THE BLOG

Canada Has Lost Its Civility

06/17/2015 12:38 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT

Where has our civility gone?

What has happened to civility in this country -- especially on the internet and in politics? Have we forgotten how to disagree with someone's opinion without attacking the person?

Several weeks ago the media contacted me in respect to comments made by a provincial male Conservative party official. He had expressed his disagreement with a NDP policy announcement from the new health minister by critiquing her body size instead of focusing on the policy itself. As a consequence of the news article where I was quoted, albeit not totally reflective of the nuances of what I said, there were some very nasty comments made about me.

The commentators, for the most part male, who had no idea who I am or what I have done in my life were willing to attack me personally, including one man who called me a moron. It seems to be easy to write things that the commentator would not likely say in person or write in an e-mail to the individual with whom they disagree.

In the process, they diverted attention from the issue at hand to attack the person who challenged the inappropriate comments in the first place. I felt no inclination to respond to comments that would not advance the discussion. I see similar attacks when I read comments posted on an article or feature or a news story. I do applaud, however, the man who disagreed with my reported statements, but took the time to write me a respectful and inquiring e-mail. I took the time to respond to his concerns.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem when someone challenges my point of view. This is what democracy and healthy debate is all about. We need to have a robust and free exchange of ideas and opinions which make our democracy stronger because we can have freedom to be expressive. I notice however this is not what often happens on the internet and in public life.

Frequently it is women who are under attack by male commentators. Reporters, especially female reporters are being interrupted at their mics and frequently very sexually inappropriate comments are made. Hecklers reduced a female comedian to tears at a private event with insulting remarks. I have heard women speak about initiatives for women and be attacked with sexist and inappropriate comments made about them as a person and not about the issue at all.

Recently, I listened to an amazing group of high school students engaged in a debate. Each side had the opposite stance on an issue and their arguments were clear, substantive and respectful. They focused on the issue at hand and not upon the individual presenting it. I immediately thought that a lot of internet commentators and politicians at all levels of government could take lessons from these students on how to engage in a debate.

Simply because you disagree with someone's opinion does not make the person wrong or a moron or any other name flung around out there. In fact the personal attack on an individual commentator or subject of a news story reflects badly on the person doing it because it suggests that they do not have an evidentiary basis for offering an alternate opinion. If you disagree, state clearly why you disagree and the evidence for it. Of course, it may take some research and thought to achieve that level of comment.

Same goes for our politicians. It is harder to advocate for civility when we often see anything but civility being displayed by our elected representatives and leaders in this country. Instead of trying to be noticed by attacking their counterparts, perhaps they could spend time asking and responding to good questions put forward in the Parliament or the legislatures. Partisan politics plays a big role and I think our representatives sometimes forget that they are ultimately accountable to the electorate, not their party.

At election time it is the electorate who will oust them from office either on the basis of their party platform or their own behavior and performance record. We will all be enriched by civil robust debate in parliament and legislatures, on the internet and elsewhere that advances ideas and does not personally attack those who put them forward on the basis of their personal characteristics. I welcome a healthy debate on this subject.

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