How do you stand up for your rights?

Students in Toronto, Calgary are proving that authority still rests with the governed

This has been a good year for students wielding power over their administrations. A high school student in Toronto, suspended for speaking his mind to the administration, got the school and local media on his side and had his record cleared. Two students at the University of Calgary criticized a professor online, but a court cleared them.

It hardly even matters what the students at the University of Calgary were speaking out about. As it has it, the kick-off was a relatively childish Facebook group about a disliked professor. But it quickly turned into a story about a university pushing its students around arbitrarily without regard for their rights or due process. The students saw this and asked a court to side with them. On Oct. 12, 2010, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench saw fit to do so, ruling that the students’ Charter rights had been infringed.

In Toronto, the situation never escalated quite as far, but was no less dramatic. After a 17-year-old soccer player voiced his concerns about support for the school’s teams at an assembly, his school banned him from athletic activities and suspended him for two days. The heavy-handed and blatant act of censorship did not go unchallenged. Parents, fellow students and media outlets across the city quickly rose to his defence. Inside of two weeks the school’s administration backed down, reinstating the student’s privileges and allowing him to return to class.

He’s now trying to expunge the suspension from his record as he prepares to apply to university, and it seems he has support on his side again. While his principal has said it won’t be an easy feat, if precedence is any indicator, I don’t think he’ll have a problem realizing his latest ambition.

In a year where we’ve heard much about heavy-handed government from WikiLeaks, G20 abuses and corporate scandal, that the power of the people can still be wielded, and wielded with courage, is itself encouraging.

These are students who showed incredible courage and wisdom. They recognized that they had been wronged, and recognized the most effective avenues for correcting those wrongs. But what these examples demonstrated most effectively was the power of the people when they come together.

When media outlets and hundreds of supporters rally behind a cause, it cannot be ignored. A mentor of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator said it best: “Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”

Even Barbie in this summer’s Toy Story 3 was on to this idea. “Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force!” she declares in the film.

And while there is much to be sorrowful in this world, as 2010 nears its end we can be thankful that it is still our consent that is required above all else in government. And we are still free to withdraw that consent, whenever we see fit, so long as we have a few friends to stand with us.

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