Few people would argue that our world has not changed in the past few years, especially post-pandemic. In my view, we are less tolerant of others, more focused on what we believe to be our individual rights, and quick to put down those who disagree with us. Cancel culture has become an acceptable form of dealing with our past and a “my way or the highway” attitude has become more prevalent in our present-day genre.
Underlying all of this is a sense of anger, discontent, and entitlement that has crept into our society and is being played upon by those of all political stripes who want to advance their own particular agendas, which, while often promoted as freedom, is in many instances more about control.
In Wisconsin, first graders are now banned from singing a song called Rainbow Land, by Dolly Parton because it is about accepting others.
In Utah, a parent has utilized a new law that permits the removal of “pornographic books” from libraries to demand the removal of the Bible from those institutions, citing incest, bestiality, and infanticide.
In Canada, issues such as abortion and the breakup of this country are raising their ugly heads again because people think they can get away with it now. A conservative backbencher wants to revisit the right of a woman to control her own body and her leader has agreed to support it. This is a matter that even Stephen Harper’s government stayed away from.
This past week, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois compared the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada to that of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine and between China and Taiwan. And so far, he has gotten away with that.
And then there is the Liberal government that passes legislation that controls beyond libel and slander laws, what we can say, what we can read or hear, and what we can see. At any other time, this would have been condemned as censorship.
In this age of populism, we just don’t seem to care. Let people and governments do what they want. Just leave me alone to do what I want. That seems to be the attitude, and it bothers me.
It bothers me, especially in relation to young people. What are they learning these days about tolerance and self-discipline—about what is right and what is wrong? And what does this mean in terms of what they believe and how they act as they grow into adulthood?
I was shocked, as I know many others were, to learn this week about a teenage girl who was attacked by two other girls outside of Huntsville High School, forced into a vehicle, taken to a small park, beaten, partially disrobed, and then had chlorine, diluted by water, poured over her head in an attempt to change the colour of her hair. Her phone was confiscated so she could not call for help.
The teenager eventually got back to the High School and called her parents. She was taken to the hospital by her father to be treated for a minor concussion and bruises on her face and ribs.
I had allowed myself to think that this sort of thing would never happen in Huntsville but it does, and, in fact, may be endemic here.
Bullying of course is not a new phenomenon but the level and frequency of violence is disturbing as is its acceptance, and that is indeed worrisome. Huntsville Councilor Scott Morrison noted examples of bullying in other areas and spoke to the unfortunate behaviour of bystanders videoing the occurrences instead of intervening.
I cannot help but think that the current wave of populism in our society encourages young people to believe that anything goes—that strictures that once applied to what you can or cannot get away with have been lifted. That this is happening in Huntsville is an eye-opener. But clearly, it is not just happening here and that is a societal problem that must be addressed.
One person who commentated on the senseless beating in Huntsville said this. “I am speechless, saddened, sickened, and worried. Clearly, the perpetrators and victims need help; that’s an understatement. This is a mental health issue and probably, way beyond that.”
No doubt, there are serious mental health issues here. But what happened here and what happens elsewhere in similar situations should not be diluted with excuses or political correctness or needing to dig into the root cause of these actions.
Even in this populist era, there needs to be a clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Young people must not be led to believe that all boundaries have been removed. They must learn that there are consequences for their actions.
The two teenagers who were involved in the malicious beating of one of their peers in Huntsville have been charged by the Ontario Provincial Police. This is as it should be. They should of course also be treated fairly but a message must be sent that there are serious consequences for behaviour and actions that are outside of the boundaries of civil society.
Our world may be going through a period of rapid change but our standards about what is right and what is wrong, or what is true and what is not, should not be part of that change.
No amount of political correctness or populism should prevent us from vigorously upholding these standards, with serious consequences for those who do not.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.