conclusion that some protestors and protests are not subject to equal treatment in the application of the law.
It is better now to take measures to return to impartiality and to understand that any future deviations or exceptions will result in similar if not worse situations arsing.
Given the performance of the current government, that may be a very tall order to fulfill.
When people talk about the rule of law without mentioning the way that governments at all levels have shredded the law for two long years, when the connivance of supine judges, I just roll my eyes. The first principle of the rule of law is that governments are bound by law. Equal application to all citizens, while important, is secondary.
The convoy blockades would have never happened if the BLM protests and church burnings weren't excused by the political elites on the left.
Now that Ontario has attempted to seize all the money donated to the peacefully protesting truckers (for a second time), I think we all ought to agree that the rule of law in Canada is a thing of the past. This is now a pure power struggle to see who will break first.
The truckers refuse to back down because they think that expelling 15% of Canadians from society as a permanent underclass is wrong, and they know they are heroes for standing against that.
Why our rulers think shredding the rule of law is better than backing down and just ending the mandates, I don't know. What else would they prefer to backing down? I am a bit afraid to find out. But I suspect we will.
Well, after Ontario's move to seize the funds donated to the truckers by countless Canadians, I think we can all agree that the rule of law is dead in Canada. Governments can simply steal the money of any organization that disagrees with them.
Is all this really better than just lifting the mandates? Why?
I like the article, but there's a deeper conversation that's wanting the author to have it, and more fundamental answers to his "Why not?" question. Logic isn't everything but it's basic, and whatever the merits or demerits of the positions we take on issues, they must at a bare minimum be logically consistent if we're to avoid "contradiction." Arbitrary law enforcement fails this simple test, as it similarly fails the test of ethics. No ethical system or theory permits turning a population, or part of it, into pawns to be manipulated and sacrificed on the altar of one's own interests, political or otherwise. People are 'ends in themselves,' as Kant put it, not 'means' we're at liberty to subordinate to our purposes.
A leader who discriminates between different groups of protesters solely on ideological grounds behaves both incoherently (because illogically), and unfairly (unethically). It is transparently incoherent and unfair to bring to bear on protesting truckers the same laws that one has set aside in order to pow wow with protesting aboriginals, for example; and it is hypocritical to pretend one is appealing to "the law," or protecting "democracy" while so discriminating. The Ottawa protesters aren't protesting democracy or the rule of law but specific government policies, which they claim are unfair and contrary to the democratic spirit. Far from seeking to "overthrow the government," they hope to awaken government to its democratic and freedom-safeguarding responsibilities.
It's legitimate to question the protesters methods, of course; but mischaracterizing their plainly stated aims, as our Prime Minister and a compliant, evidently ideologically captured media have done, is something else altogether. The institutions claiming to represent us, that one would have hoped to see setting benchmark examples of tolerance, fair-mindedness and openness to rational dialogue, aren't exactly emerging from this impasse covered with glory. The Prime Minister's sole concern seems to be discrediting a fairly sizable chunk of the population while evading any responsibility for "disruption:" it's the protesters who are at fault, not his policies. This is the same strategy management has always used to break strikes: it's the strikers who are hurting you, not our administrative failures or approach to labour relations. Would that the same energy the PM is currently devoting to demonization were directed to critical reappraisals of his policies and approach to governing.
I wanted to go on to address our equivocal relationship with law, which has been fraught for millennia (it is really necessary to cut the baby in half in order to satisfy the law; is this the route to justice?), but I'd better stop here.
Brian, I enjoyed and pretty much agreed with all aspects of your column.
Now, having said that .....
Civil disobedience is a (somewhat) valued and (again, somewhat) valued aspect in our society. To refer to American examples, the Alabama bus sit ins, Martin Luther King led demos, etc. civil disobedience has a history. Even in Canada there have been useful examples of civil disobedience.
Now, for my qualifier, a very important qualifier, in my opinion.
The rule of law is absolutely essential and the impartiality of authorities is also absolutely essential. It is important that the authorities are flexible in interpreting rules and laws but they cannot be so flexible as to bend over backwards. At some point the authorities must enforce the particular rules and laws.
Carrying that point further, however, when someone voluntarily undertakes an act of civil disobedience they knowingly choose to violate rules / laws and they, therefore, accept the possibility, even likelihood, of prescribed consequences.
[Now, a point of personal clarification. I support much of what the various convoys, etc. have published / publicly stated as their goals. Oh, not the looney tunes stuff about overthrow, etc., etc. but the need for dialogue with governments that refuse to consider alternatives is a very important point for me.]
So, in my opinion, the current civil disobedience is an honorable thing that these folks have chosen and, it follows, that being (I presume - really, I do, folks) honorable themselves, these protesters should accept legal consequences of their actions. In other words, (unfortunately!) the authorities will have to do what the authorities have to do. But civilly, please! The protesters can seek compensation from their supporters, as is their right. They might or might not come out whole, but the world must go on.
Oh, that last point, "the world must go on" why, or why, can those calling for dramatic consequences against the protesters not understand that the world must go on? We really do need to get dialogue and reduction of all these stupid Covid tules.
A good article and I don't disagree with anything written in it. However he has overlooked the effect of activist judges and their interpretation of the law. Think of the "free the beer" case and the mental gymnastics that went into actually upholding interprovincial trade barriers. That kind of thing truly erodes respect for the law.
This is the second article promoting "the rule of law" in The Line over the last several days. To think that unjust government actions will not be met by civil disobedience is naïve. And the level of disobedience will generally meet the level of government entrenchment on the issue. It has always been that way. Just ask Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. Ask the anti-Vietnam war protesters, or environmentalists trying change forest policy, or First Nations trying to change a century of unjust treatment. These are greatly aggrieved people, and you cannot rationally expect them to be "polite". Same with the truckers. Government forcibly removed their ability to earn a living for themselves and their families, and tries to force a dubious medical procedure on them to boot. They feel their rights as citizens are being threatened, and how can you disagree with them? They have been forced to resort to civil disobedience, in the time-honored tradition of the oppressed, to persuade a blinded government that its actions are incorrect.
The police response at Fairy Creek was violent, heavy-handed and in many cases, illegal. I'm not sure why you're drawing a comparison to that when the convoy protest has been treated with kid gloves.