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HAT Forum - "Civil Disobedience: When is it the Right Thing to Do to Break the Law?"

  • The 519, Room 303 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws of the state, and/or demands, orders, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. ~ Wikipedia

Civil disobedience appears to be as old as law. Some famous examples are:

William Blake The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.  and

Rise up O young men of the New Age…Suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertising boasts that they make of such works; … there is a class of men whose whole delight is in destroying. We do not want their models…         

Martin Luther King Jr. regarded civil disobedience to be a display of reverence for law. 

Any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for law.

Having spent one night in jail in July of 1846 for refusal to pay his poll tax in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, Henry David Thoreau lectured in January of 1848 on the subject "On the Relation of the Individual to the State."

In Canada, we have Louis Riel and almost the entire leadership of the Plain Cree and Blackfoot nations who were hanged in 1885. [i] We have the Occupy movement and much more. Read: I Fought the Law: Civil Disobedience and the Law in Canada, Koshan 2012.

1.       What acts of civil disobedience are most meaningful to you?

2.      What distinguishes an act of civil disobedience and one of simple lawlessness?

3.      Civil disobedience reflects emerging cultural issues. What standards should we apply when deciding to support an issue of civil disobedience?

4.      How do we decide to support the actions of those whose acts of civil disobedience we do not agree with?

[i] Robert Lovelace in Rabble on June 21, 2013   http://rabble.ca/news/2013/06/civil-disobedience-and-truth-about-canadian-history-reflections-on-national-aboriginal-