Editorial: Social media holds a mirror up to our nation’s soul

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Numerous media outlets at both the local and national level have recently announced policies closing the comments section on stories covering Indigenous topics and are refraining from posting Indigenous stories to their Facebook pages where closing comments is not yet an option.

Discourse and debate are healthy aspects of a democracy, but the current level of vitriol and outright hatred being expressed online in these venues, as well as forming a platform for conspiracy theorists and outright fiction to be spread under the banner of credible news sources has dismayed editors and readers across the nation.

For generations Canadians have been able to create a vision of themselves as a polite, tolerant and generous nation, whose foundations expressed within its constitution are the pursuit of peace, order and good government.

In recent weeks, however, the reaction to protest actions taken by a relatively small but determined group of Indigenous activists, actions we might add unlikely to inconvenience, let alone actually impact in a detrimental way the vast majority of those commenting has been quite over the top—leading to arrests for hate crimes, threatening death and a host of criminal activity that far outweighs nearly all of the unlawful actions of those protesting in support of a group of Indigenous leaders from British Columbia.

The reflection we see of ourselves in the mirror of social media should make every Canadian pause and reflect upon who we desire to be as a nation. Peace, order and good government does not mean a strict adherence to the entire pantheon of white, Eurocentric privilege ingrained in our informal and even formal institutions and norms (although the original framers of the Canadian Constitution—the British North America Act—most likely thought that was the surest route to its attainment and maintenance).

It does not mean that we, as a collective nation, can simply ignore the ownership of the land simply because it suits us to do so and we have the power to force our will upon those who might seek to thwart us. That is not peace, that will not lead to order, and it most certainly is not good government.

There are those who criticize the current federal government for not invoking some sort of Emergency Powers Act, calling in the troops and suppressing the free and democratic rights of a minority and their allies. That would not be peace. It might bring order, perhaps in time, but events have suggested that disorder would increase and at what would be the cost in lost freedoms for all of us of such a kneejerk reaction?

History has taught us where a strict devotion to getting the trains to run on time will lead—and the broader historical record shows that, despite its claims, fascism did not succeed in that aim either.

Instead of immediately unleashing the iron fist, the current federal government exercised patience and sought to bring peace, order and good government through negotiation and reconciliation. It came at a political cost, it the polls are to be believed, but they took that route nonetheless.

It is time we reflect upon ourselves as a nation and add a fourth word to the triad of peace, order and good government—reconciliation. 

In fact, it is long past time.