Todd Colin Vaughan/Lacombe Express Editor

COLUMN: The right to protest needs to be protected

The right to protest also applies to people you disagree with

A arms wide-open embrace for the freedom to protest and dissent is a pivotal part of western democracies.

For Canadians, the ability to legally express opposing viewpoints is an essential part of what makes us free citizens.

For over a year, the freedom to dissent has been embraced in Alberta, with the most vivid example on the right being the yellow-vest movement which has criticized both the former Albertan NDP Notley government and the federal Liberal government for their handling of, most notably, the economy and immigration.

The people with these opposing viewpoints, although not uniformly embraced, have been granted the freedom to express their viewpoints on street corners, on the internet and in traditional media whenever and as often as they have wished.

Recently, more Albertans have taken to the streets — only this time it was teenagers, who on May 3rd left their high school classes in protest to show their support for gay-straight alliance (GSA) legislation which was put in place by the former Notley NDP government, which — amongst other things — prevents teachers from being able to inform parents whether their children has joined a GSA.

New Alberta UCP Premier Jason Kenney has publicly supported the right for GSAs to exist, but has shown opposition to the issue of teachers being unable to inform parents — an issue he believes goes against parental rights.

Regarding the protest on May 3rd, Kenney said, “It’s great to see young people taking an active interest in issues. I’d suggest better for them to do rallies or protests after school hours and not during them. We want to make sure young people are actually learning in class instead of doing politics.”

While Kenney’s request for social order during school hours likely follows most school guidelines, a protest outside of school hours would fail to be as effective for underage students in favour of the current GSA legislation who are looking to get their message across without the ability to vote.

Kenney with these comments did, however, recognize the right for people living in a free society to express their views – something many in opposition to the student protest did not.

Indeed, many criticized the movement for being a means for high school students to get out of class. No doubt, as there is in every movement, there was likely a few students that looked to capitalize on a opportunity but the fact remains that hundreds of students across the province held an opposing view and felt the need to express that view in the only means they had at their disposal.

What is important for us living in a free democracy is to recognize the right for these students — and the members of any other law-abiding, non-violent group — to express their views freely without the threat of coercion or violence.

Free citizens have the right to express themselves outside of the ballot box and any threat to that right is a threat to everyone’s freedom.

In essence, you don’t have to agree with what someone’s protesting to defend their right to do so.

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