There was a really strange coincidence on Friday. As police moved against the protestors in Ottawa, I spent the day watching people being interviewed in public to fill the vacant position on the North Grenville municipal council. As some mourned what they felt was the death of Canadian democracy on the streets of the capital, here in our community we could see a powerful example of democracy in action. So, which was more reflective of the state of Canada today?
In this issue, you’ll find some deeply heartfelt letters and articles trying to work through what we’ve been seeing these last few weeks. What should have been done about the occupation of Ottawa that wasn’t done? Did we, as some of the occupiers claim, stray over the line into dictatorial conduct by government and police? Or did those powers wait too long to act, and allow anarchy to flourish in front of the Parliament of Canada?
As the occupation ends (and, yes, I do think it was an occupation, the facts are clear), maybe we can turn our attention to answering those questions, and others like them. There was a certain sector of Canadian society that approved of what the protesters did, supported them with money, food, fuel, and their presence on the streets and bridges. At the same time, as one letter-writer in this paper points out, the organisers of the protest were not the patriotic, freedom-loving heroes they were claiming to be.
It does seem to me that many people were conned, to put it bluntly, by claims of the organisers that they were fighting for freedom after civil rights had been denied. I wrote before about how easily such agitators can manipulate honest men and women into taking part in what is much more than what they think it to be. The news that Canadian Intelligence agencies had warned the government as far back as late December about who were really planning the convoy, and what their intentions were, throws a new light on the affair.
Yes, it is easy for people to deny the facts and accuse newspapers like ours of being in some nasty alliance with the powers that be to spread false narratives and hide the truth. It may sound flippant to say, but if we only had such power! Conspiracies are rampant these days, and too many people have lost faith in traditional sources of information. That is a far bigger threat to our democracy than police clearing Wellington Street of those who have tried to shut down our society, economy, even our government.
It is well understood, and should have been taken into account by authorities in Ottawa, that protests are always infiltrated by those with more extreme views and intentions, and that is certainly the case with the occupation. Intelligence briefings to government were clear: “While the organizers have declared that this is an act of peaceful protest, some ideologically motivated violent extremism followers in Canada have seized upon this rally to advocate for their own ideological objectives. Extremists and other individuals supporting Covid-19 conspiracy theories and violent anti-authority/ anti-government views have expressed intent to participate in the convoy and to attend the accompanying protest in Ottawa.”
But the legacy remains, and will affect us for some time to come. Some have been disillusioned by what Canadians have imposed on one another, while others are angered about how the occupation was broken up. Was the Emergency legislation really needed? Should the police have acted sooner, or even prevented the trucks from getting to Wellington Street? How sympathetic were the police to the protestors, and is that why they allowed so much illegality to continue without interruption?
These are not comforting thoughts, and they have raised questions about how Canadians have traditionally seen each other. Maybe, as one expert said, “Was the problem that [the Ottawa police] didn’t have the information? Or was the problem that they just don’t take white supremacy seriously?”
And while all that was taking place in Ottawa, the people of North Grenville saw candidates for council openly interviewed, arguing their case for getting the job. Nine candidates, men and women from our community, willing to be interviewed, questioned, judged by their fellow citizens. This was a democratic act that should give us hope. Canada is not a perfect country (ask the Indigenous people about that), but it is more than what we’ve seen in the past month.
Living through the pandemic for so long, hearing so many contradictory theories and solutions, open to any nutcase with a theory, all of this has laid the groundwork for the occupation of Ottawa. There was no way that it could be ended without somehow confirming in a twisted way the theory that a dictatorship had been imposed on us.
But Parliament, like the NG Council, and the North Dundas Council, and the Merrickville-Wolford council, and all 444 municipal councils in Ontario, will continue to operate, legislate, run the nation and our communities in the way it seems best to them. And in June and October we, the citizens of this province and place, will exercise our democratic right to vote and have a say in who takes the place of the current holders of office. We will moan, and rightly, the fact that the wrong people get elected sometimes. And we will celebrate when the right people do succeed. And we will disagree about which is which. But that is democracy, and it is, in spite of appearances and counter-claims, alive and well in Canada. In the words of Tom Paxton: Peace will come, and let it begin with me.