Society is changing—in many ways for the better—but along with the seismic changes that have shaken the Canadian society to its very core, particularly this week on the political front, come some very disturbing trends towards vigilantism and mob rule.
There are times when standing up for what is justice and the rule of law is very dangerous. When a mob is howling in the streets bearing with tar, feathers and perhaps a noose, outraged and convinced by rumours or unsubstantiated accusations that their cause is just, it takes more courage to stand up for reason, justice and due process than to tag along with the mob.
In the current atmosphere, suggesting that the summary execution of political figures from across the Canadian political landscape on the basis of anonymous testimony to media outlets is somehow wrong will quickly bring down the wrath of the right thinking and politically correct upon those who have such temerity and accusations of re-traumatizing the alleged victims will immediately follow.
In our current society, death by social media is now a thing. Ask those who had the ill fortune to be working or dining in a restaurant accused of being a front for a Hillary Clinton-led pedophilia ring when a self appointed would-be rescuer showed up armed to the teeth and bent on retribution. This is scary stuff.
To be clear, it is a very good thing that sexual harassment (or any type of harassment for that matter) by those who wield power over those without, be they men, women or of non-binary gender identity, is no longer to be tolerated within many of our institutions.
This has been a long time coming. In truth, it is amazing that these changes in society’s attitudes toward abuse have taken this long to arise and we should welcome them with arms wide open.
But then there is that troubling little matter of due process. Those old norms of innocent until proven guilty, of being able to face your accusers in an open court of law, have given way to the star chambers of a new age wherein guilt is assigned from the shadows and guilt is presumed upon accusation. Where there is smoke, reputations are now consumed in an instant by the fires of public outrage.
Of course bringing all this up while the rage of the angry mob is at full boil always brings with it the risk of swinging on a tree alongside those presumed guilty—or at least being tarred with the same brush. But if the press is not willing to stand up for those values that lie at the very foundations of a free and democratic society—then we are no longer living in such a society.
Whether tyranny comes from those espousing the values of the left or the right, whether that tyranny arises from the clamour of a mob or at the whim of a single powerful individual, tyranny has always been the mortal enemy of democracy and freedom—and defending the rights and freedoms so cherished by our democratic traditions in the face of tyranny is rarely safe or popular in the moment.
Whatever the merits of the current cases rocking halls of power in this country, to believe that the levers of tyranny will not be abused for political gain in the wake of what has been demonstrated as devastatingly effective by those current events, is not only dangerously naïve—it flies full in the face of what we have seen throughout human history.
We must somehow discover a way forward in this brave new world of social media and its accompanying immediate and total approbation based on unsubstantiated accusation—however much we may wish to believe those accusations and to support the bravery of those victims who have stepped forward anonymously—to chart a course that will preserve our rights, freedoms and the rule of law through due process.