Monday, May 11, 2009

When civil disobedience is no longer civil

Yesterday, more than 5,000 Sri Lankan Tamil protestors stormed Toronto’s major downtown freeway, the Gardner Expressway, effectively shutting it down for six hours. Without going into the issues of the illegality of the protest or the danger that they were putting themselves, the police and other motorists in who might have been in emergency situations (the Gardner is the main way of getting downtown, often used by emergency vehicles taking people to the hospitals in the city core. I know this by experience), I was most disturbed to learn that protest organizers deliberately put the weak and defenceless on the front lines of the protest. Women and children…. Why I am not surprised that these supporters of the Tamil Tigers, a group that has been proven to use child soldiers in its fight with the Sri Lankan government, would resort to similar tactics?

I do believe that there is a place for civil disobedience. And I am not unsympathetic to the grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is why The Voice of the Martyrs helped draft and support the recent Toronto Statement. But cowardice, deliberately putting others in danger, failing to exhaust standard means of redress, and neglecting to show how this kind of protest will actually help their cause placed yesterday evening’s protest outside of the criteria of what constitutes legitimate civil disobedience.

Several years ago, I had a hand in helping the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Religious Liberty Commission draw up a paper on the issue of civil disobedience which I have often found very helpful. Included are seven criteria of what justifies such actions. You can download a copy by clicking here.

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