Monday, July 02, 2007

Kieran King: My Kind of Canadian
June 29, 2007

Presumably there are people out there who agree that Saskatchewan teen Kieran King deserved a school suspension for daring to talk about marijuana. I’m not one of them.
In fact, I’m hoping the kid sues somebody over the whole misadventure, and wins. What happened to the 15-year-old boy was a flagrant abuse of power.
The news in brief: A Grade 10 student at Wawota Parkland School feels unconvinced after an anti-drug presentation at his school. He decides to do some research of his own before making up his mind.
He goes deep. His mom says King loves a good research project. The boy eventually reaches the conclusion that compared to both alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is less harmful.
He’s right, but let’s leave that debate for a moment. For now, let’s just focus on the actual series of events that then unfolded for Kieran King.
Having finished up his research, the teen tells a few friends what he’s learned. One complains to the principal that King is advocating marijuana use.
The principal tells him to keep a lid on it. She calls his mom and tells her that if King talks about marijuana again, “I’m calling the police.”
King organizes a small and peaceful protest outside the school in the name of free speech. True to her word, the principal calls the police.
RCMP and school counsellors gather soon after to do a “threat assessment” on the teenager, finding that he has talked about marijuana at least four or five times in the past. (He’s never actually used it however.)
King gets a three-day suspension that shuts him out of school just as final exams are beginning. That destroys his year-end marks, as he gets zero on the exams that the ban prevented him from writing.
You can imagine the lessons the teenager will likely take away from the whole sorry experience.
That it’s wrong to seek insight, for one, or to share new knowledge with others. That it’s wrong to question what you’re being told, even when you don’t feel convinced.
And of course, that it’s wrong to question authority.
That point is underlined nicely in this particular case by the fact that for no other reason than he organized a little free-speech protest, King ended up the subject of an RCMP “threat assessment.”
Anyone who cherishes the right to challenge prevailing wisdom without having the police called out to arrest them will recognize this turn of events for the truly alarming development that it is. Sure, it’s just one kid and a tiny school in Wawota that we’re talking about at the moment, but we can’t take any infringement lightly.
As for the subject being marijuana, that has barely a thing to do with anything. The subject that day could have been abortion, religious belief, euthanasia - any number of things we’re loath to acknowledge yet do all the time. The subject isn’t the point.
What matters is that Kieran King got curious. He looked into a subject more thoroughly, and along the way reached an informed conclusion that was different than what the school was telling him. He told a few classmates what he’d learned, and the response of one of them was to report him to the school authorities.
But even when you do factor in the subject, none of it makes sense.
Is talking about marijuana at school really something that warrants a three-day suspension?
And if marijuana’s on the no-speak list, what other subjects are considered taboo for students to raise? Who decides what’s on the list - and where can I get a copy?
Like any drug, marijuana has its downsides. And yes, it’s illegal, although King’s interest was confined to its potential health risks.
What he concluded at the end of his research was that marijuana use didn’t have as many health risks as did alcohol or tobacco use.
He’s got a fair amount of science on his side. No drug can be considered safe, but alcohol and tobacco are particularly damaging to people’s health. That doesn’t change just because they’re legal and other drugs aren’t.
King also has a lot of potential converts to his way of thinking. In B.C. alone, 1.8 million B.C. adults report having used marijuana at some point in their lives. A third of that group used it in the past year.
But for King’s sake, I hope people don’t get too caught up in turning his story into one about marijuana. We can’t be getting sidetracked with more marijuana debate when what’s actually on the line in the King case is a valued Canadian right.
King questioned what he heard. He was reluctant to just accept what he was being told. When his school tried to silence him because it didn’t like what he had to say, he didn’t go along with it. He fought back, because he knew it mattered.
Good on you, kid. That’s exactly what I like to see in a good Canadian.


Anonymous said...

First let me say I appreciate the intent and spirit of your post.Just a few things;
you said..."Like any drug, marijuana has its downsides"

First Marijuana is not a drug it is a herb.It is not comparable to tobacco or alcohol.
All studies to date have yet to find one negative consequence,stemming from the use of this herb.But these same studies have found one positive after another.
I which people would stop amending their views on marijuana with words like "but like all drugs" or "compared to alcohol or tobacco marijuana has less negative consequences".The fact of the matter is there are no negatives,it's is a benign herb,and a medicinal herb.
That said I also have to agree,irrespective of ones views on Marijuana,people should be very concerned about this blatant violation of ones right to freedom of expression.
This young man actions is what education should be all about.Inspiring kids to think,to examine,and not to fear going against commonly held beliefs.
"Threat assessment", how absurd is that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great read. Keep it up!