By: Roan Szucs
Edited by: Cynthia Stringer
Canadian political society not only values civil dissent, but it actually relies on it. Standing as a crucial pillar supporting the health and dynamism of the state’s democracy, the value of civil dissent lies in providing a platform for the expression of diverse perspectives, allowing individuals and groups to voice contrasting opinions on pressing political matters. Civil dissent exerts pressure for change, compelling incumbent government officials to address concerns and enact policy reforms.
When laws do not serve or reflect the needs of the public, and the system itself becomes a barrier to justice, political/civil society has historically turned to acts of civil dissent. Explained by the Alberta Civil Research Centre, Due to the positive outcomes of civil dissent, we reflect on the actions of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela “as morally justified and worthy of respect and admiration.” Canada has a history of civil dissent. The 1990 armed standoff in Oka between Mohawks and the Canadian army, for example, resulted in the productive appointment of a royal commission on Aboriginal issues. Examples such as this exist as reminders of the democracy-supporting, inclusive abilities that civil dissent possesses; however, there remains the other end of the spectrum.
Despite its theoretical purity, civil dissent remains both corruptible and weaponizable. Through a citizenry and even government that occasionally praises acts of civil dissent comes a vulnerability to revolutionism based on misinformation, threatening the democratic institutions of the state. In other words, civil dissent, a pro-democracy political arm, also poses an exponential threat, as it is weaponizable through anti-democratic means. Adding in societal variables such as misinformation, populism, and sociopolitical delirium resemblant of Dr. Gad Saad’s description of The Parasitic Mind, it is not a “long shot” for civil dissent to swiftly morph into the grips of misguided revolutionism (not be confused with ‘revolutionism’ which is a useful tool of democracy). Misguided revolutionism, for the sake of this article, is understood as the promotion of revolution based on misinformation.
So, does this exist in Canada? David Morin, a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke says yes, and he attributes the presence of misguided revolutionism in Canada to “a loss of confidence in institutions and the effect of social media and alternative media, as well as local and global contexts such as the pandemic, economic crises, migrant crises, and climate change.” Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, further states that the same factors outlined by Morin contribute to the spread of misinformation and revolutionist hate against each other… and destabilizes our democracy.
How can Canadian officials and citizens walk the line between promoting the democratically healthy civil dissent and the dangerous (and sometimes difficult to distinguish) misguided revolutionism at the hands of misinformation? It isn’t through censorship–a whole other discussion in itself–but perhaps alternatively, through officials promoting and the citizenry practicing the act of looking deeper into revolutionist matters. Proceeding through the most non-partisan and reliable means possible (not social media!), the aforementioned efforts can result in but are not limited to the neutralization of misinformation, and the disarming of fear mongering, both of which could help reduce the risk to our democratic processes. The door would then be open for the acts of clear and productive civil dissent that propel our institutions forward.
Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. (2021). Using dissent to access justice — Alberta civil liberties research centre. https://www.aclrc.com/dissentdisobedience
Here’s a list of major civil disobedience events in recent Canadian history – National | Globalnews.ca. (2020, February 14). Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/6554023/canada-major-civil-disobedience-events/
Landry, M. C. (2022, March 24). Hate crimes in Canada: Justice system gaps and strengths. Canadian Human Rights Commission. https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/en/resources/hate-crimes-canada-justice-system-gaps-and-strengths
Thompson, E. (2021, September 13). One quarter of Canadians believe online conspiracy theories, expert tells MPs. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/online-conspiracy-violent-extremism-1.6434854
Moxy. (2013, January 12). Idle No More 2013 Ottawa Jan 11 th. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Idle_No_More_2013_Ottawa_Jan_11_th.jpg