No one should downplay, much less deny, the acts of idiocy that went on during the self-styled Freedom Convoy of big rigs in Ottawa.
Making buffoons of themselves by trying to coerce a homeless shelter to provide food or urinating on and otherwise mocking monuments in the Parliament Hill precincts, some (operative word some) did diminish the nobility of the protest. To paraphrase a long-ago colleague of mine in the newspaper business talking about the woo-woo cohort of our subscribers, “some of our fellow citizens are idiots, but those idiots are our fellow citizens.”
We have to expect as a given that wherever a group of human beings gather, there’s always the risk a few will display the manners of an unfed pig, and the common sense of a rutting elk. To expect is not to excuse.
But there is no excuse, either, for Prime Minister Trudeau’s smearing of those who organized and those who turned out for the event as potentially violent hate-mongers and racist flag wavers. There is no defence for the media-politico excesses of sneering, condemnation, scapegoating, and fearmongering that descended like an acid cloud on the convoy and those who came out to greet it. A truly egregious aspect of that contempt is the way in which it turned journalists, however knowingly or unwittingly, into mouthpieces for straight-line government messaging.
Prior to launching into his name-calling tirade on Jan. 31, indeed well before the trucks had even rolled into downtown Ottawa, the prime minister had decried the protest as the work of a mere “minority” unrepresentative of Canadian values. The solons of the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the CBC fell obediently into line, mouthing variations on the theme and even speculating that Russian agents must be busy fomenting the whole thing.
No one that I’m aware of, and I watch this business as closely as one can stomach, bothered to ask: “Mr. Prime Minister, you are a minority government leader for the second time, yet you condemn the ‘minority’ protestors of the Freedom Convoy even though you knelt in the mud with minority protestors from Black Lives Matter early in the pandemic. Can you show us, sir, the decision-making tool you use to determine how and why your minorities are worthy, but those you oppose are dismissed as anti-Canadian?”
I read, on the contrary, a column by a Toronto Star writer who placed the truckers’ protest in a triptych of “greatest threats to democracy.” The other two were the crisis in Ukraine, and Donald Trump’s delusional claims about election theft. Really? Really. I pick out the example, rather than legions of other contenders, precisely because the columnist responsible has been among our most respected—deservedly so—voices on national affairs who traditionally keeps her head when all about her are running around in ever diminishing circles shrieking yip-yip-yip. Yet even she, on this occasion at least, took to parroting government mythology that anyone who opposes current public policy on COVID-19 is not merely a medical risk but an anti-democratic menace.
Therein lies something even worse than paid journalists subbing for the communications offices of the governments they are supposed to cover. It is the clouding of media-politico eyes to the reality that the so-called Freedom Convoy was the epitome of democratic spirit, albeit not a shining example of executing effectively to keep the mouth-breathers and jack-a-napes at the outer edges of the tribal circle.
The trucks and the burly men with beards who drive them were a means for calling forth that spirit, but they were not the spirit itself. Its essence was the thousands of ordinary citizens who, truckless, made their way to Parliament Hill to show their support, yes, but even more to be counted among the Canadians who’ve had it to the eyeballs visible above their masks with unspeakably arrogant government incompetence in the handling of the pandemic. They were there as citizens who have not just a right, but a duty, to speak out against policies that have backfired from the very beginning; to manifest—in the French sense of the word—their anger at being treated by their political leaders as unwilling experimental subjects in endless rounds of medical whack-a-mole.
The same spirit moved those who could not be present to stand on overpasses above urban freeways or gather on rural roadsides to cheer the trucks on as their proxies for frustrated disgust with the governing classes that failed abjectly to corral the pandemic yet ceaselessly issued edicts about how the lower orders were to behave.
Lasting effects will follow from the pandemic-pretext uppityness of government toward governed. The smartest politicians will understand what happened in Ottawa this weekend as reinvigoration of our woefully enfeebled reflex for democratic dissent. They will grasp the potential for positive effect by encouraging its renewal as constructive engagement and pluralistic flourishing. And those who aren’t smart enough for that? Well, no one should downplay the inevitable downfall of idiocy.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.