In many ways, the last four months have been traumatizing. Our lives have been disrupted and many aspects of it will never be the same. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is a large part of it. However, it has also acted as a catalyst that has unleashed pent-up anger and frustration that is demanding change in many areas of society.
That in itself, properly managed, is a good thing not a bad thing. It is always helpful to look at where we have been, where we are now, and where we should be going. It is equally important, however, to avoid knee-jerk reactions: adopting a ‘my way or the highway’ culture and labelling or shaming people just because they have a differing point of view.
In that context, I have been thinking about some of the ‘trends’ I have been seeing in recent weeks and months. Some of them I like and some I don’t. Here are a few of my observations.
The first is this whole notion of defunding the police. I am against it. I know there are bad cops just as I know the vast majority of them are there to serve and protect and are prepared to risk their lives in doing so. Law and order, properly executed, is a fundamental requirement in a democratic society.
I do think that policing needs to be modernized and reformed and frankly that may take more money rather than less. Some of these reforms should include extensive psychological testing of all potential recruits for police services, as well as a substantive increase in recruits from so-called minority areas of our society. College and other educational venues that offer police qualification and preparation certification should be required to mandate courses in dealing with people with mental health issues and courses in understanding and dealing with diversity in the community.
There should be zero tolerance for bad police. Disciplinary hearings and their results should be public. There should be some non-police involvement and oversight in disciplinary matters. Bad cops should be weeded out and the ability of police unions to protect them should be severely limited. Finally, mental health consultants should have an important role to play in police forces. These initiatives would go a long way toward reforming much-needed police services. But to defund them is simply the wrong approach.
Another matter that has caught my attention recently is the difference between demonstrations and rioting. I fully support peaceful demonstrations. I have seen them work.
Remember the peaceful demonstrations in Huntsville and Bracebridge, Save Our (Hospital) Services? They made a difference. I also appreciate the respectful manner in which Huntsville people have been demonstrating about some of the more recent issues such as Black Lives Matter.
What I do not appreciate, what I do not support, is violence, breaking windows, setting cars on fire, destroying or defacing public property, looting, and harming individuals. We are seeing too much of that lately. That is not demonstrating. That is rioting and that is wrong. Some will say it is necessary to effect change. I say there is never any justification for violence and rioting. It does not effect positive change. Rather, it inhibits it. We should encourage peaceful demonstrations. We should not tolerate rioting.
And that brings me to this new trend of cancel culture. I have trouble with it. It comes from both sides of the political spectrum.
Erin O’Toole is a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. I will likely vote for him. But I disagree with his plan to completely defund the CBC. I do see an argument that CBC television news, which has become too partisan, should be made to compete with all other news sources by being funded through advertising and not subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, there is a huge cultural aspect to many of the other services offered by the CBC, especially CBC Radio. These should be preserved. To do otherwise, in my view, is to promote cancel culture.
Leslyn Lewis is not yet a household name, but I predict that in time she will be. She is a scholar, a lawyer, a proud member of the black community and she, too, is a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Here is what she has to say:
“Cancel culture is ruining our understanding of the past and until someone is willing to stand up to it, we will see our history washed away in a tidal wave of ‘progressive’ revisionism… As long as humans have tried to achieve great things, humans have also been failing. The best way to build a stronger and more united society is to build upon those who have gone before us while learning from their failures. Washing away their mistakes simply means we will forget our history and will be doomed to repeat it.”
In my view, history and current events should record both the good and the bad. We cannot and should not hide from either. I am not aware of any politician or public figure with whom we cannot find something wrong. As well, I cannot think of any journalist whose language or opinion I have at some time or another not found offensive or contrary to my beliefs. And I have no problem, when they step over a reasonable line, in calling them out.
But let’s not go overboard. In recent weeks cancel culture has deposed a number of journalists and commentators, none of them perfect but whose overall contributions to Canadian media have been generally well regarded.
I have also heard of calls to get rid of statues of Samuel de Champlain, Sir John A. MacDonald, Sir Winston Churchill, and even Pierre Elliott Trudeau, all people with meaningful flaws and errors in judgement and yet all of whom also changed the course of history in a significant and positive way. (For my Tory friends, Trudeau the Elder repatriated our Constitution!) As well, there are cries to rename a street now honouring John Wayne because, as a famous actor, he portrayed a cowboy at a time when they were often on opposite side with First Nations people. I even noticed a movement to banish the long-lived TV series Law and Order because it promoted police. Enough already!
Clearly, we are in a time of change. Let’s do this the Canadian way and make sure the change is balanced and fair to all.
We do not want the cure to be worse than the disease.
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