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Sep. 22, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Op-ed: The right to protest carriages doesn't make it right
A protester stands on Byron Street. (Richard Harley)

David Israelson

Special to The Lake Report

There are so many good things about living in Niagara-on-the-Lake that it seems almost churlish to draw attention to something not so good. But it’s not easy to ignore one of NOTL’s least-appealing aspects — the never-ending protests over horse-drawn carriage tours in Old Town.

Full disclosure: I take a wide berth around the protesters and I intend to keep it that way. But I have read their material and know what they stand for. I’m not interested in getting involved.

From what I can gather, though, the protesters are advocates of a doctrine that opposes what they call “speciesism.” This is the idea that one species, in this case the human, has no moral right to boss around another.

Obviously there is room to disagree. And, as in most moral evaluations, there are extremes that should be avoided. Cruelty to animals and indifference to the suffering of any creature are reprehensible and ought to be condemned and sanctioned, always.

But I don’t see how having horses take tourists around the block falls into this category. And nothing I have read about this ongoing protest persuades me that this campaign against the carriage business is productive or helpful to anyone. Not people, not horses.

We live in a free society, and people have a right to make their views known and to go in the street and seek to share them with others. But the protests in NOTL don’t seem to be altering anyone’s opinion – and that doesn’t appear to be their intent.

The protests strike me as harassment — a passive-aggressive form, to be fair. And again, to be fair, the protests don’t seem to be really fair to anyone in this town, including other species.

From my admittedly remote vantage point, it feels like protesters are taking advantage of people's tolerance and goodwill, and the strong desire of civic authorities who represent residents to defuse controversy and avoid confrontation.

Tactically, I guess that part is working — the protests have triggered rising anger. There have been counter-protests, other nearby businesses are getting nervous and let’s face it, protests can put people on edge.

None of this is good. For one thing, it appears doubtful that these protests are changing anyone’s mind. At some point, when you say something and others have heard it and you don’t really have anything new to say, it’s time to move on.

Additionally, this is not exactly the greatest time for people to be gathering in public in groups for anything, protest or otherwise. In case some haven’t noticed, there’s still a pandemic going on.

Those who do feel a need to protest about anything right now might want to ask themselves: Has something happened recently that has changed the situation so much that it’s necessary to gather in the streets?

In some cases, yes. For example, Black Lives Matter demonstrations are important right now, particularly in troubled places like certain U.S. cities. They support people who are victimized, hurt and, in some cases, killed simply because of their race or background — the situation is developing and now is the time for change.

But protesting carriage rides? Week after week? People do have a right to hold up signs about things that they don’t like, but that doesn’t make it right.

David Israelson is a writer, journalist and communications consultant based in Niagara-on-the-Lake.