Bad Optics: Canadian state projects protesters as a danger to the public

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Images and video distributed on the media of highly militarized police personnel used by Canadian authorities to dismantle a protest encampment and arrest the protesters were very disturbing, and certainly problematic from a civil liberties and civil rights perspective.

Encampments have a long history as a civil disobedience tactic, across cultures, as a means of expressing disapproval and defiance.

Civil disobedience is just that, its civil. It does not threaten the existing order by armed insurrection. However it does chose to, temporarily, disregard or disobey some ordinances or laws by a group which does not feel its grievances have been heard, or adequately addressed.

Civil disobedience, also known as nonviolent direct action, may be a path chosen by some citizens if the normal channels of redress do not work satisfactorily, or they feel their concerns are being systematically ignored. Political action, as opposed to violent action, is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is not always a convenient document for the powerful, especially when their actions put them at odds with it.

There are important questions to be asked, and answers demanded, of why the police felt the need to be so heavily armed. Pleas of self protection are unacceptable. It cannot be that they simply had no intelligence on the make up of the inhabitants of the protest encampment. That would imply incompetence beyond belief. While the author cannot speak to their thinking, their actions do send a clear message to the public, and this may be intentional: protest is a danger to society.

The current demand by the ruling authorities for lawful behaviour is another message: protest is outlawed unless you just stand quietly to the side with a protest sign while the outrage happens. This is both unrealistic and unacceptable.

The encampments and blockades have acted as power equalizers, they have brought the government to the table when they had previously felt comfortable to ignore the grievances. It is not reasonable to expect the movement give up all its power first on the promise of talks later.

The authorities are currently cloaking their demands as obedience to the law. But what they are really practicing represents rule by law rather than the rule of law.

Encampments and blockades are a clear nonviolent tactic, and as such, provide no threat to public what-so-ever, regardless of the inconveniences it causes. Whether the inconveniences will bring allies or enemies to the movement is a separate decision which needs to be assessed, repeatedly, by the organizers. Nonviolent civil disobedience has a rich diversity of methods of engagement and resistance and activists are required to regularly update their political assessment of suitable nonviolent actions according to the stage and status of a struggle for the public imagination.

Highly militarized policing sends the wrong signal, unless the state is an authoritarian one, in which case it just an honest statement of contempt for the ruled.


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