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Speaking out

Voices of dissent crucial to social shifts, author argues

John Minchillo / The Associated Press files</p><p>Author William Kaplan believes public protests, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, have brought important issues to the forefront.</p>

John Minchillo / The Associated Press files

Author William Kaplan believes public protests, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, have brought important issues to the forefront.

Although she was dying from cancer, Rachel Carson finished writing her extremely influential Silent Spring in 1962. Her goal was to warn the world about the dangers of pesticides.

The first printing of 100,000 copies sold out in the first two weeks.

The chemical industry attacked her. Reviewers — most of whom were men — labelled her a "hysteric."

But she did not back down and after her death in 1964, Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In his provocative (and bound to be controversial) Why Dissent Matters, Toronto lawyer and writer William Kaplan calls Carson and others like her a dissenter. And he says we need more of them.

"Dissenters are important. They force us, sometimes uncomfortably, to look at the other side. Without them, we could easily go down the wrong path," Kaplan writes.

Kaplan is perhaps best known for his books on the Airbus affair and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In his latest book, Kaplan focuses his blunt and forceful prose on those who challenge the status quo.

He explores the contributions of individual dissenters, such as Rachel Carson and Frances Oldham Kelsey, who stood up to a large pharmaceutical company and by doing so averted a thalidomide tragedy in the United States.

He writes about dissenting juries and judges and how some of them have ultimately saved lives.

Kaplan examines the Steven Truscott case and two dissenters who spoke out against what they saw as a miscarriage of justice.

One was journalist Isabel LeBourdais, author of The Trial of Steven Truscott.

Kaplan says LeBourdais "shows us how important journalists are to society," adding she "set the stage for taking a courageous new look at the wrongful conviction of a teenage boy."

Another important dissenter in the Truscott case was Justice Emmett Hall, whose dissent Kaplan says "was without doubt, the most powerful in the history of Canadian criminal law."

Kaplan delves into public protests, such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movements. The latter, he writes, got people "talking about the huge gulf between rich and poor. OWS gave us a brand new vocabulary: the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent."

Issues such as income inequality— "education, a job, health care, a decent house, a good life, a future for their children" — were brought to the forefront.

Of U.S. President Donald Trump, Kaplan says he is "quite comfortable in using his pulpit, and Twitter account, to trash talk and bully anyone who has the temerity to dissent and disagree… the world is about to become extremely dangerous."

Of Stephen Harper’s government, Kaplan says, it "chose to squelch dissent" with its war on information, crime, science, libraries, government research and debate.

Possibly the lengthiest, most complex and most controversial sections of the book are the opening and closing chapters. They seem to function as bookends to the narrative in between — in doing so they seem to carry the most weight and importance.

The book opens with a detailed study of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which, Kaplan says, Israel did not see coming, owing to a lack of dissenting voices. It ends, full circle, with an examination of the current conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" movement.

He points out, sometimes with far too much repetition, the necessity for dissenting voices, with respect to Israel and virtually any important decision-making process.

However, Why Dissent Matters is a passionate and powerful argument for the absolute necessity of listening to differing points of view:

"Dissenters often have a rough go. Yet we pay a huge price when we suppress dissent, ignore it or marginalize it."

Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

Read more reviewed by Cheryl Girard.

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History

Updated on Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 11:21 AM CDT: clarifies work as non-fiction

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