I guess for the protestors who descended on the Sportsplex Sunday night to oppose a Pro-Life presentation, the concept of free speech only applies to those with views that mirror their own.
I decided to attend the pro-life presentation because I wanted to hear for myself what this group had to say. The vast majority of Canadians, myself among them, support abortion rights, and our laws should not and will not be changing. Although I understand that not all people feel the way I do on this issue, I do believe they have the right to offer a presentation and let people choose whether or not to attend. When the meeting began, some of the protestors started yelling and heckling, so it was very hard to hear at first, but eventually they stopped, for the most part, or left the room. I didn’t agree with much that the presenter said, but I didn’t feel that the group’s message was threatening in any way, including politically. Given the relatively small number of people attending, and the substance of the presentation, I doubt the group is likely to gain many new supporters. I quietly listened for about an hour before slipping out.
By then, most of the protestors had left the meeting room, and were instead lining the hallway directly outside it. I walked by them as they chanted and yelled, and held their signs, and was taken aback by their open hostility. I made eye contact with a boy who looked to be about fifteen or so, and stopped to ask what was on his sign. I don’t know why I stopped, I guess maybe I was hoping to diffuse some of the anger surrounding me, and I’ve always liked talking with young people. At any rate, I stopped to read his sign, which contained the words F@#% YOU.
“That’s kind of rude,” I commented in a mild tone. I really wanted to try to understand where he was coming from, but before I could say much more, I realized I had incurred the wrath of his mother. She immediately marched over and started berating me for daring to talk to her son. She was extremely hostile, as were some of the other protestors who quickly joined her.
I was shocked to realize their apparent outrage was directed at me, and in an effort to counter it, I tried to explain myself. Silly me. These people had no interest in any rational or intelligent discussion. If anything, they just seemed to get more agitated. And that’s when a police officer came up to me and told me to leave. He insisted, actually. I couldn’t believe it! A group of rowdy, hostile, aggressive people are able to storm a community centre, but I had to leave? Although I understand the officer was trying to avoid any escalation of conflict, his actions toward me just added insult to injury.
This country is seeing a rise in divisive rhetoric, as we all saw in the federal election. Most of us would agree that any person who acts to spread hatred or violence should be condemned, opposed and sanctioned, but have we really reached a place where only those with the loudest and rudest voices are being heard? When people are so blinded by the righteousness of their own thoughts and beliefs that they are willing to trample on the rights of anyone holding an opposing view? The ugliness these people chose to use while they exercised their right to demonstrate has become commonplace in recent years. Authorities do their best to keep everyone safe, while peaceful protest goes the way of the dodo bird, replaced instead by mobs who insist that their beliefs justify their aggressive and extremely bad behaviour.
It seems to me both ironic and sad that this has somehow become acceptable in a society that strives to achieve zero tolerance for bullying.