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What the pandemic has rot (sic)...
Part I: The "Freedom Convoy" demonstrators in Ottawa - when hundreds, if not thousands of people presenting grievances appropriate the flag and the word "freedom", chaos ensues
** I drafted this post primarily for my own mental health, so that I could organize my thoughts and get some kind of handle on what’s going on now in Ottawa, as well as the factors that have brought it to this point. It’s certainly not one of my usual posts, but I felt it was necessary to get it all on “paper”. If you’re interested in finding out more, read on. This kind of demonstration might be coming to a city near you soon.
I believe in freedom, the freedoms that all Canadians have been promised in our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms; one of them is the freedom of expression or belief and of peaceful assembly, and that everyone is free to express and act on their beliefs provided they don’t interfere with the rights of others.
What is this then? Trucks as far as the eye can see on Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings (on the right) … this convoy arrived one week ago today on January 28, 2021 and the bulk are still here on February 4th, with no signs of leaving.
From looking at this poster, you’d think it was a friendly call to participate in a national love-in. But it makes no mention of the grievance. So, what is the grievance? According to the website freedomconvoy (dot) ca, this covers it:
In the last year, we have endured an unprecedented assault on our God given freedoms. These freedoms were hard won and defended, through the blood and treasure of the generations who came before us. When our own government and authorities remove our basic freedoms without adequate justification, we must all take a stand. We must let them know that they are our public servants and, that they're not here to lord over us as a result of their unsubstantiated, obstinate fears. We must let them know that We The People outnumber them in droves and, we must let others know that they're not isolated and alone. Unlike the greatest generation, we are not being asked to storm a beach under gunfire so, take a stand for freedom from the comfort of your own vehicle! Start or join a Freedom Convoy in your community today!!!
Sound familiar? Perhaps a little, um, American?
Gail Lethbridge, an opinion columnist from Saltwire (an east coast Canadian newspaper company - yes, truckers came from the east coast too!) offers this analysis:
There will be concerned Canadians participating in this protest to defend rights and freedoms they believe have been sacrificed at the altar of public health restrictions. Very angry people will also be present — some hateful, and some potentially violent and with agendas.
There is an intoxicating mob mentality brewing here, not unlike the one that exploded on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Freedom Convoy will be rich recruitment territory for fringe elements wishing to stoke up social and political unrest for any number of reasons.
Meanwhile, the majority of Canadians who have sucked it up, got our vaccinations, worn masks and stayed home during lockdowns in order to protect ourselves and our communities — we will watch the Freedom Convoy on TV and hope that this American-copycat act will fizzle out and not turn violent.
So, this past weekend in Ottawa (and now beyond) there continue to be a large gathering of dissatisfied citizens (Canadian, I assume, but now confirmed to be American as well) originating from out west but joined by many others from north, east and south of here, who are driving eighteen wheelers, pickup trucks, cars, flatbeds and also on foot, waving Canadian flags, protesting pretty well everything having to do with the federal and provincial government’s response to the pandemic (by the way, both major political parties are represented in our provincial legislatures, and both have instituted similar protocols for the protection of its citizens from the scourge that is COVID-19).
The demonstrators in Ottawa have snarled traffic by blocking streets and parking illegally on main thoroughfares and pathways, at times acted like animals (defecating and urinating in public and defacing sacred monuments), at other times making amends for these actions. They continue to un-apologetically swarm public spaces while unmasked, while often intimidating and harassing those who are masked. They can be seen taking “selfies” with cops and then throwing rocks at ambulances. But there have also been many posting on social media by those who seem genuinely exhilarated by this call to action and are indeed giddy with what they perceive is a “freedom movement”, uniting all Canadians in love and camaraderie, in the face of a liberal government that has over-reached. There is talk of love, unity, freedom and the common man and woman taking back their country.
On the other hand, the many names, for example, Pat King (click on his name to watch him), James Bauder and Jason LaFace, who are driving this initiative appear to have their own political, societal or anarchist agenda, so it’s hard to keep track of them all. But there seems to be a common thread among many of them — these men and other bad actors (who may or may not be acting alone or in other, smaller groups): that is, many have racist, islamophobic, bigoted, hateful, conspiracy theorist and white supremacist views — see here.
Here is the list of the reasonably coherent demands (note: “incorrect opinions”):
1. The federal and provincial governments terminate the vaccine passports and all other obligatory vaccine contact tracing programs, or inter-Canada passport systems.
2. Terminate Covid vaccine mandates and respect the rights of those who wish to remain unvaccinated (sic).
3. Cease the divisive rhetoric attacking Canadians who disagree with government mandates.
4. Cease to limit debate through coercive measures with the goal of censoring those who have varying or incorrect opinions.
Protestors have called the Trudeau government and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic “tyrannical” and “authoritarian” because of the masking and vaccination mandates, including vaccine passport protocols. In fact, organizers calling themselves “Canada Unity” have drafted a “Memorandum of Understanding” which seeks to form a “Citizens of Canada Committee” that would replace our democratically elected government with representatives of their choosing - that is, as long as both the Senate and Governor General sign on to the idea to co-govern. Really, I’m not making this up.
Let’s look at the different issues that surround this pandemic and what galvanized these protestors to travel across the country to the seat of Canada’s federal government, blowing their horns, screaming ‘Freedom!’, ‘No more mandates!’, peeing on the Cenotaph and waving flags emblazoned with swastikas and crude messages of “Fuck Trudeau”.
There is a lot of rage. There has always been a lot of anger directed toward the federal government from westerners, especially Albertans — indeed this is where this protest had its start. The feelings of western alienation have deep roots, going back to the 1970s when Pierre Trudeau’s (Justin’s father) government made new rules governing the control and revenues from Canada’s natural resources, especially its oil production. There was also a feeling of unfair attention placed on the sovereignty of Quebecers and the federal accommodation toward that province, especially with the institution of bilingualism Canada-wide. It has led to a western separatist movement which is now being promoted by the Maverick Party, who encourage the idea of the western provinces and Northwest Territories forming their own independent union OR insist upon constitutional change through which the west is more fairly represented and has greater autonomy. The two individuals who wrote the manifesto quoted above, Tamara Lich and Benjamin Dichter, are involved in Alberta politics; Lich is on the Board of Directors for the Maverick Party (known previously as Wexit; although I understand she has just resigned her seat so that she can come to Ottawa and participate in the demonstrations - surprise, she gave a “press conference” on February 3rd, although she didn’t answer any reporters’ questions) and Dichter was a 2015 federal Conservative Party candidate and is now associated with the People’s Party of Canada. Lich and Dichter have organized a GoFundMe account and it has to date raised over $10 million dollars (it is now paused and under review) in support of the “Freedom Convoy”; where this money is coming from, no one really knows. A quick scan reveals a large number of hefty anonymous donations.
It makes me wonder about the use of intimidation, bullying, hate speech and blaring voices and horns in protest rallies. I feel as though this is a right-wing phenomenon, and seems reinforced when I think of the ways in which certain politicians and organizers champion shows of force and physical strength - you only have to listen to Trump’s rhetoric to understand this strong-arm tactic, when he encouraged his supporters to beat up his campaign rally interlopers and said he’d pay their legal bills, etc. When the rally began, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole (as of writing this, he has now been voted out of his leadership role by his Caucus) showed his support by meeting with some of the truckers and then soon afterwards had to issue tweets condemning some of their unsavoury behaviour, like jumping onto the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, urinating on the Cenotaph and treating the statue of national hero Terry Fox (who attempted to run across Canada with one prosthetic leg to raise awareness and money for cancer research before he succumbed to the disease) as a mannequin for their placards and an upside down Canadian flag. The fact that liberals are called “snowflakes” and other names that insinuate weakness and the lack of a backbone seem to suggest that this is true. But wait; is it wrong to think that the “other side” is violent and your side has the moral high ground? In this 2017 article from NPR and speaking about the disparate groups in the United States, the radical left group Antifa and radical right groups including neo-Nazis and white supremacists are compared in terms of their use of violence and the numbers don’t lie:
"The far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn't been particularly violent for some time," says Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
He says the numbers between the groups don't compare.
"In the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders," Pitcavage says.
I’ll return to this theme a bit later.
According to these protestors, the blame for their discontent rests squarely on the Federal Government, and namely on the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau (aka PET’s son), despite the fact that most mandates have been instituted provincially. Despite that, the pandemic has created a scenario where it is easy to misplace blame, to pick a symbol or a singular person, who is responsible for all that ails the country - despite the fact that this is a global pandemic, with global repercussions. There are indeed federal mandates in regards to Covid-19: they include vaccination requirements (including proof of vaccination, aka vaccination passports) for cross-border truckers and all those traveling by air or train in Canada; Federal Public Service jobs, including the RCMP and those employed in federally regulated jobs such as road, air, marine and rail inter-provincial transport, as well as pipelines, banks, postal and courier services. Most of the mask, social distancing, closures, gathering size and vaccination mandates, however, have been imposed provincially and territorially.
Covid-19 Exhaustion and Malaise
Everyone feels this, but those who are working on the front lines are feeling it most. From the essential workers (grocery store, pharmacy and big box store clerks), to the healthcare workers in assisted living facilities like long term care homes (which were hit hard by this virus) and not least, the hospital workers who were trying to keep patients struggling to breath from Covid alive. Whether working for minimum wage in grocery stores or working long hours in full PPE (personal protective equipment), exposed to a raging virus that can kill, after two years of battle and going into a third, workers are exhausted and emotionally, psychologically and physically spent. Many have left their jobs because the toll was too high, others soldier on, but with wounds that will likely take a lifetime to heal, if they heal at all.
Many have enthusiastically been vaccinated and boosted, only to realize that they’ll need to continue to mask, socially distance and be stoic; business closures and the inability to gather socially at concert halls, restaurants, galleries and museums continue to be a reality. The drumbeat of emerging variants (now Omicron, later, who knows?) continues and from where I sit, it’s hard to say when it will ever be safe to go out in public, unmasked, again. We crave more relaxed regulations and when they come, we grab onto them with both hands since we don’t know when they’ll be taken away again.
“Fake” News/Media Coverage
The conservative media, or should I say, the right-wing, extremist media, is flocking to this Freedom Convoy story - even the big cahunas in the USA. It confirms what they’ve been saying all along: that is, liberal or progressive government is deeply flawed, and in this case, these are the politicians who are tyrannical and must be stopped before every citizen is a prisoner in their own home.
It is a conservative pundits mouth-watering buffet. According to them, “liberal” or main-stream media (MSM) is fake and the liberal government is paying “agent-provacateurs” to instigate violence in order to sully the character of the law-abiding, freedom-loving protestors.
And here, the Fox News Network and their pundits cannot help themselves (if you can stand to listen to them insulting our Prime Minister and the Canadians who elected him):
Joblessness and the Economy
As a result of lock-downs which were temporarily imposed both in 2020 and 2021 in an effort to minimize the spread of the deadly Delta variant especially, businesses have had to shut their doors and jobs have been lost. As the result of lost wages and lost profits, the government has endeavoured to provide compensation to those who have been affected, through CERB (the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). Some businesses have been lost forever (independent retailers and restaurants) and others have thrived (big box stores and online providers). The world-wide supply chain has been affected, there have been product shortages, prices have risen, the cost of living has gone up - according to this graph from Stats Can, inflation as of November 2021 is up 4.7%.
Couple this with job insecurity, especially for those in affected industries, parents needing to stay home with kids while schools are closed and some of the lowest paying jobs disappearing altogether (until they re-appear, and then the positions can’t be filled because people aren’t confident they won’t be laid off again), lots of people are being profoundly affected.
Without community, many people are suffering. Without the ability to gather, to decompress with friends at a restaurant or even in their own homes, many are feeling the psychological effects of isolation. A recent Canadian study, however, indicates that there was no appreciable difference in suicide rates between 2020 and 2019, although it is too soon to know whether this has changed as the pandemic has dragged on.
This article talks about resilence, and how for many, the restrictions imposed during the first year of the pandemic have led to decreased stress. I think those of us who are introverts can relate to this. Certainly, there was a feeling of relief and even happiness that there were less cars on the roads, less social obligations, less pollution being produced, more ways in which the environment was even repairing itself.
However, Stats Can has reported on peoples’ state of mind, including the incidences of opioid overdoses and suicide, comparing it to before and since the pandemic. This chart shows that the stress levels, especially of women between the ages of 35 and 45, with children under the age of 15, are appreciably higher since the pandemic - no shit Sherlock!
The healthcare industry, however, has been strained, in Canada and around the world. Those working on the treatment front lines are experiencing unprecedented stress, with high numbers of patients, high levels of mortality despite excellent treatment, and basically exhaustion. ICUs are full, elective surgeries are being postponed, doctors and nurses are stretched, people who fear they’ve been infected or who may have other issues going on that need diagnostics are reticent about stepping foot in crowded emergency rooms, likely full of active COVID cases.
And doctors, nurses and personal support workers (those employed in long term care homes or assisted living facilities) are not immune from contracting COVID-19 and then having to self-isolate and leave their jobs un-staffed, or sometimes pass the disease unknowingly to patients.
There is an undercurrent of western (and Quebec) separatism and extreme right-wing conservatism at play in this protest. Signs and flags emblazoned with “Fuck Trudeau” and “Our Rights Don’t End Where Your Fear Begins” are being displayed by the protestors in Ottawa. There has always been a feeling of political alienation from our centralized government amongst westerners, easterners, northerners, indigenous populations, immigrant groups, non-English speaking groups, etc., and indeed, the only incidents of military intervention in events that were seen as treasonous or threatening, were as a result of Quebecois or Native challenges to the federal government’s authority.
This map shows the results of the 2021 Federal election, with a clear area of conservatism in the west, including eastern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba and western Ontario. Again, also a propensity to vote blue (conservative) in south-central Ontario, and large areas of eastern Ontario, excluding Ottawa.
The parties that are more right-leaning than the Progressive Conservative Party, that is, the People’s Party and the Maverick Party (remember Tamara Lich?) won no seats, with candidates in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta achieving from 3rd to 6th place in their respective polls. The People’s Party ran 312 candidates in the last election and won no seats, including the seat-less leader Maxime Bernier, who created the party in 2018 after leaving the Conservatives. The party’s platform included dismissal of the science behind climate change; scraping the carbon tax and subsidies for green technology and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord; repealing vaccine mandates and passports, as well as withdrawing regular testing for federal workers; firing Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam; replacing the Firearms Act and repealing the assault style weapon ban; and restricting the definition of ‘hate speech’ and ending official multiculturalism and curtailing immigration, among other things. In the previous election of 2019, the Peoples Party garnered 1.9% of the popular vote. In 2021, that number rose to 5%, even though there were still no candidates elected. Nevertheless, it did show an increase in their popularity and points to the itchiness of westerners to leave covid restrictions behind them, as well as the more progressive policies of Justin Trudeau.
The Maverick Party had several candidates running in the 2021 election: three in Saskatchewan, one in British Columbia and ten in Alberta. Although none of their candidates won, the party received 1.3% of the popular vote.
Essentially, one of the primary issues of the 2021 election was whether or not you believed that vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and other regulations in regards to the control of covid’s spread were a good idea. Although the Trudeau Liberals did win the election, it was not by a large margin, indicating that there is more of a split in opinion about vaccine mandates. Sadly this politics professor at Queen’s University was wrong about the backlash that is now being witnessed on the streets of Ottawa, as evidenced in this quote from the summer of 2021:
But while US politics and culture often migrates north, the proposed vaccine mandate seems unlikely to divide Canadians to the same extent, said Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, a Canadian politics professor at Queen's University.
"I think it's a pretty risk-free strategy for the Liberals because there's strong support in Canada for vaccination, not only as evidenced by the number who voluntarily got them, but also opinion polls have shown again and again that vaccine hesitancy - much less vaccine opposition - is quite low," she said.
It is true that most Canadians do favour these health and safety protocols since 32.6% of the population voted Liberal, and more voted for parties with a more left leaning philosophy than liberal (NDP at 17.82% and Green Party at 2.33%) — a total of 52.75% of Canada’s population. One third of the country (33.74%) voted Conservative, even though the party’s leader was wishy-washy about vaccine mandates, however still favoured other public health safety protocols like testing, masking and encouraging vaccinations.
In a statement that sounded to this listener like he was channeling his friend and political mentor Barack Obama, Trudeau said:
…Canadians had their voices heard on vaccine mandates during the last federal election, and this government has no intention of reversing course now.
“Having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government is a non-starter in a responsible democracy,” he said.
But the protestors are undeterred.
Tamara Lich provided her own statement a few days later:
Like south of the border, words like socialism, Nazism, Marxism, Communism, tyranny, totalitarianism ad nauseum are being bandied about without any real understanding of their meaning. A placard was even spotted that read, “Justin Castro”, as some believe his real father was Fidel (yes, really!) But the feeling of being held hostage by a government that doesn’t represent you is a theme in this demonstration — a government that has over-reached; never mind that you live in a democracy, where free and fair elections are held and the majority gets their say, this group feels unheard, unrepresented, mistreated and exploited. And by golly, if you can’t get what you want through elections, you will do so through occupation, bullying and coercion.
Science, Pseudo-science and Conspiracy Theories
Why would someone choose not to be vaccinated or resist vaccine mandates? There is the notion of body autonomy: this argument is two-pronged — if liberals are pro-choice when it comes to abortion, then so is the demonstrator in regards to vaccines …. they will say, “only I get to choose what I put in my body and no one can force me to be inoculated.”
There is the myth that vaccines are a) dangerous, or b) unproven, or c) a tool to control the population by implanting some kind of chip, so the population can be monitored and even, dare I say, manipulated. The dangerous notion is thanks to anti-vaxx celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who believe vaccines trigger chronic illnesses and are more dangerous than what they are supposed to protect us from. The idea that the Covid mRNA vaccines are unproven is false; this type of vaccine development has been going on for decades, with modifications for the type of mutated virus that we are currently battling.
But in the crowd you can see signs that say, “I call my own shots!” or another saying, “Pure Blood” (i.e. not sullied by vaccines).
An organization sympathetic to the protest (Action4Canada) suggests on their website that there are other treatments for Covid that are being prohibited by the Canadian government: namely, hydroxychloroquin and ivermectin. The efficacy of these two drugs have been studied: the success of hydroxychloroquin and arithromycin in the treatment of Covid-19 (see here) have been determined to be inconclusive, although granted, promising, for those with mild to moderate disease. However, the risks and unknown benefits for those with severe disease were both too high and unsubstantiated for them to be used in a clinical setting.
What about ivermectin? Well, just read this. It’ll just save me a lot of typing.
And so what do we do now, now that a certain percentage of the population has followed all the public health guidelines and is STILL suffering with lockdowns and restrictions? How can the government further incentivize vaccinations if the vaccinated aren’t being rewarded with something? That is, something other than knowing they’ve done all they can to protect themselves and others. In this Washington Post opinion piece, Dr. Leana Wen, who has been a strident voice of reason in the United States, says that it’s important to reward the vaccinated by allowing them access to everything, and even re-think whether or not they need to mask up or social distance anymore at all:
The most important step is to have a quick off-ramp for masking. While many people do not see masking as a major inconvenience, plenty see it as a symbol of the pandemic. Mandatory masking, especially in schools, has engendered major opposition, and a reasoned conversation about when to lift mask requirements is overdue.
So rather than accommodating those who haven’t been vaccinated to resume their normal lives, she is encouraging that it is important to give those who have been dutifully vaccinated a bone.
So keep vaccine requirements and drop everything else. The vaccinated, who have done everything right, should not have any restrictions placed on them; it’s not fair to them and it disincentivizes vaccination.
I’ve run out of steam for this portion of my analysis/critique, but will put out a Part II, where I discuss the broader issues of group hate, mob behaviour, anti-intellectualism and social conscience. Stay tuned and hey, as always, thanks for reading.