By Sally Barnes
Should the grandkids one day ask me about Canada’s great Freedom Convoy of 2022, I thought I had better record a few thoughts for reference.
In recent weeks it quickly became our biggest story, monopolizing the media and grabbing headlines and comment around the world.
Today, in the cold light of day and compared to events elsewhere, it looks more like a sad, costly embarrassment than anything else.
The three-week sideshow cost Canadians a fortune in security costs, lost revenues and, most importantly of all, our reputation as nice people who live in a democratic nation founded on the principles of peace, order, and good government.
“No more Mr. Nice Guy” could well become our new moniker.
Where and when we would normally be dreaming of the annual tulip festival on Parliament Hill, the downtown of our nation’s capital was clogged with diesel-spewing, horn-honking trucks, and thousands of police armed with rifles and clubs and on horseback pushing back against an unruly mob of protesters.
It was a tragic scene that portrayed a Canada and Canadians most of us never expected to see and hope never to witness again.
Protesters demanded “freedom” from laws they don’t like and seemingly endless lockdowns that have confused and frustrated millions of our fellow citizens during two years of struggle to control an evil pandemic that has claimed more than 35,000 lives in this country.
Let’s face it: few if any of us have been spared COVID’s toll on our lives—ranging from the death of family and friends to bankruptcies and mental health and other social issues that will plague us and especially our young people for decades to come.
Along the way, mistakes have been made. The most vulnerable have suffered the most. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Public debt has spiraled out of control. Trust in our democratic institutions—from governance and governors to policing and media—has suffered.
For years to come, commissions and experts will be picking through the entrails to discover what we did right and wrong in the pandemic, what caused the palpable public anger, division and mistrust that the truckers’ convoy laid bare. And where do we go from here?
It’s obvious that many needed a way to vent their anger and along came a convoy of ordinary working stiffs like themselves to tell all the elitist politicians, public health care experts, media members, and everyone else that they are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more!
Unfortunately, the truckers had the motivation and guts but not the savvy to be the messengers.
Thousands of ordinary Canadians in towns and cities across the country literally jumped on the freedom bandwagon and sent financial support. But, like leeches, so did a group of unhinged extremists, anarchists, and lawbreakers with their own agendas that were racist and authoritarian in nature.
The convoy experience has confirmed that extremists have been exploiting the pandemic to create civil unrest and that Canada’s intelligence network is aware of ideological groups that promote panic over vaccines. Some of this work is financed and organized by influencers outside of Canada, notably the U.S.
Right-wing America media have had a field day reporting and commenting on the Freedom Convoy and blockades and Donald Trump was one of the first to congratulate the protesters and urge his followers to hold similar protests across America.
Too many of our own politicians fell into the easy trap of supporting the protesters and failing to show the leadership that was so much needed. Others—notably our prime minister—exacerbated the situation by belittling the protesters and demeaning the sincerity of their cause.
While some convoy members and their supporters found comfort in a community of the like-minded and fellow pandemic policy victims, the bad guys who took over spoke of overthrowing the federal government, condoned and invited violence, and showed total disregard for people whose rights they crushed to further their own demands.
Freedom? Where else but Canada could a protester wrapped in our national flag go nose-to-nose with a gorilla-sized cop wearing 50 pounds of riot gear, shout a racial slur, spit in his face, and then espouse his God-given right to do so.
A lot of us were sympathetic to the convoy in the beginning—even grateful they were airing our beefs—but it became too quickly obvious that the lunatics had taken over the asylum.
Our hearts went out to the good burgers of Ottawa but it did seem a bit precious in the very beginning when the well-heeled and job-protected politicians and public servants ridiculed the menace of truck drivers invading and taking over their neighbourhoods.
It all had a slight whiff of Rockcliffe matrons rushing to hide the silver and recoiling at the threatened permanent encampment of the 18-wheelers and long-bearded crazies with their hot tubs and playground equipment and pig roasts in the shadow of the symbolic Peace Tower.
But after three weeks and increased horror stories of intimidation and violence, even the convoy’s biggest supporters were saying it was time for them to pack up and take their kids back home.
Some trace the movement’s beginning to early days of the pandemic when a religious zealot got a message from God to form a convoy to oppose vaccines and mandates. It was when the federal government decided to require truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border to be vaccinated that the smouldering dissent came to a boil.
It was interesting to me that many of the truckers interviewed at the blockade of Ambassador Bridge in Windsor were visible minorities who have taken advantage of the job opportunities provided by a worker shortage in the trucking business.
But in my addiction-fueled following of hours of TV coverage of the Ottawa blockade I saw only a sea of white truckers and their fellow white supporters and protesters. Black and brown faces were evident only among the army of law enforcement officials.
Perhaps the Nazi swastikas, Confederate flags, and Trump re-election signs that showed up in the crowds in early stages of the Parliament Hill protest sent a pretty effective message that this was no gathering to which racialized and other minority groups would be invited or feel welcome. (Or want to be seen!)
Oh, did I mention the middle-aged woman in a coat made from the rainbow flag and with a pigeon perched on her shoulder? Or the sign that read, ”Phizer hurts my uterus.”
Or the poor soul who explained to the TV interviewer that he was opposed to vaccines because “they sterilize you so you can’t have kids.” He believes one of the convoy organizers who insists that vaccinations are a plot to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race.
Come to think of it, I’d just like to forget the whole thing and hope that somehow we will never see this bad movie again.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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