The right to protest is at the heart of what it means to live in a liberal democracy. The fact that people can advocate for whatever social change they wish to see, even when it irks those in authority, and often the wider public, is something to cherish and defend. Indeed, one can argue that the most effective journalism consists in the irking of authority—insisting that the public’s business be conducted in public, for example—and in generally comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
To be clear, this newspaper shares the sentiment of the 19th century German philosopher and defender of animal rights, Arthur Schopenhauer: “Since compassion for animals is so intimately associated with goodness of character, it may be confidently asserted that whoever is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”
That said, what occurred on Pelham Town Square last Friday night was misguided, unfortunate, and frankly counterproductive.
Protesting the use of horses, in an agricultural community, for a service which they have provided for more than a millennium, seems to miss the point by a wide margin.
Some municipalities in Canada have essentially banned horses for recreational purposes in their urban cores— Toronto and Montreal being good examples. Such downtowns have commonalities—a large number of tall buildings forming echoing canyons, considerable traffic volumes, frequent loud noise, and huge numbers of people. None of these exist in Pelham.
Those are scary and foreign environments for horses, and one can reasonably advocate for a carriage ban in major urban cores. Any mistreatment of horses in these (or any) circumstances is, obviously, deplorable.
Why Niagara activists cannot see that an agricultural community, in which horses already exist, comfortably, is fundamentally different, we cannot say. A carriage ride in Pelham does not compare to the cruelties imposed upon horses prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Lastly, the service provider for the Christmas event is a reputable business. The animals which worked on Friday night were clean, healthy, and probably more agitated by the protesters’ screaming bullhorn than by anything else. While we emphatically endorse the right to demonstrate, bullhorn users should know enough about their cause célèbre to realize that frightening horses can get someone killed.
In addition, protesters initially located themselves near a line of children waiting to see Santa Claus. Terrifying tots, and enraging their parents, is not smart public relations. One might say it even reflects a lack of horse sense.
Perhaps next year those who wish to have an actual dialogue or debate with the Town could write letters to the editor, or attend as delegates before Town Council to make their case, rather than use the bullying cudgel of a bullhorn at a family event. ◆