Not even the impending Russian invasion of the Ukraine has been able to shift daily global media attention away from Canada’s ‘freedom occupation’.
Finally, Canada is making news daily, and without any assistance from the latest Arctic weather bomb or a crack cocaine indulging mayor.
From Australia and New Zealand to France and the Netherlands to a threatened targeting of the venerable Super Bowl in the United States, copy cat supporters of the Canadian protesters have launched their own versions of the so-called freedom convoys.
While initially about vaccination mandates, the movement has quickly morphed to attract individuals with any grievance [real or imagine] about government policy, a desire for replacing political leadership and governments or removing all COVID restrictions including vaccination passports and mask mandates. At least a few of the individuals promote racist views. Others want to divide Canada and separate from it.
The shameful desecration and disrespect of national monuments proves the lack of patriotism of these individuals who have mis-appropriated the flag as if it stood for their lack of values.
While pandemic exhaustion may have been the kindling used to fuel the fire, this so-called freedom movement is at its core anti-democratic, unwilling to recognize majority choices through elections and prepared uncompromisingly to dictate its own vague and even contradictory agenda on a public which has overwhelming rejected it. Its adherents show little understanding of the meaning of civil society, the rule of law, democratic choice or what a true autocracy would do to them if they sought to protest elsewhere.
They may not be violent [yet], but they use children as human shields, taking advantage of the innate decency in Canada to stop the enforcement of the rule of law to which the vast majority adhere.
What a mess.
Emboldened by back-slapping US Conservatives and their media supporters, [and apparently with some additional financial support from south of the border] , the US culture wars appear to have made inroads to Canadian shores.
Canadian conservatives, recognizing that public opinion was running strongly against these protesters, finally flip flopped their initial support for the Ottawa convoys. Facing the wrath of Ontario business and unions fearing significant job losses in the election run-up, Conservative Premier Ford, who had campaigned previously on opening Ontario for business finally strengthened the hand of police to act to stop targeted blockades by these well-organized groups at critical trade infrastructure such as the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.
There are of course major differences in reaction to these protesters
Familiar with such disparate groups coalescing into the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement in the past, French police were out in force at the first whisper of weekend trouble with their ticket books, tear gas and water cannon ready to meet the protesters.
Contrast this to the muted pleadings of Ottawa’s beleaguered police and elected officials calling on the protesters to depart peacefully and seeking reinforcements.
Windsor police are moving slowly but determinedly. Because they want to avoid giving the remaining protesters ‘the martyrdom of a physical challenge’, the protesters have been able to hold a community hostage.
Forewarned is forearmed. Toronto’s police, with the backing of its activist Mayor, have closed roads around Queen’s Park, maintained access to hospital row and generally ensured the truckers and their supporters cannot close down the city. Similar successful actions are being taken in other Canadian cities.
Canadian commentators are already bemoaning the impact on the country’s international reputation. More pragmatically, they anticipate the future threat to supply chain investment in Canada and the potential validation of the Buy American movement in the USA at Canada’s expense.
Some or all of these consequences may come to pass. Only time will tell, although given the state of the world these days, there is no reason to suppose that Canada’s future is any more challenged than all the other democratic and quasi-democratic nations who regularly face populist uprisings.
But before we engage in another chorus of ‘woe is us’, perhaps it is about time, and a good thing, that Canadians face up to this collective loss of innocence. It is time to stop our hectoring of other nations about Canadian exceptionalism and uniqueness- what Canada can teach the world. It is time to rein in our hubris.
Like other nations, Canada has a mixed record of human rights. We have turned a deaf ear and blind eye to our treatment of our indigenous communities for over 150 years. Our diverse communities may live better than in their home countries but their treatment by their fellow Canadians is not ideal.
Ironically, there may be a greater good arising from this protest.
It is time for some introspection by all our citizens about what Canada represents in today’s world. What does freedom truly mean and how should it be exercised in a democratic society? What are the costs of a free society and what price should citizens be prepared to pay to retain a democracy?
How does a majority respect the rights of a minority? How should a minority react to the will of the majority?
Canada at its best is more than an economic union. Collectively it is a place where principles and values can be protected and flourish.
It is time for us to start paying greater attention to achieving that outcome.
Unfortunately, such reflection will not start until the rule of law and civil society return.