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A Defence lawyer's perspective on issues in criminal law
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What Do Calgary Gangs Have to Do with a Young Boy's Haircut?
October 14, 2015
The answer to the question in the title is, of course, "absolutely nothing," but that answer only works for those of us living in reality. For others, including the administrators at the Ecole Terre des Jeunes—a FrancoSUD elementary school in northwest Calgary—the wrong haircut could be the first dangerous step towards a life of gangs, guns, and violence.
That's what one young boy was told about his "pre-hawk" or "faux-hawk," a haircut one step away from the tall-standing middle and shaved sides of a traditional mohawk (a style popular with several First Nations and Native American tribes since long before Europeans reached the continent, let alone Calgary). The school's principal informed him that his hair was fine right now, but that if it grew any taller (or, presumably, if the sides were shorn any shorter), he would have to have it changed or he wouldn't be allowed to attend classes.
This rule has been on the school's books "forever," according the principal Sylvie Monette, who spoke to the young student before discussing the situation with his parents. Certain haircuts, including mohawks, "can represent a gang or violence," according to Monette—two buzzwords that immediately invoke the current fear-mongering in Calgary.
Because a pre-adolescent boy with too-tall-hair is clearly a safety risk to all Calgarians.
This incident comes right on the tail of a similar story that took place in Utah, where a Native American boy was actually removed from class because his full mohawk haircut—a look he had specifically requested as he was learning about his lineage in the Seneca and Paiute tribes. The school (ironically named Arrowhead Elementary in a superficial nod to the Native American artifacts frequently found in the area) refused to let the student return to class until they received a letter from a Tribal Councilor with the Seneca Nation.
Such fear over an elementary school student's haircut might be more expected, though is still disappointing, in the far-more conservative state of Utah, but here in supposedly forward-thinking and inclusive Calgary, I would hope we have a little more sense than to restrict the freedom of someone's hairstyle due to fears of gang violence.
As far as I know (and I admit I haven't looked too deeply into such important matters), none of the recent spate of gun violence in Calgary has been perpetrated by people with mohawks, nor are Calgary Police using haircuts to profile potential gang members or other criminals (not yet, at any rate). This is one more instance of completely irrational fear leading to completely irrational eradications of some very basic civil liberties.
And for anyone saying, "it's just a haircut; the boy and his parents should just get over it," I say, "it's just a haircut; the school and everyone else should just get over it." We should be allowed to do what we want, especially with our own bodies, unless there's a compelling public safety concern that warrants limiting our behaviors. The burden of proof is one the people who want to impose the limits, not the other way around.
In addition to publishing screeds like this, I also practice law as a criminal defence lawyer here in the great city of Calgary. If you're in need of legal assistance, please reach out and contact me any time.
This entry was posted on October 14, 2015
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