March 31st, 2014

Commentary | May 23rd, 2014
Fetishizing the vote
The unjust privileging of forms of political expression
Written by | Visual by

Many Canadians believe that young people are politically apathetic. I think these Canadians are wrong. The flaws in their beliefs became especially clear to me after comparing the societal reaction to two instances of political suppression in Quebec.

The first instance of suppression began well over a year ago. Montreal’s police force, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), began to frequently prevent people from protesting by unjustifiably deeming protests illegal and then attacking them within seconds. The SPVM have followed this procedure since the student strike, but especially since the movement lost its power, kettling and ticketing hundreds of protesters on numerous occasions. The clear beneficiaries of this crackdown are the state and corporate interests, which perceive anti-capitalist, anti-police brutality, and tuition-related protests as a threat to ‘business as usual’ in Quebec.

 The second instance of suppression is more recent. Many out-of-province students were prevented from voting in the provincial elections in Quebec a couple months ago. The Parti Québécois (PQ) is thought to have been behind this suppression, believing that they would benefit from restricting the political rights of certain students. The suppression occurred due to students’ supposed inability to prove that they are domiciled in Quebec. Yet many students who were barred from voting did, in fact, fulfill all of the necessary voting qualifications. As such, these students were likely turned away from the polls due to their place of education, first language, or original provincial affiliation, as the PQ believed that out-of-province anglophone students would vote against them en masse.

Many Canadians see voting as the only legitimate method of political participation. Any other form of protest is something to be condemned.

These two instances have quite a bit in common. In both situations, young people attempted to express themselves politically, and were prevented from doing so with vague references to domicile requirements and municipal bylaws. Additionally, in each instance a force – government, state, capital – attempted to prevent political expression for its own benefit. Both cases are clear examples of a systematic violation of young peoples’ right to political expression.

Yet only one of these instances received serious media coverage throughout Canada. The voter suppression scandal was a massive story covered by most national media outlets. People across the country called for justice, and were shocked that rights were being so flagrantly violated. Meanwhile, the brutal crackdown on protests in Montreal over the last couple of years has been largely ignored by most of the media, especially outside of Quebec.

How can one deride a generation of young people for not being politically active and then support attempts to crack down on their activism?

This disparity in coverage exists for one simple reason: many Canadians see voting as the only legitimate method of political participation. Any other form of protest is something to be condemned. This is why stuffy political commentators will point to voter turnout rates as proof of supposed youth apathy. This is why many Canadians celebrate those who vote, while demonizing those who protest. This is why Canadians were outraged over one example of political suppression while ignoring or supporting another.

Canadians, especially those who chastise supposed youth apathy, make two mistakes in their disregard for the political suppression of protesting youths in Quebec. First, they ignore evidence that, contrary to their tired claims, young people are politically active. Second, they undermine their stated desire to see young people become politically active by failing to condemn those who prevent this participation instead of encouraging it. How can one deride a generation of young people for not being politically active and then support attempts to crack down on their activism?

Canadians need to accept that youth political expression is not, and should not, be limited only to voting. It must be made up of a diversity of tactics and produce consequences that challenge mainstream norms. If Canadians cannot accept this, then they cannot complain about youth apathy without being hypocritical. Either Canadians do not want young people to express themselves politically, or they just want a neutered form of expression stripped of subversion – which, in the end, is hardly expression at all.


Davide Mastracci is a graduating History & Political Science student and a former Daily Copy Editor. He can be reached at davide.mastracci@mail.mcgill.ca.

Related Articles