Freedom of Peaceful Assembly?

CBC is reporting that “The principal [of Queen Charlotte School] said he’s already met with some of the ringleaders, parents, and he’s told students not to travel in groups larger than six.”

So much for the whole “liberty” thing.


Alan's picture
Alan on September 22, 2004 - 15:28 Permalink

Good Islanders in training for what out to be their future liberty expectation. When are you in a group? When you are three feet, six feet? Das principal ought to explain.

Ann's picture
Ann on September 22, 2004 - 16:15 Permalink

I believe you answered your own question in your headline. I am sure the students could gather in groups of hundreds if they didn’t frighten older people and damage property.
The problem is not the assembling- the problem is what they do while assembled.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 22, 2004 - 16:17 Permalink

Then the answer is to rule that students can’t frighten older people or damage property. Presumably one of the life skills that students should be learning is how to be a responsible member of a large group.

Alan's picture
Alan on September 22, 2004 - 16:20 Permalink

How can a principal make a determination of anything outside school hours and off school property?

Ann's picture
Ann on September 22, 2004 - 17:13 Permalink

Oooo I can’t wait until Oliver is a teen-ager Peter.

He will be an angel on his own, a devil when with others. And when he’s with lots of others, I will bet that all the lectures about “you shouldnt” and “it’s not nice to” will go right out the window.

Theres nothing in the constitution about students having the right to go out for lunch…maybe the principal should deny them that right instead.

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 22, 2004 - 17:31 Permalink

Ehh. I don’t think the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is seriously threatened by breaking up packs of teenaged thugs. Notwithstanding that very important right, society ought to protect vulnerable members such as seniors, and certainly ought to take reasonable measures to protect property. And if that means nipping a problem in the bud by stopping kids from forming up into large, volatile, hormonally-driven groups, I’m all for it.

As for the principal taking control of a situation that develops outside of school — if my kids were running around threatening and abusing seniors, I’d consider it a failure on my part and I’d welcome intervention by authorities.

Rights are important, and kids should learn that. But part of the lesson is that responsibilities go with rights, and rights get curtailed when social contracts are broken.

jeff's picture
jeff on September 22, 2004 - 17:35 Permalink

Or perhaps the parents should take a more active hand.

Failing that, I do believe the big, shiny Charlottetown Police HQ is a block or two over from the apartment complex..

Noliver's picture
Noliver on September 22, 2004 - 18:00 Permalink

Has thuggery been established and if so what fraction does it constitute of the behavior that seniors are objecting to? There’s a fine tradition in society of weighing risks and striking a balance somewhere between total freedom and total security; i.e. such that you don’t necessarily complete chuck a precious liberty for millions the first time you see it causing one person to get not so very hurt. I imagine seniors in packs can grouse selfishly as well as teens. I think the exact details of this story are liable to make a big difference to what it seems _ought_ to be done.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 22, 2004 - 18:01 Permalink

Actually, that was me that time. I don’t know any “Noliver”

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 22, 2004 - 19:35 Permalink

I don’t know if thuggery was “proven” — one woman claimed she was surrounded and taunted by teenaged boys (who all seem to be 6’4” nowadays, thank you very much genetically modified foods) and was terrified. And while some men might classify that as “not so very hurt”, an assault on a woman’s perception of her security of person ought to be treated as a serious issue. As well, there are by the students’ own admissions, routine incidents of damage to cars both in the parking lots and from apples thrown at passing vehicles.

I always bridle when I sense that people are treating the rights of kids as identical to those of adults. This is more than just “why, in my day, we had respect for our elders, damn kids today” kind of thinking. It has to do with earning rights and freedoms as you move through life rather than this world of instant entitlement many seem to have accepted. I don’t see the right of teens to gather in large packs as being “precious” at all.

My children did not have equal standing in terms of rights in our household, any more than I would have expected them to have equal standing with adults out in the community. For example, my wife could address me in terms or in tones that my daughters would be sent to their rooms for adopting. Now, as adults, they’ll say what they please and while sometimes it stings, I respect their right to address me as an adult. They’ve grown into it, earned it.

As for seniors gathering in packs and grousing — well, dammit, they ARE entitled.

Ken's picture
Ken on September 22, 2004 - 20:22 Permalink

In Lousiana my wife went to public schools with closed campuses, a concept which I found hard to comprehend, like paying for a doctor. Two examples of freedoms we Canadians enjoy and take for granted unlike our American neighbours.

Other Canadian freedoms include not peeing in a cup for employment, not being searched for weapons when entering a school, and our latest, the freedom to marry one of our own sex.

It must be disturbing to have dozens of kids who just finished sitting indoors for hours be released around your home all at the same time. How can this be avoided?

Alan's picture
Alan on September 22, 2004 - 22:01 Permalink

Razorwire…and 12 vice-principals per school roaming in mid-90s Ford Tempos.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 22, 2004 - 22:07 Permalink

I used the numerical range “millions” and hyperbolic words like “precious” as indicators to steer readers away from the idea that that sentence was a characterization of the parties or circumstances of this case. I regret I did not say as much explicitly. Nils, I think you make good points, I just don’t think most of them speak to mine…except to the extent they vaguely support them: e.g. A GPS-sensitive shock leash does not go on and later come off in familiar North American scenarios of boys and girls growing into the full rights of citizenship. I’m flattered that you took me to be proposing something more interesting and provocative than moderation, but unfortunately that’s all I dare to offer at this distance from the facts on the ground. That, sarcasm and bad puns, of course.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 22, 2004 - 22:09 Permalink

If I were a syndicated columnist things would be different, of course ;)

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 22, 2004 - 22:21 Permalink

Forgive my narcissistic slip, please: Didn’t mean to suggest Nil’s post was all about rebutting me and mine. Also Nils did indeed “speak to” mine audibly and intelligibly in the places I take him to have that in mind, so I probably shouldn’t have used quite those words. Got a little high on the bravado of claiming my point still stands. Gosh, maybe I could be a columnist?

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 22, 2004 - 23:03 Permalink

Where to start? I actually did focus on rebutting the points I thought you made, Oliver — although, if I understand you correctly now, you are saying you were playing the devil’s advocate …? It’s a position I take myself from time to time, and I have no problem with it — I just missed the key indicators, as you say. Sorry — this is not a perfect medium to convey subtleties like sarcasm, particularly when issues such as this one do tend to attract the overly earnest and well-meaning defenders of high principles (I am neither earnest nor well-meaning).

I’m baffled by the repeated references to what I do for a living. Again, sorry if I’m missing an indicator … are you being sarcastic or … what?

steve's picture
steve on September 23, 2004 - 02:12 Permalink

What an interesting debate. There’s a similar situation going on here in Quebec in the town of Huntingdon. The town has been plagued by vandalism. Alot of it has to do with the fact that the provincial police have cut back on patrols in the area. The local mayor tried to pass a curfew of 10:00 PM for people under 16. Then he received a legal opinion that it would be unconstitutional. Now town council has passed a bylaw fining parents if their kids are out after 10:00 PM. But the Surete Du Quebec refuses to enforce it.

Teenage kids are bastards sometimes. But I’m not sure banning them from walking the streets or assembling in groups larger than six will make them any less bastardly, and I think it will in fact probably endear them much less to notions of authority and civil society.

We have laws. If kids break them they should be punished. But it’s not right to draft draconian “pre-emptive” sanctions just in case some kids seem like they might cause trouble. This is the same kind of reactionary thinking that has lead to the the erosion of civil liberties in the name of quashing terrorism, in effect punishing people before they do something.

In my opinion, a civil society must be governed on the principle of giving people the benefit of the doubt sometimes, even bastardly teenagers.

Then again, I don’t have bastard kids cutting through my yard.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 03:37 Permalink

Sorry if I’ve been hard to read. I actually don’t think I’ve been sarcastic at all in this discussion. I was being flip, in a way I meant to be self-deprecating, when I wrote that I could be sarcastic. This was an attempt to, as they say, “keep it light,” while arguing seriously. I think with the “columnist” comments, Nils, I had the same goal in mind…in a backhanded, ironic and (I see now) opaque way. The joke was: You columnist, me reporter; columnists editorialize; editorializing of course is the great taboo of reporting; so you and me are arch enemies, ha ha, which we obviously aren’t (I don’t even count myself in your league). When I referred to columnists the second time I was mining the same unfortunately barren comic vein. The joke: Oh, but maybe I’m being like a columnist, ha ha, which I just took a posture of extreme opposition toward…the joke’s on me! O.K., so you had to be there.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 03:56 Permalink

Oh: I wasn’t playing devil’s advocate either. I was making an abstract argument to make the discussion less abstract. The word “thug” seemed to exaggerate what I read in the news story, which made me worry that Nils’ was reacting in a knee-jerk way without an eye to the details, in which I tend to think the devil resides.

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 23, 2004 - 05:03 Permalink

Ah, got it … I wasn’t aware you were a reporter, so it didn’t register — just kinda floated in out of the blue. Now, in context, it’s … what … droll? How’s that?

Steve makes some excellent points — and Ruk brushed up against the same points earlier, when he suggested that the rule be directed at the kids’ behavior and not at the fact of their associating in large groups.

I guess I’m more pragmatic about it. I think the behavior flows from the very presence of the larger group (peer pressure, showing off, hormonal imbalances). Take away the influence of the teeming mass, and you solve that part of the problem.

They’re still teenagers, so you haven’t solved all the problems. But one at a time, they can be reasoned with. It is a mathematical curiosity that aggregate IQ drops in teenagers with the additon of every new group member.

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 23, 2004 - 05:07 Permalink

And it may be we define “thug” differently. The news story I heard — where a woman was surrounded by leering, taunting boys who later snickered loudly that “(They)’d do her …” seemed to me a description of what some thugs do. But I’m certainly not above knee-jerk reactions, especially not when folks the same age as my mom and Dad are feeling threatened. When that happens, I’m almost up for a little thuggery of my own …

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on September 23, 2004 - 13:42 Permalink

Overheard yesterday, among a large group of mostly male 14ish teens as I was forced to step off the sidewalk and around them, because “excuse me” resulted only in blank stares: “He won’t fight me!”… “So what, just f***ing jump ‘im”. They were talking about some unfortunate subject of a bullying campaign, not me (I think). Either way, I think it qualifies as thuggery.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on September 23, 2004 - 13:52 Permalink

The truth…in my day, if I or my friends behaved like those teenagers Rob L. encountered, our fathers(mine especially) would have kicked our arses and made life extremely difficult…and we knew it.
Todays parents only raise perfect children, and feel it is right for them to say and do what they want, and justify it all under rights and freedoms. And if their kids get in trouble, the parents blame someone else, ‘cause little Johnny is to perfect to have misbehaved.
I miss my Dad.

Where did this generation of parents go wrong?

Ken's picture
Ken on September 23, 2004 - 15:10 Permalink

Ahh, the old kick in the ass solution. Let’s form a posse of concerned citizens, polish our steel toes, and when the lunch bell rings the ass kicking will commence.

Could this be the outcome of an industrialized school process that like some black-box mob factory releases a hungry horde every day at noon and 4pm? If traffic from a factory back up city street, they install lights. Shouldn’t the school stagger the mob release, rotate each class through some make busy exercises hat run two, four, six, eight and ten minutes? Maybe call it physical fitness and burn some energy off while releasing kids for lunch in smaller groups? Cars have mufflers for their exhaust, schools need some device to stop the burst of kids.

How does Wayne know those asses aren’t being kicked already?

Alan's picture
Alan on September 23, 2004 - 15:19 Permalink

Maybe its because I am 6 foot 4 and was a little bugger, but I have never budged when walking through such a group. Before you go off hiring the vice-principals and razor wire, look to your own conduct. These are Islander punks for God’s sake. Have you allowed them to treat you like that? Then, call the cops if they touch you. Cops are paid for that.

This all seems to have come out of once incident of harassment of an elderly person by a small group. Has that small group been identified and arrested for the easy peasy charge of mischief? Why does the actual authority with jurisdiction not take control? Instead there is the spectre of the principal in the Topaz with no power being involved. If something is not done soon you will have to put p with a five part Island Morning series that will have you all convinced that the sidewalks of Charlottetown are a war zone. Then the committees will be formed…

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on September 23, 2004 - 15:35 Permalink

Does everyone remember the notorious “Subway Kids” of the early ’90s? They were no more than 16 and they administered a good number of unprovoked (or lightly provoked) severe beatings to random passerby at Queen and Grafton. Oh, to know where they are today.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on September 23, 2004 - 15:38 Permalink

I don’t think children should be treated as adults either. I remember being a teenager. I remember hating parental and school authorities. I don’t think children have the same rights as adults do though. If ‘strict’ schools resulted in undemocratic societies then the French would have a much less democratic society than say Canada or the US. But actually, the opposite is probably true. The French democracy is in many respects healthier. On the other hand, I’m sure there is some happy medium between kids doing whatever they want and school as prison.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 16:36 Permalink

Just to be clear: As I use “thuggery” I mean doing something harmful _physically_ to someone’s _person_, and not just talking or posturing as if you’re going to do it. “Thugs” often intimidate and vandalize, because doing so is a labor saver and risk reducer that you can indulge yourself in after you’ve made yourself known as a thug. But it’s not through such activities that you earn the label from me. Murderous thoughts are bad, but murder is worse, and it deserves a harsher response. Same with intimidation vs wounds in need of treatment…especially when the intimidation isn’t explicit, so the victim had to surmise what kind of harm to which they were at risk of coming, if indeed they were truly at any risk at all—because there’s bluffing and paranoia and a whole spectrum in between.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 16:42 Permalink

What I read about I would call “(minor) vandalism” and (based on what Nils describes above) “menacing behavior.”

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 16:44 Permalink

Sorry: I left out “littering” and “hijinks”

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 23, 2004 - 16:45 Permalink

not to mention what sounded like a large dose of “boisterousness”

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on September 23, 2004 - 16:53 Permalink

Where did this generation of parents go wrong? Hmmm.

Well, first, let’s concede that the entire generation is not lost. There are tons of wonderful kids out there; polite, hardworking, concerned with issues in their communities and with the future of the planet. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focussing on the rotten ones and forgetting that the great kids not only exist but make up the fattest part of the curve.

Where did the bad kids’ parents go wrong? There will always be kids who turn bad because bad things happen in their home — cataclysmic marital breakup, or alcoholism, or abuse. They’re doomed to either fall through the cracks in society or — with luck — get rescued.

But I think there’s a whole lot of kids who have had it all — to a fault. They’ve been told since the first day they drew breath that they’re the wonder of the universe. They chew a crayon, puke it onto a paper, and mommy and daddy can’t wait to plaster it onto the fridge and register them for Montessori School because they are clearly too gifted for regular kindergarten.

They play softball and the parents change the rules so that no kid will be forced to endure the humiliation of “striking out”. They play hockey on teams where a designated coach runs a stopwatch so that no player gets more time than any other, regardless of talent, work, or interest. They are protected from failure, protected from blows to their self-esteem, protected from criticism, and in the end, protected from learning that what they do has real consequences.

They get dropped off at school and find, to their amazement, that the sun does not in fact shine brightly out their arses, and if they come home and complain about their teacher, they can count on Mom to rush down to the school and have them put in another class.

Their parents would be astounded to hear they might be to blame — but by raising a child with no standards, no checks, no discipline, they have taken the easy road. The schools, the police, and the community are put in the position of having to give these overprivileged, overpraised, overloved children the one thing they most need: boundaries.

Rusty's picture
Rusty on September 23, 2004 - 18:25 Permalink

Very well said, Nils.

Jacob Dockendorff's picture
Jacob Dockendorff on September 24, 2004 - 16:57 Permalink

I think this is an age-old problem for PEI. Distrust of youth or anything that looks suspicious. Suspicious being defined as something that you are not involved in personally. I think that it is time to take a look at the way the school system is being run. I have suspicions that maybe kids are acting the way they are in rebellion to the way they are being treated when they are at school. Maybe they are having too many silly rules imposed on them?

Wayne's picture
Wayne on September 24, 2004 - 17:37 Permalink

I agree. Being asked to be courteous and polite, respectful and orderly, civil and decent for about 6 hours a day, five days a week for a couple of weeks a month is asking a bit much for a number of todays teenagers. And, they have been taught to act out their individuality, speak their mind and question authority. The rest of us are far too old to know it all. How else could we expect them to act?

Blame the school, the tv, politicians, lawyers or the weather. It has to be something, because parents only raise perfect children, right?

Ken's picture
Ken on September 24, 2004 - 19:36 Permalink

In your case, yes.