Barry W. Bussey
I spent some time in Ottawa last weekend to experience history in the making. The “Freedom 2022” Trucker Convoy to Ottawa must be among the most massive spontaneous protest that this country has ever seen. When I asked two members of the police if they had ever seen a protest as large, they said no, this was the biggest in their experience.
A police helicopter flew overhead, keeping an eye on the crowds. Uniformed police were present; I am sure there were many plainclothes police as well. As I walked the streets, there were a number of officers in parked cars. All prepared, just in case.
The mood on the street was akin to the Winterlude festival Ottawa is known for in February. (Of course, since COVID-19 that festival has ended.) However, the Trucker Convoy was and is much larger – even greater than the traditional Canada Day celebrations. The celebratory mood was in stark contrast with the seriousness of the cause that brought so many thousands of Canadians together. The signs said it best:
“Freedom Is Essential”
“This Ends When We All Say No!”
“Member of the small fringe minority of unacceptable views”
“Freedom Not Fear”
“Our Future Is Now: Fight For It”
“It’s All For Nothing If You Don’t Have Freedom”
“It Matters Not to Free Men What Tyrants Write on Paper”
By far the most prolific sign was the four letter “F” word that preceded the name “Trudeau”. From my perspective, these signs marred the otherwise positive spirit of the protests. I have trouble reconciling a sign advocating sexual assault against the Prime Minister in a rally that came as a backlash against his promotion of a medical assault against those who are conscientiously opposed to the vaccine. Cheering for an assault on the leader of our country takes away from the message of freedom. I do recognize that emotions are high. However, the “F bomb” is a hyperbolic term that we would do best to avoid. We are further ahead not to engage in such language.
The reason is simple. Trudeau, like the rest of us, is a human being with a family who needs protection and security. As Prime Minister, he has inflamed the emotions with his uncharitable rhetoric. No question about that. But, I suggest, the cause of freedom is best represented by the substantive arguments of reason rather than emotional vitriol. We need not emulate the worst we see in our society or in our politicians who should know better. We must, for the sake of the public good, ensure that we approach our public policy concerns with a steadfast eye on the goal of mutual brotherhood and respect.
The Trucker Convoy has struck a deep emotional – even spiritual – nerve among Canadians. As I made my way through Ottawa, I came across two street preachers. One was your typical street evangelist telling the story of salvation in Jesus and handing out free copies of the Bible. The other preacher was prophetic, using the account of Jesus raising up Lazarus as an illustration of Jesus raising up Canada to put away the “corrupt leaders.” Such sermonizing reminded me of the preaching that went on at the time of the American Revolution, when many preachers across the 13 colonies spoke about the right of the people to revolt against the English crown.
On January 30, Pastor Henry Hildebrandt spoke to the protestors on Wellington Street, in front of the Centre Block of Parliament. He pointed to the Peace Tower and proclaimed, “Look in that window in the south of the Peace Tower. It says that ‘Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.’” He continued, “Pastor, should you be preaching Jesus? Yes! God giveth freedom!!”
When dealing with issues of conscience, it is not surprising to see religious idioms and metaphors come into currency. Artists are publishing material with a distinctly religious theme. “Truckers fight, Jesus saves” was another sign I saw in Ottawa. I am not sure about the theological implications, but it is evidence that there is a mixing of the political reality with the spiritual desire for validation of the cause.
Significantly, in a press conference on January 30, the Convoy organizers refused to allow the “legacy media” access to their meeting. They gave two reasons for the ban: first, they said The Toronto Star and CBC were putting out stories that GoFundMe, the crowdfunding website, shut down the truckers’ funding page. The organizers thought this was an attempt by the media to discourage donations while accusing the truckers of being “right wing.” Second, if the legacy media were permitted, they would have taken up half the floor space with their cameras. The leaders were not going to allow them to “bully” the conversation.
The upbeat mood of the protest may well change in due course as there will inevitably be a clash of wills between the participants and the government at all levels – the municipal, the provincial and the federal. Parliament is scheduled to continue on Monday, January 31. With the cacophony of honking horns and sirens it will be difficult for the MPs to meet in the House of Commons; therefore, they may have to meet virtually. Given their experience of doing so over the last two years, that should not prove much of a problem – although it will likely cause frustration for protestors who are waiting for a response from an absent government. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister doubled down against the truckers on Monday, stating that Canadians were, “were shocked, and frankly, disgusted by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital.” The “othering” does not appear to be settling down anytime soon.
If we did not know it by now, Canada is in a serious political crisis. A complex web of missteps and arrogance, along with an unwillingness to consider ways of working together, has led us to this impasse. The political and “expert” classes were confident in their entitlement to impose a “solution” to COVID-19. Their ever-expanding measures, which are less and less justified by the scientific data, have resulted in enormous pain and loss that has now led to a widespread backlash, represented by the Freedom 2022 Convoy. That, in turn, may well lead to further complications of the supply chain necessary to keep our shelves stocked.
When asked in the news conference how long they will maintain their protest, Benjamen Dichter, Tamara Lich, and Chris Barber stated that with the funds being raised to date, they can stay for over a year. It is highly unlikely that the truckers will stay on Wellington Street for a year, but then, we were once told that it would take two weeks to flatten the COVID curve – and that was almost two years ago. Patience is running thin both with government and with the “legacy media” that keeps reporting that the Canadian public does not support the truckers. However, the massive Trucker protest raised expectations for the end of the vaccine mandates and a return to normal.
If the truckers fail in their aims, what will that do to the morale of the unvaccinated who have lost their jobs, who struggle with not being allowed to travel, who have been “unenrolled” from university? Will the Prime Minister and other politicians come down harder on the unvaccinated if the Convoy is forced to leave without accomplishing their ends? Given his recent comments that seems a possibility.
Should the truckers remain on the streets for an extended period, could public opinion be persuaded to see their point of view in opposition to the Prime Minister? What then? Will the PM be forced to step down, or will there be another election on the issue? What happens if the PM wins and the truckers’ views are rejected by such an election?
I leave Ottawa with a sense of satisfaction from the fact that the demonstrations were peaceful. For the most part, everyone had a great time. But I am worried about the future – especially wondering how the PM is going to deal with the standoff. Early indications are that the PM is willing to escalate the confrontation.
Canada has never had a larger protest with the potential to impact every single Canadian. The stakes are high. It requires meaningful, good faith conversation to bring about a much-needed political peace. Will we get it? I hope the best comes out from both sides that will make that possible.
 See Ellis Sandoz, ed., Political Sermons of the American Founding Era 1730-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991).
 In fact, recent polls suggest that the tide is turning, and a majority of Canadians agree that it is time to start lifting restrictions. See Angus Reid, “Incidence of Omicron: One-in-five Canadians report COVID-19 infection in their household since Dec. 1” (January 31, 2022), online: https://angusreid.org/omicron-incidence-restrictions/