Thursday, 10 December 2015

Land of the Free

When I was a kid, my brothers and sister and I spent a lot of time on our grandparents' farm.

One of our favourite things to do was play in the granary full of canola, or rapeseed as we called it then. We would climb up the homemade ladder on the outside of the wooden building, climbing far over our own heads, jumping into the pile of shiny little black seeds. We would see how far down we could wiggle and still pull ourselves out again.  It was a ton of fun. We didn't think of the danger. Every now and then Granddad would say, "You kids aren't playing in the rapeseed, are you?"  "No," we would say. Thinking we weren't supposed to be in there because we might reduce the quality of his harvest.

So when I heard about the three little girls who were killed, it was chilling. I knew that could have been me slipping down under the seeds, unable to pull myself up. My brothers following in a desperate attempt to save me, perishing in the same way, suffocating under all those little black seeds.

We never thought of the farm as dangerous. It was home. It was familiar. We collected eggs and fed chickens and found the barn cats and their kittens. We leaped from the hay loft. We climbed as high as we could on the stacks of hay bales. Once a mouse ran up the inside of my brother's pants and that was hilarious. We wandered around the cows and horses. Swam in the river. Played on the old tractor and in pickup truck.  Dressed up in old clothes. Picked wild strawberries and saskatoons. Slept overnight in the old bunkhouse, loading up the airtight heater to the point it glowed red. It was a place where we were free.

My grandfather
My parents and grandparents were not risk-takers. They were not in any way casual in the way they raised us. We were warned about certain things. We learned a healthy respect for machinery. We knew which animals to avoid. We weren't allowed to swim unsupervised until we reached a certain skill level. We had a healthy fear of crossing the highway where my grandmother herself died. So I understand when people say they are angry about Bill 6. I really do. I understand resenting any implication that farm parents don't teach their children safety skills. The family farm is their home and they believe they and their employees and their kids are safe. They don't want anyone setting safety standards for them, any more than I would want someone telling me how to store my kitchen knives or the propane for my barbecue.

But the facts are the facts. As idyllic as farm life may seem, a farm is also a work-site. It contains far more dangers than a house. Should we romanticize a way of life that includes death and injury without recourse for the victims? Five children died on family farms last year. The three girls in the canola. A ten year old boy driving a forklift. These children were not safe.  They were denied the opportunity to continue the way of life their parents hold dear.

In high school Social Studies we look at many issues when it comes to liberty.

We look at the degree to which we should sacrifice individual rights and freedoms for security. We give up our individual right to drive as fast as we can or drive while impaired to ensure traffic safety. We give up our right to carry a pair of scissors onto a plane for public security. We give up our right to smoke in a public place so others will be free from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. We give up privacy every time a CCTV camera is focused our way. It's part of living in a civilized society where the rights of the community take precedence over the freedoms of a few.

We also look at positive and negative freedoms. Freedom from and freedom to. The owner of a family farm may want freedom from government interference. But an employee or a child deserves the freedom to be safe. The freedom to say no when asked to perform dangerous tasks. The freedom to financial security if an accident occurs. The freedom to grow up.