Artwork by: Heather Clemenceau
I think that many people hear the term “Code of Conduct” and think that they are automatically about to be thrown in a straitjacket of do-goodiness. But a Code of Conduct is really just an itemization of our ethics – it sets the tone from the top down, on what our culture of protest, use of social media, etc. will be. When the Code is understood by activists, it protects us from our own occasional tendency to want to behave roguishly, and it shows people who are watching and listening to us that we have lines that we just won’t cross, no matter what others do.
I believe that protests should have principles that govern us. So I’m drawing on my own experience in the Corporate world as well as the activist world in itemizing what I think are important facets of an activist Code of Conduct:
- We stand for non-violent protection of animals. Peaceful protest is honourable protest.
- Keep the protest passive and try to avoid individuals who are overtly negative. If they insist on arguing with us, stick to the facts. Do not use inflammatory language or insults when pointing out your legal position and your right to protest
- What are my rights and freedoms as a photographer in Ontario? Here is an excellent resource that explains what can be photographed, who owns a photo, and what can be published – Ontario Photographers Rights.
- Do not endanger yourself or others. If you put yourself into a situation, then someone else must either come looking for you or must assist or rescue you, which also puts them at risk.
- Stand on public property. Stand where the police tell you and make note of their badge number if the request is questionable. If a property owner insists that you stand somewhere else, be cautious, since the police are the ones who must enforce trespassing laws.
- Do Use the services of the local SPCA and other agencies that advocate for animals – they can often help raise awareness of the issues or of future protests. Ask them to include the dates of future protests in email blasts or newsletters.
- Do not be defamatory – do not make claims about a person’s reputation or business that may be damaging and untrue.
- We will always make certain that we are parking on public property. Please do not park on private property and then proceed to protest against the person or organization upon whose property you just trespassed.
- Do not be threatening, abusive, harassing, and do not invade anyone’s personal privacy.
- Do not make sexist, racist, profane, homophobic, or otherwise offensive and discriminatory remarks
- Do not promote violence or other unlawful acts including trespassing.
- Call the police if someone commits an offence against you so that documentation exists.
- Obey the law and the police. The Animal Welfare/Rights movement is one that is increasingly intersecting with traditional areas of law such as tort, criminal, property, and constitutional law. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in Canada’s constitution, guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly in section 2(c).
- We must be responsible and accountable for our actions, intended or unintended.
- We don’t condone wrongdoing in ourselves and will be responsible and speak up when it occurs.
- Do create petitions, use photographs and factual information to support the petition. Rely on crowdsourcing to route your petition. Do find a way to occasionally send a message to the people who have signed your petition to keep them up to date on the progress of your cause.
- We won’t abuse alcohol or drugs.
- Contact the police ahead of the protest. Ask if permits are required. If so, ensure that they are fully complied with.
- If we see violence or vandalism occur, we will report it and co-operate with authorities if required.
- Know thy audience. Familiarize yourself with the goal of the protest. If you create your own signage, make sure that it aligns with these goals. Some groups are not susceptible to certain message points, which means your time and effort protesting will be minimalized or lost entirely.
- If we use a megaphone, we will ensure that its use is sporadic rather than constant. We will observe all local bylaws regarding megaphone use. We will ensure that megaphones are not used excessively in residential areas and we will always use it to convey factual information. We will not use a megaphone if it startles flight animals.
- We will respect the rights of non-violence and compassion.
- We will leave no garbage behind.
- We will always present ourselves as ordinary, everyday citizens, (which we are). We have justifiable concerns. We must also develop and sustain a sense of practicality and realism when responding to questions and concerns.
- Select an issue that is of particular concern to you and run a campaign to foster change within your local community, workplace or university, or on a larger scale.
- Video Documentation should be used with a view to preserving evidence and documenting our performance. Video recording at demos and other events can be a critically useful tool in helping us to review and improve upon our effectiveness. It can also serve as a deterrent to intimidating or violent behavior to our opponents in addition to recourse to be used in litigation. Video recording, however, may unintentionally inflame passions or be viewed as an tool of intimidation if not handled correctly. In view of this it is essential that recording demos and events be done so in a professional manner that avoids aggressive behavior and avoids as much as possible verbal exchanges. (Thanks for this suggestion Martin)
For a long time it was left to philosophers to speak up in defence of animals. For example, Pythagoras urged respect for animals. In the 17th century, early animal protection laws were advanced by Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, John Stuart Mill et al, and followed eventually Henry Berg, who founded the ASPCA. What we hold in common with the philosophers is that we can advance animal issues by using critical reasoning, the most effective strategy.
The way has not been easy for contemporary animal activists and will perhaps get even more difficult. The animal exploitation industries have huge resources behind them, and have the ear of government, But it is impossible to believe that, in the end, justice and compassion will not triumph.