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Monday, March 19, 2012

Uncivil disobedience

The images from the riot on Fleming Drive are shocking, especially to someone like myself who spent more than thirty years teaching students at Fanshawe College. The destructive behaviour, even by heavily intoxicated youth, is almost incomprehensible.

But equally incomprehensible was the characterization of what occurred as “the worst case of civil disobedience."

These were the words of Police Chief, Brad Duncan as aired on the CTV news last night.

Perhaps he was tired; perhaps he was overwrought. But to describe throwing stones and bottles, overturning a media vehicle, setting fires, using sticks and bats to attack police and their vehicles as “civil disobedience” beggars the imagination and reason.

Civil disobedience: noun, the refusal to comply with certain laws considered unjust, as a peaceful form of political protest, according to the online version of the Oxford Dictionary.

When I was in high school, Henry Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience was required reading. It celebrated the practice of non-cooperation with immoral but lawful state requirements. Thoreau believed that people had to take responsibility for the actions of their rulers and to resist obeying laws which harmed others. Originally his 1849 essay was entitled, “Resistance to Civil Government” and later revised to “Essay on Civil Disobedience”.

There have been many laudable examples of civil disobedience or civil resistance since Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support a government which enforced slavery: Ghandi’s passive resistance to British rule, Nelson Mandela’s response to South African apartheid, Martin Luther King’s campaign against segregation during the American civil rights movement.

Even here in London we have seen examples of citizens participating in peaceful protests whether in the form of a Freedom Flotilla or Occupy London.

Civil disobedience is the act of those whose conscience will not let them support laws which they believe are unfair or unjust. It is the deliberate act of reason and morality of those who are prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.

In describing the actions of drunken hooligans as “civil disobedience” Chief Duncan has done a great disservice to the many thoughtful and conscientious citizens who are prepared to take a stand for what they believe is right, the very people on whom we depend to pave the way for a more just society.

Perhaps it is difficult to maintain perspective when one’s officers are under attack as the police and firefighters were at riot on Fleming Drive. But that’s the time when we rely most on those in charge to remain calm, in word and deed, so as to not inflame an already precarious situation.

Let’s hope Chief Duncan simply misspoke and did not intend to elevate hooliganism to civil disobedience. Or insult the many young people, at Fanshawe College and across the city, who from time to time challenge inequities that too many of us take for granted.


Roderic Brawn said...

Hi Gina,
As your friend and in these days where any taint of such behaviour must be removed from our lexicon I would caution you in the use of the term, notwithstanding the date of this incident, the term "hooligan," as well as "paddy wagon," could be taken as a slur against descendants of people from Ireland.


Rod Brawn

Anonymous said...

"an it harm none, do what ye will", is an olde pagan motto from before the days of civil rule, before the criminal justice code of Canada. It's commonsense.
We can't keep on regulating and legislating every action and doing.
That just creates employment for bylaw enforcement officers. It's a license to steal and eventually, as evidenced by The Fleming Drive Riot, the rules become so oppressive and meanspirited that civilians loose all respect for authority and they seize opportunities to display defiance.

There's another olde proverb, "don't bite the hand that feeds you" that our civilian students would do well to give some concideration to before they start destroying other peoples property, reputations,and putting lives at risk.

'an it harm none, do what ye will...think before you act.

Brad Duncan-Hines said...

Excellent point, Gina

Anonymous said...

I think that Chief Brad Duncan's statement of "civil disobedience" speaks highly of the tremendous constraint he and his officers demonstrated by their exercise of limited force in a very violent situation where officers were bombarded with projectiles and verbal abuse. Yes, this was a riot and not civil disobedience. However the focus in this show of violence should be on the perpetrators. Accolades to our police and fire services that attended the riot and held their cool under extreme duress.

Bela Cos said...

"Throwing stones, lighting fires". Doesn't sound like much to be concerned about. From a distance. Using alcohol and stealing propane cylinders to keep flames burning, injuring police officers, preventing fire fighters from extinguishing blazes, destroying a media vehicle. Not on my street, please. All in the name of protesting some injustice, or as an expression of passionate youth, after a few drinks? Perhaps we could expand Chief Duncan's vocabulary if we don't like calling flagrant and dangerous violation of municipal, provincial laws regarding assemblies of the civic/people variety, civil disobedience.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying the Chief's innacurate language. He should know better.

Unfortunately, the Fanshawe College Student Union President repeated the error this morning at the news conference.

Colin Hendry said...

Hooligans, drunks, and various other slurs are against all of the people at Fanshaw--Staff, Studens and Directors. We cannot tolerate this behavior. These are not just little kids acting out. It is a miracle someone was not killed or maimed for life. I commend the police an fire dept for their restraint. Colin

Interested Party said...

Thanks for this, Gina - I was also disturbed by the misuse of the words, 'civil disobedience'.

These drunken goofs were not in the same league as the civil rights marches, the sit-ins where African Americans refused to vacate their seats at 'whites-only' lunch counters, and other such political actions.

This was a senseless riot by idiots who are too immature to be away from their parents. I hope that they parents will come to take their sorry off-spring home for a few more years until they develop some more sense.

There is no defense for their actions. People have been young and foolish for a very long time, but riots such as these cannot be dismissed as the acts of young people having fun - and they most certainly were not 'civil disobedience.'

chickenshorts said...

The scary take on this would be, and one need look no farther than Toronto or Ottawa, where there is little distinction between the disgrace of Saturday night and the true idea of civil disobedience, peaceful protest, or the many forms of resistance to the blossoming plutocracy around us.
Mr Harper is surely not building private mega-prisons for indiscreet youths. There is no doubt much feeling of pointlessness amongst the youth of today. The root causes of that frustration need to be better exposed so the rambuncious kiddies can cause disruption where it will have some positive results.

Anonymous said...

Uhhh, given the past problems in the area, were the police there first thing in the morning to keep an eye on the area? Does anyone know? Or why didn't Fanshawe hire off duty police?

How much am I bet that the police ask for a water cannon next budget? (It will sit unused for 30 years, but this incident will give them the justification for reactive rather than pro-active solutions)

dan said...

Reminds me of when news media in Vancouver was referring to the people who rioted during the Stanley Cup at "protesters" (this occurred during the live feed at the time).

With the police in London, I do not believe that the word choice was a mistake -- police forces and government parties across Canada have been trying to cause the general public to think of the "civil disobedience" and "hooliganism" as the same thing (i.e. they are all a bunch of criminals and deserve to be punished without really being heard).

That the news media in Vancouver adopted the same thinking shows how much they have bought the official story (or are being given the same script -- just as when the Police Chief in Vancouver tried to say that the rioting and destruction caused during the Stanley Cup was due to "anarchists"... a line he later had to retract).