Playing the Indian Card

Monday, May 28, 2018

Big Brother Is Watching You

Kelly Pocha, a Cranbrook, BC, resident, lost her job at a local car dealership recently for something she said on her free time while dining in a restaurant in Lethbridge Alberta. Given how far away Lethbridge is from Cranbrook, she must have been on vacation.

I see a problem here. We are getting Orwellian, surely. The problem is, she was videoed by the other party in an argument, and the video was posted online. So—is Big Brother always watching us now? Must we now watch what we say at every moment?

The video starts in the middle of a heated discussion. That means we do not know who was the aggressor. Pocha was clearly agitated and said some heated things. But we don’t have any idea whether or how she might have been provoked. Common sense tells us there must have been some sort of provocation. She clearly implies this in the video, and so does the man with her. We just don’t know what it was. So we do not know who was at fault.

So Pocha should not have lost her job. An injustice was done.

Both parties used bad language. What has people particularly upset at Pocha is that she insisted her adversaries were not real Canadians and should go back to where they came from.

She was incorrect here as a legal matter—all Canadians are equally citizens, regardless of whether by birth or adoption. Nevertheless, this is a common enough sentiment. In most countries, it would be taken for granted. It is said as a matter of course to anyone who looks foreign in China, Korea, or Japan, if an argument ever starts. So, if Kelly Pocha is being racist, most of the world’s population are racist. Most countries are founded on the basis of a shared ethnicity. That is what “nation state” means. It is even considered a principle of international law. Why single Kelly Pocha out for punishment?

And of course, Pocha’s adversaries may have said or done something far more incendiary, for all we can know, to begin the argument. We are seeing only what they chose to show.

If we defend the firing of Kelly Pocha, I certainly do not now expect to see an objection to the new NFL regulations on not kneeling during the US anthem, or a lament about how Colin Kaepernick’s rights to free speech have been trammelled. Because Kaepernick knelt on company time, on the company dime, at his place of employment, repeatedly, and on national TV. In cold blood, not in the passion of a moment. And not under any provocation.

But the case of Kelly Pocha is different, and far more troublesome. While I sympathize with employers who feel their PR and therefore business might be damaged by a rogue employee saying something on their own time, I think we need to draw a line, now that social media is everywhere. Sure, retain the right to terminate anyone for what they say during the course of their employment. Then they are speaking for the company. You cannot have a hotel clerk, for example, insulting guests. Even outside of work hours, I can see just cause if what is said is direct and public criticism of your employer or their business or industry, obviously bringing them into disrepute, like an encyclopedia salesman who spends his free time campaigning against encyclopedias. But the employee must know they are speaking publicly, not in a private conversation. And I do not simply mean “in a public place.” I mean in the media: on the record, knowing they are being quoted or recorded. Note that “on the record.” Even here, we need some protection for whistle-blowers.

I think we need a law making it illegal otherwise to terminate an employee for anything they say on their free time. Before the advent of social media, it might have been reasonable to let employers do this. But now, with cameras and microphones everywhere, continuing to allow it would and will in effect end all free speech. Everyone will have to carefully guard their speech at every minute of their lives. That is an extreme totalitarianism. That is 1984.

I believe employers themselves should welcome such a law. Because without it, they can face business repercussions if they do not terminate an employee—possibly a valued employee. If they cannot legally do so, they cannot be held to blame by customers or suppliers or financiers for not doing so. No bad PR for the company itself. So both workers and employers are protected.

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