How Do I Feel About the “Freedom Convoy”?
If ignorance is bliss, then I’d rather live a life of woe as long as I can rely on wisdom. I feel a deep sadness as I watch live news coverage of police re-claiming the city of Ottawa, our nation’s capital, from protesters who have loudly occupied the area for 23 days. These self proclaimed “freedom fighters” crippled businesses just as they were about to reopen and disrupted the lives of residents in the area. I am amazed and disturbed by what has happened there over the last 3 weeks as I watch police gradually, methodically and safely push back the remaining tenacious souls who are chanting “freedom”, singing O Canada and shouting expletives and yelling “shame on you” and spitting on and verbally abusing police and news reporters alike.
When the omicron variant spread like wildfire in late fall, both the US and Canadian government had to react to control the rate of infection. While the US border authorities denied unvaccinated essential workers entry into the US, Canadian authorities also required proof of vaccination to be allowed entry and required all unvaccinated essential workers to be tested for covid 19 and to quarntine until they can produce a negative result. It is a pandemic. People have become gravely ill. People have died. Businesses went under and many people lost their livihood. We are all covid weary and under the pressure of having to live within the parameters of pandemic mandates and restrictions to control and eventually erradicate the disease, the mis, dis or under-informed cracked.
Having lived in a third world country for a part of my life, I know what it is to live without and to live within parameters that are not always convenient or comfortable. Perhaps this is why I was able to live through things like the ice storm in the 1998 and this pandemic with patience and a clear head. I value my freedom and appreciate my privileges but I understand that sometimes measures are put in place, and as uncomfortable and as unfair as they might seem, they attempt to establish safety, order and in the case of this pandemic, preserve life. We live in a society where we have a choice and when vaccines were developed, procured and made available to all, it was no surprise that not everyone would willingly roll up their sleeve. It is the job of health professionals and government officials to make the facts available to people so they can educate themselves and make the decision they feel is right for them. In a democracy, people cannot be forced to do anything however, in the case of a deadly virus, it makes sense that everything must be done to prevent the spread of disease and protect the vulnerable. It makes sense that if a person decides not to take the medicine that could protect their health, they should not be exposed to others who can infect them and those with whom they come into contact. It makes sense that everything we could do to prevent the spread and control this disease should be done so we can get back to a life where we can take off our masks and mingle again. It’s not a discrimination thing, it’s not a judgement thing nor is it meant to intentionally exclude anyone — it’s a protection thing and if your choice prevents you from going into places where you can become infected and infect others with covid 19 then that’s on you. Vaccinated people have rights too and honestly, if our government and health care professionals didn’t put mandates in place and didn’t obtain vaccines, if they didn’t do anything to combat this virus, people would be in an uproar. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
What started as a so called “trucker protest”, turned into a “Freedom Convoy” to Ottawa and the masses heard the call to act and came out in droves. And what do you get when the masses come out to play? Well, apparently you get racists waving Confederate and swastika flags. You get anti-mask, anti-vax, cyborg fearing, alien believing conspiracy theorist and religious fanatics who have the protective cloak of God as their armour against covid-19. You get people wearing garments with expletives, people hoisting placards with expletives, placards speaking about rights and freedom, placards with anti-government propaganda and words thrown together that make no sense and of course are incorrectly spelt. They came out loud and strong like the love children of a monster truck show and an episode of Duck Dynasty, in their camouflage coats and hats, and pajama bottoms, building pyres and setting up oil drums to light fires to warm them as they planted themselves on Parliament Hill turning it into something resembling a tent city for the homeless. They illegally parked their vehicles and blocked off the core of downtown Ottawa, blaring horns 24 hours a day and bullying residents for wearing masks as they tried to go about their day. They set up camp on the day businesses were clear to re-open, forcing them to close again because maskless protesters violated business pandemic protocols and entered establishments bullying employees and owners alike. Once downtown Ottawa businesses closed, the kitchen staff at homeless shelters were also bullied by some hungry protesters looking for food. The iconic Rideau Centre, Ottawa’s large shopping mall also closed when maskless, unvaccinated protesters gathered in the building to stay warm. Some protesters even tried to set fire in an apartment building while others tried to handcuff together the main doors of another. Why? What is the purpose of that other than to put residents in danger?This is supposed to be a protest of peace? Those actions seem criminal to me. Basically the downtown core, the ByWard Market and the people who work and live there were terrorized and taken hostage by the mob’s behavior. Of course, not everyone in a mob behaves this way. Some people showed up to voice their opinion about lost jobs, the cost of pandemic living and our limping healthcare system but when one aligns oneself with the misguided one is seen in the same light.
There were off-shoot protests in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and in border crossings the Ambasador Bridge in Windsor and in Coutts, Alberta (where police found guns and amunition in a truck by the way). The Premiers of Alberta, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec and worked as quickly as possible to dismantle the gatherings in their jurisdictions. However,the Prime Minister who lives in Ottawa was in quarrantine for 5 days when the “Freedom Convoy” arrived on January 30th because he tested positive for Covid when his kids brought the virus home. Ok…plausible. But then five days later, the trucks and protesters were still there, attracting more people, adding to the chaos and the PM said nothing. Back in Parliament the bickering began and politicians began slinging mud at each other for their reactions to the siege outside their door. After ousting their leader, some of the Conservative opposition high fived, back patted and took thumbs up selfies with protesters using the protest as a campaign moment. The extreme right PPC leader showed up to support protesters and did a little campaigning himself in the early days of the protest and as days turned into weeks, it was clear that there was no political leadership. There was no communication between the protesters and the Federal Government and the police were waiting on the go ahead (and the manpower) to put a dispersement plan into action. While politicians bickered the masses grew, and residents of downtown Ottawa were at the mercy of their actions.
Flying upside down Canadian flags on hockey sticks, American flags, flags with the hammer and sickle and of course pro -Trump flags, protesters trudged through the grounds of Parliament Hill. Fireworks were set off day and night. Bails of hay were piled in parks and streets, tents were set up as well as a sound stage and music for all night dancing were set up and landmarks and monuments of our country’s history were disrespected when they literally hung their laundry to dry upon them.
There is something physically upsetting and heartbreaking seeing people urinating on and dancing upon the tomb of the unknown soldier, their things strewn about the War Memorial where a young soldier lost his life in 2014 in a terrorist attack. Our Prime Minister, his government, the Mayor of Ottawa and the City Council, knew the trucks and the masses were coming. They said they were converging on the capital. People came out to support them as they drove along the Province’s largest highway and not one arm of government readied the city. In Canada everyone has the right to protest but when people tell you they are coming for answers and won’t leave until they get them and then say their intent was to overthrow the government, it’s grounds for leaders to prepare the city much like Toronto’s Mayor and Premier did by placing barricades aroung Queen’s Park and shut down major roads about it and hospital row and making it clear that horns blaring and violence would not be tolerated.
As the implementing of the Emergencies Act is being deliberated by politicians (that’s another article for another time) the police have begun to clear the streets of Ottawa of protesters, systematically, efficiently and safely. As I watch this 3 week disruption come to an end, I examen my feelings about this “Feeedom Convoy”. I feel sad that our nation’s capital and the people of Ottawa had to experience this. I feel disappointed that people who claim to be standing up for freedom took away the freedom of business people trying to financially recover from the pandemic, took away the freedom and independence of seniors and the disabled who couldn’t leave their homes. I feel sorry that residents were subject to horns blaring all day and night and my heart breaks knowing that people with autism and those with sensitive hearing had to endure the physical pain of the incessant noise. I feel angry that people could be so selfish but I also know that all we can expect from empty vessels is the most noise. I am surprised by the number of Canadians who are wannabe Trumpite Americans and I am angry at the response of politicians or lack thereof when it comes to the Prime Minister and the lack of leadership from elected officials on all levels. I am ashamed that this is the image of Canada now and I realize that the Covid 19 pandemic has caused the deep rooted problems of our nation to bubble and break through the surface of this cloak of Canadian politeness, kindness and courtesy. This protest has stirred up other feelings I have had during this pandemic about so many things. I am fed up of our archaic and broken healthcare system that everyone believes is so great and I am ashamed of our diminished manufacturing prowess that leaves us dependent upon other countries for the things we should be producing ourselves, like vaccines. Our supports for mental health, drug dependency and domestic violence and abuse are teetering and the cost of living is sky high. Our education system is failing our children and Canadians are left floundering amid weak leadership. Politicians have lost the ability to lead and lost the faith of the people because they are lost in their constant need to campaign. They lay blame instead of fixing problems in the hopes of winning our vote and here I am at 55 uncertain there ever will be someone I can vote for who will hear my voice and represent me in government. I suppose, in a way, I understand that some of the protesters just want to be listened to and represented. Then difference is, I understand that becoming a nuisance isn’t the way to get what I want. In history, the most effective protests were carried out in peace, respect, dignity and often times in silence. The “Freedom Convoy” has shown there is a deep societal division between camp them and camp us and the disgruntled are not going to be silent anymore. I am disgusted by the way this protest unfolded and I am deeply disturbed that people who through a lack of education or unfortunate circumstance, who cannot clearly and sensibly explain why they are protesting, feel empowered.
When people strip and sit in a hot tub near the Eternal Flame and say they “are here for the Charter and to stand up for the heroes because, you know, like…uh…like you know, everyone’s a hero and we will fight for them”, I am stunned and confused by the rampant ignorance in our society. I try to think that one day we will live in a world where we can live side by side, equally, civily and with respect for each other but I know we cannot — not in my life time, not in my children’s and maybe not my grandchldren’s. When people can look into a television camera and say they have no problem going to jail so that they could have their freedom, I have no hope for humankind. I have watched in awe as protesters brought their children into the middle of this mayhem amidst police presence, blaring horns and diesel engine fumes. I was stunned to see children, out in the cold for hours with a couple of bouncy castles set up to keep them amused and I reminded myself that we live in a society where you have to have a license to have a dog, but any moron can have a child. Throughout the pandemic and now with this “Freedom Convoy” protest I have been surprised to learn that some people I considered intelligent and rational have beliefs based on hearsay and distorted religous faith. I have heard many people say they have distanced themselves from social media during the pandemic while others have given it up completely. I know people in the service industry who have lost clients because of their views on mandates and vaccines. Friendships have been broken and while there is noise from some on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there is radio silence from others. And if the pandemic restrictions hadn’t taken away enough from us for two years, this “Freedom Convoy” ripped away even more. I feel more isolated, more divided than I ever have and I struggle to not be judgemental. I worry that long after they are dispersed and long after we learn to live with covid, these obdurate protesters will continue to interrupt our lives with tiresome claims of infringements of their rights.
As a non-white woman who knows what prejudice, racism, shadism, tokenism and sexism feels like, I am cynical as I watch these privileged, albeit under-educated white people loudly protest, set off fireworks and party for 3 weeks in the nation’s capital without consequence until today and I know that if it was a group of black people, indigenous people, or any non heterosexual group with real and sensible grievances, it would have lasted no more than 3 days. I am gobsmacked. I am saddened. I am ashamed. I feel frustrated it took this long to handle the situation in front of Parliament Hill. I feel that it is perhaps time for me to be a quiet spectator during whatever is left of my life, sharing my ideas only with those closest to me, guiding my children, pushing them to continue to pursue education as it is their greatest asset and will keep them leagues ahead of those who remain loudly uninformed.