The High Cost of Turning a Blind Eye to Vandalism

The High Cost of Turning a Blind Eye to Vandalism
The statue of Sir John A. MacDonald lies headless on the grass after it was torn down following a demonstration in Montreal on Aug. 29, 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Gerry Bowler

On a damp Saturday afternoon in Montreal this past weekend, a small “mostly peaceful” march under the banner of the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation ended with an attack on a monument to the memory of Sir John A. Macdonald. Unmolested by the local constabulary, the statue of Canada’s first prime minister was unbolted, pulled down, and covered in graffiti by young demonstrators who just happened to be carrying ropes, bolt cutters, wrenches, and spray cans.

A leaflet distributed at the protest described the founding father of the Canadian nation as “a white supremacist who orchestrated the genocide of Indigenous peoples with the creation of the brutal residential schools system, as well as promoting other measures that attacked Indigenous peoples and traditions.”

There is much about this incident that ought to trouble us.

Firstly, this was another in a tedious series of attempts to express a currently fashionable opinion by an erasure of the past. This was something that Stalin used to do frequently. Photographs of the dictator beside a disgraced Politburo member or one of his secret-police chiefs whom he had murdered in a purge had to be altered to show that there never was such a person as a Zinoviev, a Kamenev, or a Yagoda.

In George Orwell’s dystopian “1984,” a dissident is told by the officials of Big Brother: We do not allow the dead to rise up against us. ... You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed. The mob in Montreal wants to wipe our minds free of the past in the same way.

Then there’s the priceless gift of uncritical publicity which this destruction gives the perpetrators. The CBC, the BBC, and our national newspapers all gave space to the views of these masked iconoclasts. No one was interviewed to engage with their puerile views; only the pro forma tut-tutting of elected officials. Articles described them as “young activists,” the same term that the vandals gave themselves in their self-glorifying handout where, thanks to news outlets happily amplifying their voices, we learn that they offered this action “in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of Tio’tia:ke, Turtle Island and across the globe, and all those fighting against colonialism and anti-blackness in the struggle for a better world.”

It will not have escaped Canadians’ attention that at some point in the recent past, police forces and/or their political masters have decided that enforcing the law against certain groups is an option. The march in Montreal was accompanied by several dozen police who chose (or were under orders) not to intervene. This complaisance in the face of open law-breaking was a repetition of countless instances in the past couple of years of official inaction while various groups of activists held sit-ins, occupied, blocked, or intimidated to their heart’s content. Remarkably, the same police who stand by watching illegal actions by progressives suddenly find the energy to deal sternly with counter-protesters.

You can only erode the social contract so far without doing serious damage to democracy. Respect for the police has virtually disappeared from the left wing of the spectrum; now it is being eroded on the centre and right. The spineless behaviour of the Ontario Provincial Police in Caledonia is already legendary. The passivity of the police in the face of pipeline, road, and rail blockades, the disruption of urban traffic, and outright vandalism makes many in the middle class wonder if there really is just one law for all Canadians.

Indulging these gangs encourages the people they represent to ignore the legal channels of protest, to forget about the political process, the court system, or actually persuading fellow Canadians about the righteousness of their cause.

Moreover, the dialectic of history cannot be denied: an extreme movement on one side always provokes an extreme reaction on the other. In the streets of German cities in the 1920s, communist paramilitaries nightly battled the militias of the Nazi party and the Social Democrats; Germans lost faith in their constitution and voted in Adolf Hitler as a solution to lawlessness. In the United States today, we can see that antifa violence has led to vigilante violence by its opponents in Portland and Kenosha.

Do Canadians really want politics to be conducted in the streets by mobs and armed gangs? If we don’t, our elected representatives and the forces of law and order had better start earning their money and defending a system of constitutional democracy that took centuries to build.

Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. His latest book is “Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday.”
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.