What Is Valid Protest?

Black Lives Matter was in the news again on the weekend. Three protesters were arrested in Toronto for vandalizing statues.

Their lawyer was outraged, saying Canadians are tired of this ongoing battle. She’s probably right – but the majority are probably more tired of the protesters.

There seems little doubt as to guilt. The organization has claimed responsibility. Apparently though the feeling is the vandals shouldn’t be charged because they were protesting the slowness of authorities to de-fund police. (I guess if there were no police then protesters wouldn’t be arrested for vandalism. I can see the logic here.)

I’m not sure what a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald has to do with Black rights. Not exactly a symbol of white supremacy as was claimed.

Perhaps it was his racist views towards Indigenous Canadians that were the reason. Not that those views were considered racist at the time, but times have changed. For the better I hope.

Those of us old enough to remember the American civil rights movement of the 1960s remember that civil disobedience was a hallmark of the campaign for equal rights. Protesters were frequently arrested and jailed for non-violently standing up for their rights. Eventually the unjust laws they were protesting were changed. The US (and Canada) remain a work in progress towards racial equality.

In arresting admitted vandals,Toronto Police were doing their job. The color of the culprits is irrelevant. That they were detained longer than usual is because they refused to sign an undertaking. (For such relatively minor crimes police usually release a suspect as long as they sign a promise to behave before their court appearance. Don’t sign and you stay in jail.)

Societal change usually happens slowly. Calls to eliminate police funding may be nice from a rhetorical point of view and make activists feel good – but I have not seen Black Lives Matter or similar groups put forward a concrete proposal that addresses the issue of living in a fallen world with fallen people.

Who provides law and order if there are no police? The military? Is that what they want? Maybe social workers can keep society together with counselling. Or are we living in a utopia where no-one will ever break the law? Or is the idea we would have no laws?

Are Canadian police racist? Some individuals maybe, but I doubt it is a larger percentage than in the population as a whole. And police forces are trying to weed out those individuals.

Is the system racist? That is a much tougher question. Certainly there is a higher percentage of racialized (a new buzz word I don’t particularly care for – we are all one race or another) Canadians being charged and convicted. Rather than assume that is because they are committing a greater percentage of crimes, the causes should be investigated and injustices addressed.

Vandalism will get you headlines, but does it get you sympathizers? I don’t know.

I’m not black. I have not experienced racism to the degree that many in Canada have. To some that may make me unfit to have an opinion on the subject. I understand that, though I disagree.

It does seem to me that vandalizing statues is less productive than organizing communities to know their rights. Less productive also than educating politicians about the inequalities in the system they administer and lobbying for change.

Changing the system is possible. But when I hear calls to de-fund the police with no plan for what comes next, I must admit to wondering if the goal is change or destruction. Or maybe no-one has bothered to think about what comes next after you get rid of police.

Are there better ideas out there? Can you enlighten me?





  1. jessepfrancis · · Reply

    Throughout the article, there was only one name echoing in my mind: Mahathma Gandhi (Maha – Great, Athma – Soul).

    While most countries went on war with colonalists, he stuck to ahimsa, or nonviolence. In India, I won’t claim Ahimsa was the only weapon against British – there were great leaders who used weapons as well (Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh etc), but Gandhi attracted masses – and achieved much more than what one could do with destructive acts.

    Another way was civil disobedience. British banned local salt production in India (except their own), so they marched down in public disobedience of the law, beated up by police, yet never stopped, and made salt out of sea water. They achieved what they fought for, without violence, made a statement for generations to come.

    Nirahara (fasting) was another weapon.

    All these appeals to one’s humanity, instead of fear for a change – and also respects the opposition despite how unruly they are, not damaging/vandalizing public property.

    In India, politicians overdo it off late that we have lost value for it – except in a handful of situations. But in a country less exposed to such movements, I think it is very much powerful tool still. Fight (with ahimsa) not until a promise is given, until it is fulfilled.

    Gandhi again, was fasting the day British handed independence to India, if I remember correctly, agaisnt dividing the nation based on religion.

    1. The name running through my mind as I wrote was Martin Luther King Jr., but Gandhi makes sense also.

      Not that Gandhi had a perfect track record. In my home town of Ottawa there is a call to have a statue removed because of his attitudes towards Blacks.

      No-one seems to want to mention his attitude towards young girls in his later life, which by today’s standards border on pedophilia.

      Which shows again how complicated things can be when we deal with historical figures and their legacy. Very few are acceptable to our 21st century standards.

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