I read an article on the #MeToo play touring locally in a recent issue of the North Grenville Times. One participant is quoted as saying: “I believe everyone has a right to be believed”. I am sure these young people are sincere in their convictions, but no lawyer could possibly endorse this view. We have courts, rule of law, due process, and the right of an accused person to face their accusers and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Did she mean for this “right to be believed” to also apply to someone wrongly accused? We throw away this basic pillar of English criminal law at our peril.
By coincidence, that same day I stopped by a local restaurant and was approached by two young people who were visiting Kemptville. I asked them where they were from and one responded: “Brockville,” and asked me: “do you know where that is?” I responded that I did indeed, and as a retired historian I could not resist asking: “…..and I am sure you know who Sir Isaac Brock was?” There was a blank look and one said very tentatively: “I think I might have heard of him.” I later got into a conversation with the young lady behind the counter and expressed my surprise that two obviously intelligent young people of high school age from Brockville did not seem to know who Sir Isaac Brock was. Her response was: “who?”
So what do these two incidents have to do with each other? On one hand you have students touring to support an ideological position wherein it is possible that a mere anonymous accusation in the media of alleged misconduct, not necessarily of a criminal nature, that occurred years earlier, must be believed without question, and can destroy a reputation and even ruin a career (reference Patrick Brown) because “everyone has a right to be believed.” A more thoughtful position might be that a credible accusation deserves to be taken seriously, pursued through proper channels, and then let the guilty be punished. The distinction is important. Sometimes alleged victims are not credible, and not all accused persons are found guilty (reference Jian Ghomeshi). Again, the accused has the right to be believed too because of the legally mandated presumption of innocence.
On the other hand, I met two young people who could not identify the British general their city was named after, whose decisive military action helped save Canada from American occupation. Did they know anything about the War of 1812, how British North Americans fought to preserve their freedom, and the enormous impact of this conflict in forming Canadian national identity? This is important stuff for our understanding of who we are as a country. Do they not teach it in school any more?
My point is that most young people I have spoken to lately know little or nothing about Canadian history, but they seem to have absorbed plenty of information about identity politics and social engineering. Our education system needs to return to basics and get its priorities straight. As for the #MeToo events, this is also an important discussion and confronting inappropriate behavior is long overdue. But with power comes responsibility. Hopefully that will be part of the discussion too. There are no simple answers of complex issues. To suggest otherwise is indoctrination, not education.