a, Opinion

Commentary: McGill’s pitchfork brigade

The McGill community prides itself in having a tolerant and open-minded environment—one need not look further than Rez Project and Safe Space.

But for all of McGill’s self-proclaimed tolerance, it seems to be clear that at least one McGill area remains unsafe: McGill’s political environment.

McGills’s students and staff—yes, professors too—can get quite passionate about issues, and this is fine; there is nothing wrong with speaking your mind. The problem arises when only one voice, and one point of view is heard.

I went into university having some experience working with one political party and hoped to get a glimpse of the rest of the Canadian political spectrum through student groups and political courses at McGill.  But I soon realized that exploring all my political options at McGill without encountering hostility, was an exercise in futility.

From campus media to professors, it seems that a certain assumption is made. The Liberal (as in the Liberal Party of Canada) viewpoint is the right viewpoint. If you are a Conservative, you are obviously a homophobic, racist bigot. If you like the NDP, you’re a social justice warrior who reads too much Marx. Let’s not even mention the Bloc Quebecois.

I have found from personal experience that any claim of being anything other than a Liberal will warrant a demand for an explanation and justification of your political association.

When the Parti Quebecois (PQ) released its proposed charter of Quebec values last year, one of my professors dedicated some class time to a discussion on the issue.  While I agreed that banning civil servants from wearing  religious symbols while on duty was unconstitutional and infringed on religious freedoms, I found the language used to describe those who agreed with it, and Quebecois people in general, quite cruel. Here we are, touting the importance of diversity, while simultaneously shutting down anyone who does not agree with the majority. The situation quickly devolved from students having a diverse discourse on political rights to something akin to a pitchfork brigade. Whether this can be attributed to genuine mass agreement on the issue  or dissenters who were simply too scared to play devil’s advocate, I am still unsure.

Professors play their part in this too. Some professors make quips about certain political parties, and those who believe in those parties, just to get a few laughs. Of course, you are free to disagree with what they say, but it’s bound to sting when someone you potentially look up to calls what you believe in “stupid.”

This is echoed in campus media. Like the media of the wider world, we students often only get one side of the story.  Media will always have some implicit bias, but it is a problem that arises when almost all news sources take the exact same angle on the issues. You start to believe that because all the newspapers and websites say the same thing, their word is fact. We stop comparing, contrasting, and questioning.

But McGill’s lack of political discourse extends beyond party politics. Our community is tolerant only when the masses agree with you.

By no means am I promoting racism, sexism, or any other –ism that perpetuates the oppression of a certain group. The problem I have is that dissent can be marked as ignorance. With McGill’s large population of international students, we are bound to come across someone who is not politically correct, if not only because the person’s culture does not prescribe the same rules as ours. Ridicule and derision won’t help gain perspective.

University is the time to explore our options, to try and put on new ‘selves’; but students cannot do so when they are only given one option.

McGill’s problem is often reflected in the wider Canadian political sphere. Our democracy erodes when partisan interests overtake public interest. Pitting one party against another only hurts constituents’ chances of having their issues represented adequately in government; party politics are not worth dividing the nation. It is time to put down the pitchforks.

Sharon Xie


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