On the Hill – Protest This

When the protest by Tamil-Canadians swarmed onto Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway last week, the frustration of thousands of observers boiled over too.

For the most part, the outrage was well-founded. Not only did the protesters use small children as barriers between themselves and riot police, they put thousands of other innocent lives at risk.

It wouldn’t have taken much to spark a stampede, one that imperilled both the protestors and those around them. And It’s only by sheer luck that no one in those blocked vehicles was trying to make it to a hospital, or was on their way to pick up a child left stranded when they were late. The situation could have turned much, much uglier in so many ways.

Other objections, though, simply don’t hold up. It’s all well and good to say that protests should never impede a society’s function. But oh how we’d be congratulating ourselves if massive civil disobedience had brought cities to their knees and crippled the early days of Hitler’s sway, or forced the Rwandan genocide to a halt. It’s the context, not the tactic, That’s arguable.

Another question being asked is this: How dare they bring their homeland’s battles and ambitions to our shores? That’s a question for the history books. The same could be posed about the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese forces that have dragged indigenous peoples into violent, foreign-backed conflicts in this hemisphere, or those settlers who weren’t thrilled about the taxation system imposed by their native soil and started a little something called the American Revolution on the shores of their new home.

And the argument that a country (in this case, Canada) has no right meddling in another nation’s affairs is a little disingenuous too. Few of us make a fuss about it when our corporate interests move in and forever alter the landscape and culture of a place, such as our mining operations in South America. The effects are deep, long lasting, and often disastrous for impoverished locals, but we’re not so eager to preach about interference when we’re turning a profit.

A better question, perhaps, is this: are the Tamil supporters rallying in the name of everyone’s human rights, or just in defence of their own?

As one protestor told the CBC, ?When I see pictures of children being bombed by illegal weapons, when I see pictures of elderly women being killed by chemical weapons, it makes me want to act.? But there are any number of recent atrocities to have shouted long and loud about. Bosnia. Rwanda. Darfur. China. The Middle East.

Odds are that many Tamil-Canadians contribute to human rights organizations or particular causes. But in the face of other widespread, appalling human rights violations, the mass protests have been conspicuously absent by the same group That’s turning out in the thousands now. Where were their leaders, or those youth suddenly hungry for human rights, when millions of other innocents were being slaughtered?

How then, do they justify intimidating the Canadian government with threats of more mass disruptions, in the name of protecting such rights? How can they, as a community, be taken seriously about their own rights when they haven’t made their voices heard on behalf of others in this interconnected global family?

For that matter, how can any of us?