We should all have no problem with protest. It’s the bellwether of a healthy democracy that its citizens (and in some cases its resident aliens) can speak their minds against their own government’s policies without fear of harm or reprisal. We should rejoice that freedom of expression is alive and well in Canada- perhaps even more so than in our neighbor to the south. Remember that recently their former president turned out the National Guard to violently disperse peaceful protesters- as both a statement of his authority and for a biblical photo op.
Which brings us to the conundrum of the so-called “Freedom Convoy”.
Both Canadian and international media outlets have provided non-stop coverage of this “grass roots” movement with glee- generated either from the love for a tale of conflict to fill the 24-hour news cycle, or because they truly have no idea what a movement looks like. Reports of “thousands” of protesters filling the streets offer a mental image of masses of humanity packed tightly together, marching shoulder to shoulder toward Parliament Hill.
The reality is far different- live shots that I have seen of the area reveal scattered clusters of protesters standing around inside the large park that lines the legislature building. One is reminded more of tourists sightseeing than of the widespread rise of citizenry against injustice.
This scenario has been repeated in other cities with similar result. Protesters last weekend at the intersection of Bloor and Avenue Road in Toronto looked to be a few hundred strong, a normal, minute-by-minute occurrence at the scramble crosswalk located there.
This morning, a CBC reporter described the blockade at Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge as containing “hundreds if not thousands” of participating vehicles. Any traveller who has passed that way knows that a thousand trucks would create an unbroken line halfway to Chatham, many kilometers away.
News outlets have until recently tended to focus on the protest’s public message- originally, that truckers shouldn’t have to be vaccinated for Covid to cross between the United States and Canada, before morphing into a call for an end to the mandates altogether as well as the downfall of the Liberal government.
Never mind the fact that the U. S. is also mandating that truck drivers must be vaccinated to enter its borders. That information would diminish the narrative.
That narrative about vaccination is a red herring. One must simply look at the numbers the two nations are reporting to see that. Since July of 2021, roughly the time it took for a majority of the Canadian population to receive full vaccination, just under 8,000 Covid deaths have been reported out of the 35,000 total since the pandemic began. This dramatic reduction in deaths has occurred even though more than half of the 3 million reported cases in the country have occurred within the same timeframe.
Conversely, the Americans have experienced more than 200,000 deaths during the same period. If all things were equal, Canadian death rates would have been closer to 21,000. What is the primary distinction between the two neighbors? Pandemic protocols and a Canadian vaccination rate of 90% as compared to 65% down south.
Vaccinations, in conjunction with smart public health policies, have worked. Fear of vaccination is a protest talking point, but the science betrays the point’s lack of substance.
Instead, we hear a lot more about a loss of personal freedom. Ironically, when asked to define what that means, most of the protesters speak of not wanting to wear a mask in a grocery store or restaurant, their desire to go back to the gym, or just being tired of having to follow pandemic protocols for so long. The words “inconvenience” and “exhaustion” come up in nearly every explanation.
Thinking it through- that the primary motivation of the movement is the inconvenience put upon them over the past two years, makes this protest look a lot more like it’s about selfishness than it is freedom.
Only now are the pieces falling into place to reveal who this small group of dissidents in fact are, with an emphasis on “small”. For perspective, Ottawa police state that there are currently 430 trucks parked in the city, some with families inside but most with a single driver. That city is of several hundred thousand souls is being disrupted by fewer than 1,000 individuals.
The supposed 2,000 protesters who descended upon Queens Park in Toronto last weekend did so in a metropolitan area of 7 million souls.
This morning, a dozen cars blocked the last open lane to the United States in Windsor.
This is a miniscule minority, but one that is both well-funded and organized. Funded by who and organized by who reveals a lot- a CTV investigation had found that 52% of crowdfunding contributions are coming from Americans. It has also found that many of the core leaders are former police and military.
It wouldn’t be going out too far on a limb to speculate that a post-protest demographic study of the protestors will reveal them to be overwhelmingly white, rural, and evangelical in their faith. It should come as no surprise that their financial cause has been taken up by a right-wing Christian crowdfunding site.
The presence of so many American flags, Confederate flags, and Trump flags at these protests is also indicative of motivation that has little to do with Canadian freedoms.
In Trump’s coalition of business interests, climate change skeptics, anti-government conspiracy theorists, and white nationalists, many of our dissidents find kindred spirits. Those at the centre of the insurrection want just that- the downfall of what they feel is a government too kindly toward new Canadians and too oppressive to those born here. Many speak openly of the desire for their own January 6th -style uprising.
While most of the protesters would likely express disgust with being linked to neo-fascists, one must contemplate the nature of one’s participation when standing shoulder to shoulder with those carrying symbols of racism and hate.
Likewise, Conservative Party legislators who are flirting with these extreme elements should pay close attention to what happened to the GOP when it traded ethics for a base of support. In the end, that party was swallowed up by the beast its leaders thought they could manipulate, leaving the Republic in perpetual crisis.
Protests are a necessary and healthy means of expression in a free society. Whatever the goal or motivations of those standing outside of Parliament, they have every right to be there in peaceful assembly. Unfortunately for the nation, that right no longer seems to be enough. Evidently disappointed that their protest did not turn out hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens into the streets, the “Freedom Convoy” has now ventured into hostage taking as the means to its end.
Proving again that their only concern is for themselves, protesters have been using their vehicles to choke off transport and commerce between the United States and Canada by blocking ports of entry. It is an ancient tactic of laying siege- each day removing $300 million from the Canadian economy. Factories and warehouses are already shutting down, taking well-paying jobs with them.
Protests are one thing, blockades are another. Blockades initiated by foreign powers have long been considered an act of war. Perhaps those who blockade their own country to starve it into bringing down a duly elected government are guilty of sedition. Maybe those who do it with the aid of foreign interests are traitors.
Governments at all levels are between the proverbial rock and hard place. The strategy of waiting out the protesters until they run out of money, supplies, and enthusiasm went out the window with the Ambassador Bridge blockade. To do nothing is to let a small group of domestic terrorists jeopardize the economic stability of the country and the livelihoods of its loyal citizenry.
With the Omicron wave in retreat, it would have only been a few weeks more before the planned lifting of restrictions would have taken place. The protesters could have falsely declared victory and made the various governments look as though they had acquiesced. Implementing a blockade at this time reveals their final motive.
Using the police or military to remove at the very minimum those who are blocking entry points will likely result in violence. Violence creates martyrs, and movements need martyrs, especially extremist ones. Martyrs attract converts.
A reckoning is coming, and soon. Those of us who have done the right thing all this time in the interest of our fellow citizens should keep one thing in mind when the images of protesters being handcuffed and dragged away begin filling their viewscreens- these are people who thought nothing of holding a gun to our collective heads. They’re the bad guys.