Civil Disobedience

by Jonathan Kuttab

Civil disobedience is a form of nonviolent  protest that is often employed by activists to draw attention to an unjust law or practice or to a Cause that they feel is being ignored. It is a deliberate violation of the law, that the activists undertake with full expectation that they will suffer consequences, including trials, imprisonment and a criminal record.  It is done with respect to the overall legal system, and no attempt to avoid the penalties and consequences, and sometimes it is done with the specific intent of bringing about these consequences.  Ghandi organized a deliberate and public defiance of the Salt laws in India  to draw attention to them, and by forcing the British authorities to incarcerate him and  many of his followers, challenged the authority of the British rule in India.  Henry Thauraugh also  deliberately refused to pay his taxes, to protest slavery, and was upset when his aunt paid them on his behalf after he spent one night in jail. Protesters sometimes block highways or otherwise refuse police instructions expecting to be arrested  in order to draw attention to their causes. 

By definition, civil disobedience is illegal and a radical step to take.  Those who engage in it in Canada must expect to pay the penalty, and must realize that they challenge a legal system, but do not expect it to collapse.  In fact, they expect that the system will be more embarrassed to have its most moral and outstanding citizens in prison,  for championing a particular cause and will adjust accordingly.  There is no right to civil disobedience, but there are laws governing arrests, detention, police conduct and trials, where it is useful to know your rights and how to engage the system with minimal damage, but in choosing civil disobedience, a protester must be aware that s/he is in fact breaking the law, and must suffer consequences.


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