Four full hours before the first headlights blinked over the highway’s horizon, they were there on the overpass. It was a hundred clicks west of Toronto. It was barely light. It was minus 24 with the windchill. And the bridge over the 401 was pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with beings in parkas, hoods, hats, mitts and snowmobile pants. The standard accoutrement was a maple leaf flag. The preferred pendant-holder was a hockey stick.
I passed under many structures Thursday morning on my way to a meeting. There was no convoy yet so the bridge people waved and hooted and flapped their flags at the cars and the trucks flowing below, trying to justify wasting their collective time as they froze on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, I wondered why they were there. Couldn’t be only the wives, kids and uncles of unvaccinated truckers. Many of them might not even understand why Canada felt it necessary to coordinate trans-border pandemic measures with the US. Maybe it had nothing at all to do with trucks, Pfizer, the supply chain, freedom or Omicron. Perhaps they’re just loving a chance to stick it to The Man. It’s pandemic fatigue, virus frustration and deep iconoclasm.
Since this is the dominant news event in the nation, let’s debate it for one day.
The truckers are ostensibly protesting a mandate saying they must be vaccinated to border-hop, and which 80% of their colleagues abide by. The vaccines, let’s remember are readily accessible and free to all citizens. It’s way easier to be inoculated than it is to, say, drive an 18-wheeler 2,000 kilometers with an empty load and no income. So it must be more, because that’s just dumb and incomprehensible behaviour.
Yes, the convoyers also say it’s about “freedom”. As did Trump supporters when they stormed Washington, these folks call themselves “patriots” and have absconded the national flag as their symbol. Those who think they’re fools, disturbers, misguided rebels, rednecks or vaccine cowards are, by extension, not patriots. Like, you know, traitors. In fact that’s exactly what these folks are openly calling the guy who is currently prime minister. The convoy FB page last night posted a picture of him, his wife and his children saying, “we’re coming for you.” Nice.
Ottawa police are wary of what they think may be radical elements within the group. And the GoFundMe folks are suspicious of over $5 million that materialized in a few days under the convoy banner. It’s impossible to know the specifics of a grassroots protest movement, so let’s hope this passes in peace.
Of course, no freedoms have been cancelled in Canada. We’ve had a two-year public health emergency (70 more Ontarians dead from Covid today – that makes 11,230 in one province alone), and that’s meant restrictions and inconvenience for everyone. But we’re all still free. If anyone has taken it on the chin, it’s been the entrepreneurs who own restaurants, gyms, hair salons, non-essential retail stores and other concerns that have been locked down a few times. They should be pissed. And the health care workers – burned out, stressed, overloaded and the brunt of anti-vax demonstrations – are fully deserving of a bad attitude. But strangely, these folks seem to be muscling through the fog, and coping.
In the grocery store yesterday I repeated what I say to the clerk every time I shop: “Thank you for working during the pandemic.” There was the most beautiful smile from a young girl at the checkout. An eye-smile, above the mask.
Well, the truckers figure they’re special. Like other anti-vaxers they let the rest of us work our way towards immunity and better days. As free riders they want to evade the responsibility of following rules and taking precautions, yet demand support because they’re feeling pressured for their bad choices. They cloak the guilt and poor judgement in the mantle of “freedom.” They steal our national emblem. And they rend us. On the sides of the 401 today it might as well have been Texas or Georgia, as political polarization galvanized the gullible.
Meanwhile Justin Trudeau’s office says he went into Covid isolation. Maybe he did. Perhaps it was an excuse. Not that he would have addressed the mob when it arrived in Ottawa on Saturday, anyway. No prime minister would.
But this is for sure – he’s loving it.
The convoy, especially if it is welcomed by some Tory MPs, or just tolerated by the party leader, is helping rip apart Conservatives. It gives voice and form to the radicals while strenuously pushing away the majority. There are not enough hard-right supporters in this country to ever elect a Con government. Mulroney knew that. It was what Progressive Conservatives were all about. Without drawing in middle-of-the road voters and disillusioned Liberal supporters, Conservatives will stay on the opposition benches. Forever.
And that, rather than being a man, rolling up your sleeve for humanity, seems the bigger threat to freedom.
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