Get the facts first

Here’s a challenge to Gatineau Hills residents on social media: Before you hit the keyboard, ask yourself, “Does my expression of outrage on this particular issue going to do good, or further add to the harm?” Even better: “Can I wait to find out all the facts before weighing in with potentially damaging comments?”


This week’s story on the alleged hate-motivated assault at the Depanneur Boucherie M.S. in Masham is serious and disturbing, and by all means merits close scrutiny. Expressions of racism – even if disguised as a public health issue – can not be tolerated. The victim has wisely sought the help of the National Council of Canadian Muslims to make sure the incident is not ignored, as so many race-based complaints are, and instead gets the professional attention it deserves.


Similarly, calls for the MRC des Collines Police to conduct a deeper investigation of its own handling of the issue are also merited, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite Premier Legault’s assertions that Quebec does not suffer from systemic racism, recent studies have shown that it, indeed, does in Quebec’s police forces. Maybe the case was handled correctly – we don’t know – but this incident is a good opportunity for our local force to look more closely at how it conducts itself regarding racial issues as a matter of good practice. Every police force in North America should be doing as much.


But the numerous comments on social media to vilify the M.S. Boucherie’s employee and owner as racists, and the calls to boycott the store, are not only just plain wrong — they are deeply damaging. A boycott threatens the livelihood of a real person – a local person with a face and a name and a family to feed – and yet fellow locals on Facebook are rushing to post call-outs to destroy his reputation and his business when they don’t know all the facts.


Even if facts and reason are not compelling enough, what about the argument for a little compassion?


Let’s remember that the cashier at the store is a frontline worker, who exposes herself to the COVID-19 virus every day she works just so the rest of us can have access to the essentials needed for day-to-day life. This particular frontline worker is only 15 years old to boot. Not only are we asking such frontline workers to risk their health every day they serve us, but now they are being asked to police the mask regulations, which are confusing and change every couple of weeks. It is an unfair responsibility that comes with the inevitable bonus of controversy. Even if she had made the wrong call to police (and the facts so far show she did not), shouldn’t the cashier and the store’s owner be granted a little understanding and tolerance as they do a job so many of us would rather avoid?


The toxic tide of angry individuals playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner on social media is rising all over the world, but when you see it up close and personal in your own community it is somehow more stomach-turning. And it’s happening more and more on the Folks groups.


Please consider this a plea to take a deep breath and ask yourself: “Have I got all the facts?” and “Is my outrage going to do more harm than good?” before you click ’comment’.


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