‘Doing’ democracy a little better

Toula Foscolos
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When students originally went on strike to protest tuition hikes, I was so conflicted on the issue (flip flopping continuously), I opted out of writing a column.

Toula Foscolos w-e

Twelve weeks later, and countless in-person, Twitter and Facebook arguments, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m still not sure how I feel about the turn this protest has taken, or whether it’s even about the tuition fee hikes anymore, but I’ve come to the conclusion that too many people have lost the ability to debate most everything.

We are in dire need of some critical thinking. The one-sided, slanted and completely prejudiced reporting has got to stop. And that goes for both those in agreement and those against the student protests.

Critical thinking is the willingness to imagine or remain open to considering alternative perspectives. When one has already formed their own conclusions and is no longer willing to put those conclusions to the test, but, simply seeks to find evidence that confirms their pre-determined opinions, and nothing more, we’ve entered dogma territory.

What’s been going on lately saddens me. Students have revolted against what many consider outrageous tuition fee hikes (and others consider justified) and have to contend with an arrogant Premier who prefers to make silly jokes, instead of showing some leadership. While this movement now seems to encompass larger social issues, the protests have turned violent, hijacked by radicals and anarchists who aren’t there for the right reasons and who are seriously undermining the students’ cause.

While violence erupts, CLASSE spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is declaring : "Je n'ai pas le pouvoir d'appeler au calme, ce n'est pas mon rôle." (I don't have the power to appeal for calm; it's not my role.)

This is where you need a lesson in democracy and accountability, Gabriel. It IS your role. If you don’t have the power to appeal for calm, how, then, do you have the power to negotiate with the government on the students’ behalf?

There is an appalling lack of accountability and responsibility on all sides. The government is showing no leadership on the matter, the students are walking out on meetings and showing no desire to reach a middle ground, the police are overreacting to what – with the exception of radicals and anarchists - have been overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations.

But here’s where there’s a pitiful lack of perspective and a dire need for critical thinking. Calling Quebec a fascist and/or a police state makes a mockery of the real struggles taking place at this very moment around the world for democracy.

Referring to the demonstrations (as inspiring and groundroots as they are to many) as a “Quebec Spring” and a “Printemps d’Erable” is disingenuous and insulting to the real Arab Spring, and the hundreds of thousands of people who risked their lives in the Middle East, who were killed in Egypt and are continuing to be slaughtered in Syria.

You don’t get to have Amnesty International involved in this when there are serious human rights crimes being committed around the world. It’s ludicrous!

While I commend CUTV (Concordia University) for reporting live on last night’s protest, I found it to be frustratingly subjective. I understand that they're students and clearly biased on the issue, but someone should point out to them the difference between reporting and delivering a three-hour manifesto. That’s not how journalism works.

Words, expressions and symbols are being randomly tossed around with very little thought for what they mean and the kind of weight that they carry.

The reality is that you can experience a midnight protest in downtown Montreal, get some tear gas thrown your way if you fail to disperse (after repeated requests by the police) and then walk away, knowing fully well that your life isn’t in danger. You’re risking very little – other than, potentially, your university semester.

You don’t get to say that downtown Montreal is a “war zone” when you don’t know what that means. When you know fully well that, after you’re done protesting, you get to go home to your bed or you go grab a drink with friends and discuss how exciting being part of a revolution is.

You don’t get to have Amnesty International involved in this when there are serious human rights crimes being committed around the world. It’s ludicrous!

I think students are justified to protest the tuition hike. It’s within their rights (and their interests) to do so. At the same time, this democratically-elected government has the mandate to make decisions, and to re-assess them, if needed. If you don’t agree with the decisions being made, vote them out. That’s the beauty of NOT living in a police state. You get to choose who governs you. Don’t pretend you’re powerless when you’re not.

Yes, the current political administration is in a sorry state. I can understand the younger generation’s disgust with a system that's populated with $16 OJ-sipping Bev Odas and where construction scandals run rampant; a system that seems to have very little respect or regard for them. But two wrongs never make a right. Anarchy is not the solution.

Controversial scribe Salman Rushdie once said: “Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other and argue vehemently against each other’s positions."

I’m ok with that; it’s simply time we learned to argue better.


Organizations: Concordia University, Amnesty International

Geographic location: Quebec, Montreal, Middle East Egypt Syria

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Recent comments

  • Myriam
    September 30, 2012 - 20:26

    Toula, Stop working for rich greedy bastards ....because you write like you working for them.

  • Alex
    April 26, 2012 - 18:22

    "You don’t get to have Amnesty International involved in this when there are serious human rights crimes being committed around the world. It’s ludicrous!" Actually, Amnesty SHOULD be involved if they see fit. The point of groups like Amnesty or the ACLU in USA is that they are always on watch attempting to protect peoples right and freedoms. Saying they shouldn't get involved is following into a dangerous trap of misunderstanding how freedom is eroded. 'Someone' always has it worse and we need groups that are ever vigilant in being a watchful eye on the conduct of government and police.