After encouraging Ontario Twitter users to be “kind” and not “hurtful,” the Ontario Provincial Police proved itself to be the intolerant party by blocking a vocal critic of its campaign to police speech.
Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant tweeted a screenshot Sunday evening, showing he had been blocked by @OPP_News, the official Twitter account of Ontario’s police force.
“On the snow-drifted highways west of Toronto, but @OPP_News has blocked me from road warnings b/c of my politics,” Levant tweeted.
The self-styled “Rebel Commander” may not be your cup of tea, but he’s a member of the media, and more importantly a citizen of Ontario: in other words, the OPP is there to ensure a “secure Ontario” for him just as it is for you and I, if its motto is to ring true.
But instead of keeping gangsters and drug dealers off the streets, the OPP focused its attention on telling people to “T.H.I.N.K. b4 u post” (though not about proper grammar and spelling, apparently.)
The department’s initiative, posted in February but fittingly noticed on April Fool’s Day, encouraged Ontarians to think about whether a digital missive was true, hurtful, illegal, necessary, or kind.
The last I checked, only one of those qualities are of concern to police. Kindergarten teachers can manage the other four.
Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor criticized the agency’s heavy-handed approach to policing the internet in a tweet of his own, ironically prompting a call from the OPP’s public relations department.
Members of parliament Jason Kenney and Larry Miller weighed in, suggesting that ignoring or muting unkind tweets is a more appropriate action than assigning a police task force to tackle the practice.
It’s unclear whether the OPP’s public service announcement has transcended from social media to real world law enforcement, but such a leap isn’t inconceivable.
In January, Gregory Alan Elliott of Toronto was tried after being charged with criminal harassment for his criticism of three feminists, who didn’t like that their blocking of him didn’t stop him from continuing his criticism of them on his own Twitter page.
While Elliott’s charges were all dropped, it still set a dangerous precedent that police have empowered themselves to curtail online speech, even when it doesn’t fit the actual legal criteria set out for criminal speech—such as harassment and threats.
The OPP has already shown a level of prejudice by blocking Levant: what would happen if that same man might need police assistance—or even protection?
We can only hope that the OPP does not selectively protect its citizens in the same way it apparently selects who are worthy of online engagement.
I looked at Levant’s Twitter feed, and saw only two tweets mentioning @OPP_News prior to his publication of the screenshot showing the block. Admittedly, one of those had him telling the police force to “fuck off,” but such a proclamation is still protected free speech.
If a private citizen wanted to block someone for that reason, I’d tell them to go to town. For a government agency—especially a police department—to take such an action is reprehensible, and will hopefully be short-lived.
We’ve seen ample reason to fear the “speech police”—my fear is that such a term is now a literal one.
UPDATE (04/04/2016, 12:00pm): I reached out to the OPP to invite a representative to appear on my show to discuss both the campaign and the blocking. That request was “respectfully” declined.
In an email, an OPP sergeant made the following statement about the blocking of Levant.
“The OPP is aware of comments and conversations that are taking place in social media and will continue to appropriately monitor them at this time.”http://www.andrewlawton.ca/2016/04/opp- ... ch-police/