Dazed and confused

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I wonder: has the world just gone mad, or was it always like this, but we didn’t notice? Whatever you think of the trucker protest, and the many and varied groups that had jumped on to that particular bandwagon, there are many in this country dazed and confused about what’s happening to their world. The actions of the truckers and their allies in happily declaring that they intend to “shut down Canada” seems out of character with how Canadians have always seen themselves.

This kind of activity, some feel, is not at all in keeping with the way we do things here: far more in keeping with the Excited States of America and their gun-crazy, “give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death” style. Hearing protestors shout out “Freedom!”, in the style of Mel Gibson as William Wallace on the scaffold in Braveheart, is also strange on the ears. Here we thought Canada was already a very free society, especially compared to… well, anywhere else, actually.

What is happening here? Are we witnessing a revolution in Canadian politics and society in general? Have we gone from a country of Two Solitudes, as Hugh MacLennan called it in his novel, to one of multiple sub-groups, all at odds with each other over the basic fabric of society? This entire episode has raised serious questions about issues in our society. What is freedom, anyway? When does your freedom interfere with mine to such an extent that I am damaged by it? Who decides what the balance is?

In the past, that is, before Covid, it was accepted that we elected people to maintain that balance. We had a press, the media generally, that monitored how governments behaved, and watched out for any unfair infringement on our rights and freedoms. But all that is being questioned these days, as government itself is accused of denying freedom to those it disagrees with. Worst of all, political parties are taking sides against themselves, in effect, by demanding that the current government give in to the demands of what is, in effect, a mob. Over and over again, I find myself asking what individuals like Pierre Poilievre and Candice Bergen would do if they were in power right now. Would they be out talking to the protestors, or would the police and army have already been called in to disperse them?

But it isn’t just governments that have been brought into question. We in the media are also under suspicion, at the very least. Here’s a local example. Last week, we prepared an article about a woman who had made serious complaints against the United Counties and Steve Clark. The issue is not germane here. We held up publication until we got comments from all sides, which seemed like the right thing to do.

But the woman in question was furious that we delayed the article, and decided that I was trying to kill the story. Why? Because she noticed that there is a logo on our Editorial page, where staff are listed, saying that the Times receives funding from Canada. This is a grant from Canada Heritage (not the government, or the Liberal Party) which helps pay for a Local Journalism Reporter. Most Canadian newspapers get similar funding.

But to this lady, it proved that we are a government mouthpiece, out to subvert freedom and deny her the right to have her story told. According to her, we are controlled by the government and therefore cannot be trusted – we are fake news. The government controls everyone. First of all, let me respond to the idea that we are government controlled: no, I realise that nothing I say to that will change some people’s minds, no matter how totally ridiculous that claim is. I think we have proved our independence of any political faction by how we publish every point of view. But enough of that.

What the point is here is the manner in which every institution of Canadian society is being undermined by the far right and other groups and individuals with a grudge. It used to be the big bad wolf was the Left, the communists and their ilk. Now we are faced with the same kind of nonsense on the right too. But this happens now and then in Canadian history. Remember this: in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Ku Klux Klan held annual rallies in Smith’s Falls, burning up to sixty crosses at their event, some of them sixty feet high. This was Eastern Ontario, not the Deep South of the US.

It does seem that, for whatever reason, Canadians like to copy their American neighbours. It seems more exciting, more daring, more (dare I say?) “Free”. They had their January 6, we have to have our version on Parliament Hill. I hate the idea of squelching any form of protest, and I would be against any attempt to stop people protesting their grievances. Even breaking the law can be understood in the right circumstances. But, as an Irish-born Canadian, I relish the free society we have here. I admire the Canadian spirit of fair play and good manners, even in the most drastic circumstances. Are we really at a point where illegality is justified?

After the multiple examples of Canadian generosity, co-operation, self-sacrifice and mutual encouragement that we’ve experienced over the past two years, I find protestors demanding “freedom”, and complaining that their rights are being denied, more than a little ridiculous. The restrictions they complain about (among so many other things) are being lifted anyway. If anything, their actions are delaying that. No government wants to be seen to give in to mob demands, no matter how much they may be justified.

So, all right: you made your point. It was made in a manner I think was unnecessary and unfortunate. But you made it, so you can stop hurting your own country: its economy and its reputation have been damaged. Enough. Go home. You are free to do so.

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