I came across this quote while taking a break to do some reading this morning. The quote brought back some memories and observations around an unfortunate event in the small community of Squamish BC and my experience with some of the local election candidates. The quote, and the events around the Fall 2011 Squamish Municipal Election, have to do with the ethics surrounding the “duty to act” and “duty to inform” when one is faced with unethical conduct or injustice.
“The question of justice is also closely connected both with universal responsibility and the question of honesty. Justice entails a requirement to act when we become aware of injustice. Indeed, failure to do so may be wrong, although not wrong in the sense that it makes us somehow intrinsically bad. But if our hesitance to speak out comes from a sense of self-centeredness, then there is a problem. If our response to injustice is to ask “What will happen to me if I speak out? Maybe people won’t like me,” this could well be unethical because we are ignoring the wider implications of our silence.” (Dalai Lama – Ethics for the new Millennium)
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that there are many good, decent and honourable people in Squamish who work hard for the sake of others and are worthy of great respect, even admiration. I would like to believe that most of our elected officials are also honest, ethical, compassionate and self-less individuals working hard, to the best of their abilities, to do what they believe is in the best interest of the community. Sometimes, even good, decent and honest people face personal, professional, political or social pressures which prevent, or inhibit them from doing the “right thing”. Although I recognise the pressures or conflicts which may inhibit or prevent someone from doing the “right thing”, I am not so willing to accept, or respect, a failure to do the “right thing”. I have also been accused of expecting too much from people as far as honesty and ethical conduct is concerned. Therefore, take my comments and the descriptions of events with a grain of salt. This is only one man’s opinion of a specific set of events likely involving only a few genuinely dishonest or unethical individuals.
“It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.” (Albert Einstein)
Last year I made the (unfortunate) decision to try and become engaged with local politics, and an upcoming municipal election, in the small community of Squamish BC where I live. Like everything else I do, I put in 100% effort to educate myself, determine local needs, personally funded, built and managed a web and social-media campaign to inform, support and provide a platform for the community and candidates to engage each other on local issues. At first, the community and local candidates were supportive of these efforts and acknowledged the value of a single-handed, neutral and apolitical effort to provide the community and candidates with tools for communication, collaboration and of course each candidate’s election platform. In the end, the impact of aggregating all local news, information, candidate platforms, videos, meetings, events and other election material made the web site one of the most heavily visited during the election and played a significant role in educating the community on the value, and necessity of social media for politicians to engage with their community. Although there were a few opponents to these collaboration, communication and social media efforts, they were mostly coming from the other media sources or individuals in Squamish who had been able to maintain a monopoly on election coverage in the past, and wanted to keep it that way.
“We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly” (Aristotle)
What was most disappointing about this experiment with Squamish politics, was how quickly all those candidates who expressed support in the beginning, fell silent and even distanced themselves from me when the dangerous, dishonest and unethical decisions made by a mayoral candidate (Auli Parviainen) and Facebook Group administrator (John Jervis), were exposed (www.squamishtalk.ca). The issue revolved around an unfortunate situation where the candidate for mayor, and administrator of the Facebook Group (Squamish Facebook Speaks) refused to inform the community of a potential risk from an (alleged) online predator and sexual/violent offender who had already been exposed for creating numerous fake Facebook profiles, including one of a young girl. The mayoral candidate and Facebook group administrator even went so far as to refuse to publish an RCMP edited public warning notice! Pretty hard to defend that one. These same individuals went on to threaten legal action, and even ban those people in the community who came out in support of efforts to expose their highly unethical and dishonest conduct which may have put members of the community at risk. The same Facebook group administrator (John Jervis) was recently kicked off the board of the local Chamber of Commerce after allegations arose of withholding survey/research data and abusive conduct towards women. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, and to refute allegations of misconduct. We are still waiting for the claimed/threatened legal defence against these allegations of misconduct and abuse levelled against John Jervis.
Allegations of crimes, abuse or other types of misconduct are often reported in the news, particularly when they have been levelled against politicians, or others in positions of authority who might be involved with decisions which impact the community. Politicians and those representing the community are expected to be honest and to act in ways which serve the community’s best interests. Clearly, reporting alleged misconduct serves the public interest and (AFAIK) is typically considered one of the roles, and responsibilities, of the media.
But in Squamish, if you have associations or friends in the local media (Squamish Chief), you can even keep your name out of the paper when allegations are made and even avoid any coverage whatsoever when you have blatantly refused to comply with an RCMP Public Warning notice – which may have put the community at risk. I suppose it is “politics as usual“ in Squamish, nothing more, nothing less than the same disingenuous and dishonest conduct we often see from politicians and media sources around the world.
After the 2011 municipal election in Squamish, bias, prejudice and hypocrisy are still evident in the same Facebook Group since they continue to exclude some members of the community from participating. Censorship and excluding some members of the community persist, in spite of the group’s claims “…to enable freedom of speech”, “encourage collaboration for the benefit of our community” and they “…will not edit or remove comments or people….” (Squamish Facebook Speaks)
Now that the election is over, the candidates have all but disappeared and no longer communicate with me in any way, and many of them carry on as if nothing happened, engaging with the same dishonest and unethical individuals who put the community at risk. These are the same candidates who were previously very supportive of the many efforts to promote their platforms, and provide tools which helped them to communicate with their voting constituents and to aggregate election material for the community. It is hard not to wonder what the basis of their original support was. It almost appears as if their support was based on a perceived value my efforts provided them during the election, and now that the election is over, and the value to them is gone, there is no longer a need to carry on with any previous support or association. If this is the case, it is truly unfortunate, but not all together unexpected. What is also very illuminating about these events is how more people have expressed outrage at exposing the misconduct and the names of those involved, (shooting the messenger) than have taken a stand against the dangerous and unethical conduct which set the wheels in motion. For me personally, this has been, and continues to be what disappoints me the most about some members of the Squamish community, and I believe, what will keep Squamish from moving past its “un-informed, ‘good-enough’ services and red-neck” perception outside of the community.
I have seen many embarrassing (political) events and mistakes take place in Squamish during the 20 years of visiting/climbing, and a decade of living here. Mistakes are fine, everyone makes them. But it is the ability to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them and taking an uncompromising stand AGAINST unethical conduct, which will build trust, respect and moral development in a community. This is so simple, and every parent knows this. If you ignore a mistake or bad behaviour in your kids, don’t be surprised when it happens again. Squamish needs GOOD parents, ETHICAL parents, parents who are not afraid to ACT against unethical conduct and set an example for the entire community. Squamish’s “parents” are it’s politicians and community leaders. If we don’t hold them, or others in the community accountable for misconduct, or if we attack or ignore those who expose misconduct, we will get exactly what we deserve. More demonstrations of unethical behaviour, misconduct and (valid) criticism from those outside of Squamish.
I suppose I am just curious as to the individual, societal and other factors which contribute to some people being able to speak up, expose and act when faced with injustice or unethical conduct, and what factors lead to others remaining silent, even distancing themselves from such events or the people involved in exposing injustice or unethical conduct. Personally, I am more concerned with public figures who proclaim their support for things like honesty, transparency, accountability and ethical conduct, while simultaneously ignoring the opposite of these same behaviors when it is right in front of them. I knew from the start that the single greatest obstacle I would face in this political experiment would be my uncompromising commitment to ethics, honesty and transparency. Fortunately it did not take too much time for me to realize this would become an intractable problem making me utterly unsuitable for engaging in any form of politics – at least in Squamish. Lesson learned, experiment failed, moving onto other adventures.