There are some countries where citizens are not free to speak their mind. Voicing their opinions can bring intimidation or worse from those who strongly disagree.
Fortunately, that’s not the case in Canada — or is it?
Concerns about bullying and abuse of those who support the Alberta government’s proposed parks plan for Bighorn Country has led to the cancellation of several public information sessions. In announcing the cancellation of the meetings, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in a statement:
“I have heard stories of Albertans afraid to attend community events, Albertans berated in public, Albertans followed home, and Albertans feeling intimidated to not speak their mind or participate in this important discussion.
“I call on all of my elected colleagues to denounce the bullying and harassment being faced by Bighorn supporters.”
In order to address the safety concerns while still giving Albertans an opportunity to comment on the plan to create eight new parks in the Bighorn region (along the eastern edges of Banff and Jasper national parks), the government is extending the public engagement period to Feb. 15 and scheduling a pair of telephone town hall sessions for residents of Drayton Valley and Red Deer.
The proposed Bighorn plan, as has been the case with other plans that seek to balance protecting the environment and keeping land accessible to industry and recreational users, is a hot-button issue, often sparking heated opinions on both sides. But the discussion crosses the line if it devolves into the use of intimidation and bullying by either side of the issue. Sadly, it’s just the latest example of a societal problem that doesn’t go away. In spite of awareness efforts and educational programs, bullying continues to rear its ugly head.
Recently, Max Comtois, captain of Canada’s junior hockey team, was the victim of cyberbullying after Canada was eliminated by Finland in the quarter-finals of the World Junior Hockey Championship. Comtois was foiled on a penalty shot in overtime. The player’s agents condemned the “shameful and incomprehensible” insults directed at Comtois on social media.
In spite of events such as Bullying Awareness Week and Pink Shirt Day, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to those who need to hear it. The Bullying Canada website offers some sobering statistics:
• Canada has the ninth highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-old category on a scale of 35 countries;
• At least one in three adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently;
• Among adult Canadians, 38 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females reported having experienced occasional or frequent bullying during their school years;
• 47 per cent of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying;
• 40 per cent of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.
Whether in the school yard, the workplace or the political arena, bullying is unacceptable. Those debating the Bighorn parks plan might feel strongly about the issue and perhaps feel they’re just expressing their opinion. But no one has a right to berate or intimidate others because of their opinions. A nation that considers itself a civil society should be a place where respectful debate occurs. There should be no place for bullying, even in contentious political matters.