Tolerating civil disobedience -

Tolerating civil disobedience


In a pair of blog posts, Brent Rathgeber explains his concerns with some of the tactics used by Idle No More protesters.

Last Wednesday, Native Protestors blocked the QE II near Gateway Boulevard fully and then partially for a little less than 2 hours.  Then during the afternoon commute, the same protestors set up a blockade on St. Albert Trail at Sturgeon Road.  As St. Albert is a bedroom community of Edmonton, I represent many commuters.  My office has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls asking why the RCMP allowed this admittedly peaceful protest to proceed. According to the St. Albert “Gazette”, the demonstration happened with the cooperation of the RCMP, who had met in advance with the protestors and were on scene to manage traffic.  Apparently, the RCMP share Edmonton Police Service’s theory that managing a protest is a better tactic than stopping it.

I am not so sure. In the first place, acquiescing to an illegal activity does nothing to prevent further illegal activities. And make no mistake; the police were enabling an illegal activity.   Section 430 of the Criminal Code clearly defines the offence of “Mischief” when one willfully “obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property”.  Moreover, you can be charged with “Intimidation” when you compel “another person to abstain from doing anything that he or she has a lawful right to do” including one who “blocks or obstructs a highway”, which is “a road to which the public has the right of access” (Section 2).

A hallmark of a free society is our Charter protected rights of expression and assembly.  Accordingly, I defend the rights of peaceful assembly without equivocation.  However, one’s freedom to demonstrate cannot break the criminal law; one’s freedom to protest cannot trump another’s right to the lawful use of public property to get home after work.  As enlightenment philosopher John Locke so famously declared: “my liberty to swing my fist is limited by the proximity of your chin.”

Blake Richards is similarly concerned.

That being said, some of the militant activists hiding behind the Idle No More banner are doing all they can to threaten the progress being made between our government and First Nations leaders. Canadians are growing increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the actions of those who blockade highways and railways. The blockades must stop. They are counterproductive, and an impediment to progress.

From a philosophical standpoint, violating the law is fairly central to the idea of civil disobedience.

Such protests are, of course, not unique to aboriginal causes. Farmers in British Columbia conducted a blockade of a private property on an entirely unrelated matter this month (the blockade ended Thursday at the RCMP’s behest). Farmers have used convoys in the past that have tied up or otherwise impeded traffic in the process of protesting government policy. (Farmers also protested the coalition in 2008.) And at least one such protest has occurred with support from some of Mr. Richards and Mr. Rathgeber’s colleagues (see story below).

Ultimately, we’re talking about tolerance: what should a democratic society be willing to tolerate and what should law enforcement be willing to tolerate before intervening? (From a policing standpoint, for the sake of maintaining peace and order, where is the line between letting a protest run its course and needing to enforce the law? At what point is it more troublesome to intervene than it would be to work around the situation?) Protesters who break the law probably have to accept the possibility of being arrested, charged or fined—though, with something like a highway blockade, working with law enforcement in advance might allow for reasonable compromises to be found. But protesters also have to keep in mind how the general public will view their actions: a protest might be meant to raise awareness, but it might hurt the larger cause if the action greatly angers and frustrates those directly impacted and is viewed unfavourable by the majority of those who read and hear the news. In that regard, Idle No More protesters might be smart to consider the complaints of Mr. Rathgeber and Mr. Richards, even if they disagree with their conclusions.

Brockville Recorder And Times
Sat Feb 5 2005
Page: A1
Section: News
Dateline: PRESCOTT

It came off in snarl-free style.

Friday’s “rural revolution” convoy of 50 tractors and 220 support vehicles closed a 10-kilometre stretch of Highway 401’s westbound lane for almost four hours but created only minor delays and no traffic snarls for motorists.

The ‘Stop the Destruction’ convoy, protesting excessive government regulation and calling for enshrined property rights, attracted supporters from as far away as Tillsonburg, Renfrew and places in between.

Their actions closed the west lane of the highway from Cardinal to Johnstown between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and tied up traffic for at least 30 minutes at both interchanges at the beginning and the end of the procession.

But there seemed to be little ill-will towards the protesters from affected travellers, including many who honked their horns in support while passing.

“It slowed us down about 15 minutes but we enjoyed the view by the river,” said a man driving from Montreal to Toronto who was forced to detour from Iroquois to Johnstown on County Road 2.

“It’s no inconvenience. We’re farmers, too,” he said.

Most other travellers interviewed from Quebec, New York and eastern Ontario expressed similar sentiments while only a few showed frustration at the delay.

“I understand completely (why they’re protesting) but this here, what’s it going to accomplish and it’s costing them a whole lot of money,” said Winston Martineau of Kemptville.

Martineau was looking at a half-hour wait while the tractors on the leading edge of the convoy exited the 401 on their way to the international bridge at Johnstown.

The shutdown of the bridge never materialized as advertised by the affiliated landowners’ associations that held the event, the second in a series of similar protests scheduled to reach Queen’s Park next month.

Still, the procession of tractors delayed traffic for more than an hour in both directions while slowly making the one-kilometre return trip between the overpass and the bridge.

OPP Sergeant Kristine Cholette said seven northbound vehicles coming from County Road 2 were delayed the longest.

“There were seven vehicles tied up. There were more (vehicles) but the others turned around and went back down (County Road) 2,” she said.

Police were present at the staging areas, along the highway and at interchanges to direct traffic and keep a watchful eye.

“We believe we accomplished our objective of maintaining traffic flow and public safety,” she said.

“Traffic was delayed minimally as far as we were concerned.”

Jacqueline Fennell, president of the Leeds and Grenville Landowners Association, said the bridge traffic was delayed by the parade of slow-moving tractors but organizers decided against an original plan to blockade the Canadian side.

She said the important thing was getting their message heard.

“We’re not going to take government intrusion any more and we’re going to stand up for ourselves,” said Fennell, during an interview at a post-convoy rally behind Angelo’s Restaurant.

That sentiment was repeated again and again by some of the 600 people attending the rally who felt encouraged at the widespread show of support and the wall-to-wall media presence.

“It’s a start,” said Bill Kroot, a North Augusta beef farmer who feels property rights are essential to addressing other concerns about excessive regulations.

“I have a creek on my property and the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) says there has to be a fence on both sides so the cattle won’t go in it and contaminate the water.

“There’s not even any water in it during the summer,” he said.

Larry Reid of Renfrew is a veteran of rural protests and he had two tractors transported to the convoy aboard flatbed trailers.

A cash-cropper with 15 milking cows and a small beef herd, Reid cited a range of concerns including a herd of deer that ravages his corn.

“We wanted to get the awareness out and get our voices heard. We’re not going to let government tromp on our rights,” he said.

Randy Hillier, president of the Lanark Landowners Association and the main organizer behind the protests, told the rally that occasional government handouts don’t solve farmer’s problems.

“You can fight today for a little more money but that doesn’t solve the problem. You’ll just be back tomorrow for more money,” he said.

As the family farm has declined, multinational corporations have a stranglehold on food products that the government has not attempted to prevent, he said.

“Go back and get the marketplace fixed so we don’t have to fight for crumbs every year,” he said.

Leeds-Grenville Conservative MP Gord Brown was joined on the stage by colleagues Scott Reid, MP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, and Diane Finley, MP for Haldimand-Norfolk and the Conservative agricultural critic, who lent their support to the cause.

“Your presence here today, in these numbers and from across Ontario, demonstrates the voice of the rural revolution is loud and strong,” said Brown.

Reid drew applause for his plans to introduce a private member’s bill to enshrine property rights for Canadians while Finley is presenting a motion next week calling for a more even-handed support for agriculture.

The next rural revolution convoy is scheduled Feb. 18 near the Quebec border.


Tolerating civil disobedience

  1. Nothing is ever all inclusive. When tolerance tolerates intolerance then it is tolerance undermining itself. Seldom is that understood.

    • You’re not making it any clearer.

  2. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”
    Kennedy 1962

  3. Interesting: when western Canadian farmers want to protest, they gather together and drive their agricultural equipment like combines and tractors down the main streets of cities, to gain attention for their plight. Wonder why they think only they are allowed to make a point by holding up the economy and the public.

    • Yeah i guess they need to rope in some more native “farmers” and see if that helps idlenomores cause eh. It’s no news that Conservatives are hypocrites, just like everyone else when its their beef that’s the issue de jour, rather than someone elses.

      • Imagine if the NDP form government and bring back a long gun registry – I am thinking there will be some protests.

        • Protests involving guns, yikes. Good reason to vote Liberal next time, JanBC!

      • Wow! You are bringing up the beef issue when Ontario just had a recall on burgers in December. A plant in Ontario put out a product that made 5 people sick with E-coli and caused a nation-wide recall. I really thought that would put an end to the ridiculous suggestion of superiority that people have been claiming with regard to their provinces’ meat safety records. Apparently I am mistaken. Next time you plan to take a “stab” at our “beef” you might want to make sure you google “recent beef recalls” or better yet, follow the daily news a little closer. Of course given that the outbreak wasn’t in Alberta, we can’t expect nation-wide coverage. After all as you said, hypocrisy certainly is alive and well.
        Further, for some one who pretends to know so much about FN’s and says he actually lived on a remote reserve you are pretty clueless. FN’s people on the prairies are not traditionally farmers, although some like to wrangle horses and work with cattle.

        • Now you’re really losing it. I was being sarcastic about farmers… As in if more natives were farmers maybe they’d get more sympathy for civil disobedience… Beef didn’t even enter it.
          Of course I’m aware most FN’s didn’t farm, although you’re wrong if you think none did.
          You seem to be taking things too personally.

          • So you didn’t say “…when it’s their beef that is the issue de jour”?

            Hahaha! You might not have meant to bring up “beef” but you did say beef. God knows that Albertans are a little sick of the bitching over the safety of the beef. You’re right. I do take it personally. Hard not to. Maybe you missed the bloggers on here talking about Alberta’s unsafe practices and some such as Emily exalting the great Ontario beef products.

          • Fer crying out loud lady it is a figure of speech. It was a little word play around food, farmers, get it? Maybe it’s just lame, but that’s the way it came out. I’m disappointed to see you make such odd connexion. I really thought you were much brighter than that. It is the sort of dumb association FV would have made. No one on this site is discussing Alberta beef at all…but you…doesn’t that tell you something?

          • Given your response to a fairly common figure of speech, I’d suggest that some Albertans.. yourself for one.. are still quite eager to be bitching about the safety of beef.

    • It’s not illegal to drive a combine down a street. Which is kind of an important difference.

        • The police behaved exactly the same, but the difference is that one protest was illegal, while the other wasn’t. But I don’t expect you to understand the difference, you’re not bright enough to figure out that the police are supposed to enforce laws.

          • So your a legal eagle now are you? I doubt there was anything more legal about the farmers protest than the native ones. They had permits for it did they? Your ability to find a partisan angle to anything remotely connected to con wrong doing us laughable.

          • Right, the LAW is a Conservative partisan angle. And you don’t need to be a legal eagle to realize that driving a tractor on the road isn’t illegal. You just need half a working brain.

          • You just got under the wire then.

      • It is, actually, illegal to drive in such a manner that impedes traffic. Farmers do not have any exception for this.

        • Wrong

          • So, do you think it’s legal to drive in a manner which intentionally obstructs traffic, or do you believe that farmers are excepted from that law?

          • Highway Traffic Act of Ontario: R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER H.8

            Unnecessary slow driving prohibited

            132. (1) No motor vehicle shall be driven on a highway at such a slow rate of speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic thereon except when the slow rate of speed is necessary for safe operation having regard to all the circumstances. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 132 (1).


            You appear to be literate. Try doing some basic research before thinking you know what the hell you’re talking about.

      • It seems to me that the difference between illegally impeding traffic by driving large equipment extremely slowly on a busy highway, and impeding traffic by blocking a busy highway is a difference of degree, not substance. Making people find a route around dozens of tractors going 10 km/hour on a highway isn’t THAT much different than making people find a route around a non-moving blockade on a highway. In some ways the slowly moving blockade of the highway is arguably more dangerous, both to the people trying to get around the blockage and to the protesters themselves.

        • Agricultural vehicles are allowed on the roads and highways, they are built to drive slowly, almost as slow as leftists thoughts process.

          • They’re allowed to drive on the roads and highways, yes. They are not allowed to drive on the roads and highways in such a manner that impedes traffic — such as lined up for a long distance that would prevent safe passing.

    • Have the farmers released a statement saying “only they are allowed to make a point by holding up the economy and the public”? Edmonton (at Gateway) and St. Albert Trail going to St. Albert is very urban. You really won’t find any farmers there. They are all likely city people that were held up.
      I also think when farmers drive their equipment around in a protest it is to remind people that they produce the food we eat and to make an impression that they invest a lot of money to do so by showing their big, very expensive equipment (which can cost up to $200K for one tractor).

      • Gotcha…farmers good, Indians bad.

        • What??? Perhaps you are taking things too personally. I just asked if farmers actually posted such a statement or if patchouli was making it up. As you for beliefs of what I am trying to relay, I think YOU are making assumptions based on nothing concrete.
          Yes, I believe farmers are good. I NEVER said FN are bad. That is your interpretation and I am not sure what it is based on. That is like me saying patchouli and you think farmers are bad. I am sure you wouldn’t appreciate me drawing that conclusion. Kindly return the favor.

        • That’s not fair.

          The point that the protests of farmers blocking highways are essentially given the same leeway as the protests of Natives blocking highways is a fair one. And it’s true that some POLITICIANS seem to believe that said leeway is perfectly fine when it comes to farmers, but unconscionable when it comes to Natives. However, patchouli’s post seems to indicate a belief that the FARMERS THEMSELVES believe that only they should be given such leeway (“Wonder why they think only they are allowed to make a point by holding up the economy…”). While that may be true, I don’t see any evidence of that in this post.

          I believe that HCI’s point was merely that if one is going to accuse farmers of believing that only they are entitled to special treatment, one should point to an example of a farmer or a group of farmers actually arguing that only they are entitled to special treatment

          • I didn’t read Patchouli’s post very carefully so you’re probably right, it was unfair.But it can be difficult to argue a point with someone who jumps on the word beef and takes it as an affront to all beef farmers within AB.

          • Yeah, OK, the beef thing was a little weird. My initial thought was “Wait.. what????”

          • I’m not a vegetarian, i swear i’m not.

      • I also think when farmers drive their equipment around in a protest it is to remind people that they produce the food we eat and to make an impression that they invest a lot of money to do so by showing their big, very expensive equipment (which can cost up to $200K for one tractor).

        We may not always agree with them, but the Native protesters blocking public highways have a larger point too. They’re often arguing that the land that the highway is on was stolen from their ancestors.

  4. As someone strongly opposed to these omnibus bills and much of what they contain, I joined an Idle No More protest that blocked a highway for a few minutes, then slowed traffic for a couple hours. The police controlled traffic. Many people driving through honked and waved or gave a thumbs up. Not a single person yelled at us. This was not in the CPC strongholds of the prairies though.

  5. “A hallmark of a free society is our Charter protected rights of expression and assembly.”

    Really? What about the G20? The largest mass arrest of Canadian Citizens ever.

    I guess the moral of the story is that one can have the right to free expression and assembly as long as the powers that be agree with it. Once they don’t, game over regardless of what the Charter says.

    I guess i disagree, at this moment we need all the civil-disobedience we can muster because we are about to be run over by a train called the Corporate Agenda and once that happens we will not have a democracy let alone a charter. Everything will be privatized, we will not be able to make our own laws without being sued into oblivion by Corporations. They will continue to suppress technology, limit competition for their own selfish needs and continue to game the entire monetary system preventing society from progressing as we should be doing.

    Orwell was pretty dead on and its a shame that people will probably only realize this when its too damn late.

    Why is the TPP being kept secret? Seriously why? This is going to effect our livelihood, our ability to function a democratic country and our individual rights and yet we are not allowed to know anything about it.

    I’m sure that the Corporations that are writing it right now truly have our best interest at heart…yeah right. Perhaps its time to strip Corporations of their legal status. The very idea that Corporations can sue a country because they bring in a law that will limit the Corporations ability to make a profit is revolting and disgusting. So embrace civil-disobedience in what ever form it comes in because its our only hope to stop the train that is about to run us over.

    • Agreed! The TPP is dangerous and Corporations should be stripped of their legal status. You’re damn right when you say people will wake up when it’s too late, and it’s too bad.

      • So if corporations are stripped of their legal status, how are our business organizations going to be organized? Are they all going to be converted to partnerships? Limited partnerships? Sole proprietorships? Please explain.

        • I really don’t care how they organize it as long as the size/influence can be controlled, the ability to stifle competition is removed, the ability to suppress technology/knowledge is curtailed and the people involved are held to account for any crimes they have committed.

          And I have to say I’m not against business or market economics (for the present time at least) but I want to get on with this progression thing and it seems to me that some of them are holding us back from getting to where we should already be.

  6. Actually there is an underwritten aspect of this story, and that is the extent to which the police are way out in front of the general population on this. I’m proud of them and the degree of empathy and sensible, controlled ,professional moderation they’ve shown so far. I absolutely loved the story of the police chief that horrified the law and order crowd by joining in with a round dance before asserting his authority[ i heard a rumour he may have even grabbed a drum and joined in. That would be too cool if true] And the mayor of Sarnia, a community that has invested a lot of effort in trying to repair the rifts caused by Ipperwash, has refused to be pushed into a corner. Sometimes we get the balance right for a while.

    • The sane approach the police are using with INM is proof positive to me that the G20 police overreaction was orchestrated by the PMO.

      • And maybe the province [liberals] to be fair.

      • Right, because cops wouldn’t want to keep a bunch of violent smelly hippies under control unless they were ordered to by the PM.

        • You really are an a**hole.

          • And you’re a a**hole smelly hippy with no response. Now go take a shower, I can smell the patchouli from here.

          • No, he’s not worth that kind of emotion actually. He’s just a troll.

          • I know. My bad. I lack discipline. I’m just tired of the trolls having free rein. It doesn’t seem to help not feeding them. Maybe i’m wrong about that, but for now it feels like the right thing to do.

        • More clapped out cliches from Mr. Robo.

    • The OPP went too far, though, when they refused a timely enforcement of a court order to remove a rail blockade a couple of weeks ago. Whether they [or you, or I] agreed with the judge or not, enforcing his order was their job.

      • Isn’t that the one that happened around Sarnia?[ all this stuff is starting to run together now] If its the one i think it is i heard either the mayor or the police chief on as it happens explain that the community had good relations with the band, and they had advised CN not to order a writ after just one day. That they would talk to the elders and negotiate a compromise. But CN went ahead anyway and the result was predictable. Some of the more militant guys simply dug their heels in and decided to stay for a week. It may not be right, but it’s human nature.

        • No, this was a different, short-lived one I’m thinking of – out around Kingston. It started on a Saturday afternoon and ended in the early morning hours on Sunday – but not because the police enforced the time-sensitive court order. The judge was not at all impressed.


          Whether you agree with the judge or not, once the court order was given it was law enforcement’s duty to obey – and they did not.

          • “Brown wrote that Saturday was the second time police had disregarded his order to stop a protest. On Dec. 21, he issued an injunction calling for an end to an Idle No More blockade on the busy CN spur line in Sarnia.
            “To my astonishment, the local police failed to assist in enforcing that order until Jan. 2, 2013, under pressure from another judge of this court, a passage of almost two weeks,” Brown wrote.”

            I think that is the one i was on about.It lasted two weeks apparently. As for the other one, i see you point and i do think if any group decides to take such an action they have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. Having said that it is difficult to judge when the cops say no comment. On the face of it i’d say the judge was doing a bit of back seat driving. He certainly gave lots of weight to the concerns of CN and the public and little or none to the situation on the ground.