No place for harassment

Op-ed

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At Kemptville Buskerfest on May 18, a member of the North Grenville Rainbow Youth Alliance was harassed. This person wrote online that two large men – who had previously launched attacks online – made attempts to intimidate them by staring and sneering aggressively, even when asked to move on. The victim posted online: “They were standing staring at me aggressively and then started to move toward me, [one of the men] puffed his chest and then made that movement as if jolting at me like he was going to hurt me.”

North Grenville is no place for harassment, and, in fact, there isn’t any place in the world where this type of harassment should be allowed to occur. The victim repeatedly used the word “intolerant” in the social media post. I avoid using the word “intolerant”, because I feel that “tolerating” someone suggests you are doing them a favour. There is no favour inherent in respecting human rights regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Such respect is a civic duty to which we should all be upheld.

Imagine walking into a family restaurant and having someone say they will “tolerate” your kids being there. Imagine walking into a store and having the owner run up to you and say he “tolerates” you being in his store despite the colour of your skin. To be tolerant means you have the moral high ground. Picking on someone for their sexual orientation is not moral high ground. It’s not even moral ground. It’s a moral black hole of the very traits that this world should go on without.

After being harassed online previously, the victim in this case could have reasonably argued that they were “tolerating” the presence of these two men at Buskerfest, so long as the harassment didn’t continue. The one with the moral high ground is the one who has the right to “tolerate”. However, the harassment continued, and in fact it escalated, and the victim is absolutely correct in stating that we must take a stand against such behaviour. A mother and father were forced to watch as their child was bullied and threatened, inevitably leading to great fears about what kind of horrors could occur when they are not there to offer their protection. No parent should have to feel such fear. No individual should have to live feeling like they are “lesser than”.

Let us all hope that the Ontario Provincial Police take this matter seriously. If there is not enough evidence for charges, or at least a formal warning – despite the victim’s assertion that there were many witnesses – then, at the very least, bystanders must be prepared to take a stand in any similar future incidents. No one should stand idly by while this type of disgusting behaviour is putting a stain on an otherwise vibrant, diverse, and welcoming community. There is no need to put oneself in danger to defend someone. There is no need to escalate a conflict or get confrontational. Sometimes, the simple act of standing beside the victim can be all the power needed to get a bully to back down.

There is strength in numbers, and it is doubtless that the majority of people in North Grenville support a community where everyone is welcome. It pains me that this even needs to be a discussion in 2024. When it comes to incidents that affect fundamental human rights, and the ability of people to live safely in their community, there is no place for silence or neutrality. Take a stand, and advocate for what’s right. There are countless moms, dads, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, and friends who will appreciate it.

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