Editorial: Freedom Convoy provided a voice to the disenfranchised

Trucks from across Western Canada travelled along Highway 17, bound for the protest in Ottawa. photos by Michael Erskine

They stood in sub-zero temperatures, lining up along the highways of the nation to wave placards, signs and Canadian flags, some for several hours, in order to express their support for those who pilot the commercial trucks which are the very veins of our beleaguered supply chains and to voice their frustration with the pandemic restrictions and mandates that have impacted everyone’s lives these past two years.

There was no mistaking the passion which bolstered the Freedom Convoy supporters to brave the bitter January cold for so long. Although the convoy was initially expected to arrive at the juncture of Highways 6 and 17 by around 9 am, it was not until well after noon that the lead elements of the 17-kilometre-long convoy passed the flag-waving crowd. Bad weather, the challenges of orchestrating a caravan of hundreds of vehicles ranging from huge transports, some with trailers and others without, RVs, SUVs and a plethora of banner-bedecked pickup trucks, had delayed their departure from Sault Ste. Marie until after 9 am.

While many may decry the very concept of the Freedom Convoy, and the anti-vaccine border mandate of its initial organizers, most Canadians certainly share in the frustration engendered by the past two years curtailment of those “non-essential” things we have all had to forgo in the name of public safety.

Some current polls are showing that a slim majority of Canadians now want to see most of those mandated restrictions lifted, as public opinion has shifted to believing that the pandemic has morphed into a more benign and flu-like affliction. Of course, that assessment flies in the face of the army of overburdened health professionals who have endured (and continue to endure) the past two years on the front lines of the battle to contain the contagion, the continued rapid filling of intensive care units with the COVID afflicted (although that is now beginning to appear to abate) and the clear efficacy of health precautions. Canadians simply want to believe the nightmare is finally over.

Despite the national media’s handwringing, with countless stories citing the takeover of the Freedom Convoy by extremist groups, the anecdotal examples of the inevitable hooliganism of a few misguided jerks desecrating national monuments to the nation’s fallen blown large in the evening news and the co-option of the statue of that most Canadian of heroes and believer in the power of science to overcome disease, Terry Fox, this national protest has been, at its core, very Canadian indeed.

There has been no (at least as of writing Monday) storming of the halls of power as per the January 6 travesty that took place in Washington last year. No attempted coup, despite the pseudo-legalistic documents waved by the politically illiterate catalysts of the convoy and the endorsement of the Wexit crowd (now known as the Maverick Party and somewhat more akin to the modern Bloc Quebecois than that of revolutionary separatist party of Rene Levesque). Yes, this has been a most Canadian of revolts.

There was very little anger being expressed by those members of the convoy who paused to talk, rather they spoke of unity and of bringing the nation together—all laudable goals in these most trying of times. Although many waving Canadian flags along the route would be appalled to learn of the separatist populism that was once expressed by the founders of the Maverick Party, they clearly sympathized with the feelings of disenfranchisement and alienation that gave rise to its Wexit predecessor. In the end, most of those party members simply wanted what they felt was a better deal for the west—the Bloc rhetoric in their minds having proven effective for Quebec (and it’s hard to argue they are wrong).

This past weekend has offered those who have felt voiceless throughout the pandemic an opportunity to express their feelings, their concerns and their outrage toward a system that seems bent on ignoring their passionately held concerns. They have been bolstered by the presence of so many of like mind and, in some cases, a few were emboldened to go too far, but that is nothing new given the many protests that have led to blockades, civil disobedience and vandalism in their turn in recent years. No matter where one stands on the issues of health mandates and restrictions, the freedom to peacefully express your beliefs is imperative if we are to really live in a free and democratic society.

A popular online meme references a convoy that has travelled across country for four days in order to protest the loss of freedom—that may seem to be an oxymoron (don’t you dare go trolling on that word you curmudgeons of the pro-vaccine social media front), but it is a clear indication that the leaders of our nation (and our provinces) have limited leeway to maintain restrictions on our rights and freedoms once this pandemic has truly become a thing of history.

This will not be the last protest to rock our nation, nor will it be the last to clog up our highways and byways, side streets and laneways. There also will be terrible consequences to some of those protests to go along with the far more common minor inconveniences. It is a price we pay, and we don’t have to like it, just bear it for a little while.

It is truly a most remarkable thing, one that has puzzled political scientists since that discipline was first established, that a country with so large a geography, with so many cleavages and cultural divides and languages as Canada, could be held together with nought but the glue of patriot love. Yet here we remain, standing glorious and free (albeit momentarily less so than a couple of years past) and that is something to truly celebrate.