Threats of violence over climate change disagreement continue…

When the RCMP cancels a school dance over disagreements on climate change something is very, very wrong…

Ever heard of a book burning? The tactic of getting rid of one text or another has long existed in human societies. The Catholic Church had an index of proscribed reading for centuries. The Nazis regularly torched Jewish books in the 1930s and 1940s.

Overenthusiastic Chinese officials in Xinjiang Province, where a genocide of the Uyghur Muslim culture is in full swing, have destroyed tens of thousands of books as part of an effort to curb separatism among ethnic Uyghurs.

Most of us see these actions as the long arm of repressive regimes seeking to destroy knowledge they disagree with. One of my favourite sci-fi authors, Ray Bradbury even wrote a book on a dystopian future society where all books are banned. He called it ‘Fahrenheit 451’, after the temperature at which paper ignites.

A Nazi book burning in 1933 (Photo: Der Spiegel)
Something just short of a book burning

Based on what I read in the Globe and Mail on December 11, something just short of a book burning took place recently in Blackfalds, Alberta (between Red Deer and Edmonton). A grade 4 lesson that included material critical of Alberta’s oil industry prompted a Facebook debate among parents that devolved into threats and prompted the school to call in the RCMP and cancel a holiday dance.

Let me repeat that: a lesson intended to promote debate among ten-year olds was spun way out of control by some parents and eventually led to some online discussion, which apparently decended into threats: one parent was issued a ticket by the RCMP under a provision of the Education Act that forbids interfering with the proceedings of a school. The school district later cancelled a dance at the request of the Mounties who cited “safety concerns”.

A grade 4 lesson that included material critical of Alberta’s oil industry prompted a Facebook debate among parents that devolved into threats and prompted the school to call in the RCMP and cancel a holiday dance.

The offending lesson: two videos about the oil sands – one from the Alberta government and the other from the environmental group Greenpeace, and a written assignment that asked how Albertans should manage competing demands on the province’s land for uses such as oil development, wind and solar power, agriculture and recreation.

That’s it. An exercise in seeing two sides to an argument. For its part, the government of Premier Jason Kenney has warned of attempts to ‘smuggle left-wing politics’ into the education system and a policy resolution passed at the governing United Conservative Party’s recent annual meeting said students in public schools are being “increasingly radicalized by extremist ideologies.”

An oilsands project north of Fort McMurray (Photo: Sierra Club)

Wait, this is Canada we’re talking about, right?

Not North Korea or Saudi Arabia or the PRC? Canada?

Before I get more hate mail like I did in response to my column on Catherine McKenna about concerns that some who do not believe that the climate is changing because of fossil fuel use – note that I did not use the term ‘climate change deniers’ this time – allow me to continue.

Since when do Canadians act out in this manner to stifle legitimate debate and learning? Since when was it unacceptable to disallow the presentation of different viewpoints? Since when do the police have to cancel a GRADE FOUR dance because language online indicates things may get out of hand? For the record the RCMP may have over-reacted but I am pretty sure the potential for violence was not at the hands of the ten-year olds.

Since when do Canadians act out in this manner to stifle legitimate debate and learning? Since when was it unacceptable to disallow the presentation of different viewpoints?

Look, we are all permitted to hold out own views on any issue. We are allowed to present and defend those views. We are allowed to disagree. We are NOT allowed to threaten those whose views we dislike.

No, this is not terrorism and so some may rightfully ask why the hell I am writing about it in a blog devoted to violent extremism. Nevertheless, to me this whole sordid affair is consistent with a deterioration of civil discourse in our country. And yes it does hold the potential to turn violent.

C’mon Canada! We are better than this!


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Phil Gurski

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