This weekend truck convey supporters took to the streets at Jarry Park in Montreal. I went to go see what was happening. I was curious about a number of things; curious if they would try to block off roads with trucks as they have in Ottawa, curious how the police would respond, and most of all curious if anyone would actually challenge them.
After making my way around the crowd I finally found a small counter demonstration. Just six people, standing with their masks on, and signs that read ‘stop polluting,’ ‘land back,’ and ‘real freedom is through solidarity.’ They stood not far from a crowd of hundreds of pro-convoy supporters. The counter-protestors were willing to open a dialog with anyone who came to talk, but not willing to back down.
They told me there had been a larger counter-demonstration that morning, accompanied by a comparatively large and aggressive police presence, complete with riot cops sporting ‘thin blue line’ badges. By contrast the police did not appear at all concerned about the pro-convoy rally of hundreds supporting an illegal occupation of our capital city; indeed they mostly just stood there on their bicycles making casual conversation.
But what gives me hope is that those six people in the counter-demonstration did stand up; that they stood there in the cold with dignity against a much larger crowd; that they chose to speak up and to encourage the rest of us to do the same. Because we need more people to do the same.
Covid and the Crises to Come
Fundamentally the Covid crisis is not that different from many of the environmental crises we face today. For years governments knew that we were creating environmental conditions that could lead to a pandemic like this. Not only did they fail to address these worsening conditions, but in many cases they are still failing to adequately prepare for the onset of more potential pandemics. Worse yet, for years our governments here in Canada have failed to adequately fund healthcare.
There is some legitimacy in arguing that individual people are now paying the price of years of systemic inaction that has made pandemics like this one more likely to happen and more likely to spread. But let’s not pretend for a second that wearing a mask, that getting vaccinated, is not a fundamentally necessary act to protect lives at this point.
The people paying the greatest price of Covid are the ones in the hospital beds and the underfunded healthcare workers who are trying to save them. It does not take much for us all individually to make those peoples lives and jobs easier by following some relatively simple health rules.
Opposition to these health mandates has been actively manufactured far beyond normal public skepticism. Indeed, extremists have been trying for years to start a convoy like this, the Covid situation just gave them the fuel they needed.
What is most sickening about the extremists who are coordinating the occupation in Ottawa, and the rally in Jarry park, is that they do not care how many people die or are negatively affected by their actions. Their supporters are a political tool to them and the rest of us are collateral damage.
As CBC News confirmed, using one of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s air quality monitors, emissions from the trucks in Ottawa alone have made levels of the dangerous pollutant PM 2.5 soar to four to eight times higher than normal.
This is pollution that can make its way into people’s homes where they cannot even escape it by staying indoors. And as those watching closely will have seen, since that story broke a lot of the convoy's supporters are actually expressing pride on social media about having exposed the people of Ottawa to pollution. Maybe that doesn’t bother the convoy participants but I imagine it sure as hell bothers parents whose kids have asthma.
As if that wasn’t bad enough Convoy supporters in Canada and abroad purposefully attempted (and almost succeeded) to overload Ottawa’s emergency system by making false 911 calls, have been blocking the path of paramedics and pelting them with stones.
Let me make one last appeal for anyone whose reality is so distorted that they can’t see this for themselves; by definition being proud that you endangered the health of a group of innocent bystanders, including children, during your truck blockade means you’re supporting the wrong movement.
Real Liberty Through Solidarity
These protests are designed to obfuscate the extremist agenda of their organizers by appealing to a sense of liberty - albeit a sense of liberty that has been twisted beyond the reasonable.
This isn’t a new tactic at all, it’s been used by fascists since the 1920s. The problem is that we are now facing an extremist-led movement that has successfully piggybacked its way onto the concerns of a significant spectrum of the public.
Individual liberty, though a positive ideal, cannot be treated as an absolute in a shared environment. Liberty stops being liberty when it harms others. Yes we can and should address crises as much as possible by making systemic changes, rather than offloading that burden on to individual people, but in a shared ecosystem we also all have a responsibility to each other’s wellbeing.
What’s truly frightening is that Covid is not the only crisis we are facing. We are also already facing the severe consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change and these impacts will continue to get worse in coming years, even as we act to counter their causes, because of what we have already set in motion. And once again governments are not prepared for these crises and are not taking the sort of proactive solutions we need to prevent them.
There is a real risk that extremist elements within society will continue to manipulate public sentiments in the face of crises to gain even more power in the future. Eco-facism, particularly, represents a political threat to our world which could grow as our environment is increasingly damaged, pitting people against each other when we need to work together. Even if the trucks are removed from Ottawa the network of increasingly radicalized people behind them will not be gone.
Most Canadians do not support the convoy. The vast majority of truckers are not for the convoy either and some argue that it is actively distracting from other crucial issues facing truckers like driver abuse and wage theft. But the success of movements like the convoy is not based in their numbers but in their boldness and their dedication to their cause.
To counter this extremist movement we need to be twice as dedicated as they are. We need to build a new vision that can be inclusive of discussing people’s frustrations with the crises we face but that actively opposes the racism, prejudice, and neo-liberalism of the extremists behind the convoy. We need to fight the distortion of liberty at the heart of the convoy in Ottawa at the same time as we force governments to address systemic issues, like the under-funding and lack of basic measures such as sick leave for workers, that helped lead to this point.
We need to show extremists that we will confront the growth of their influence in this country. We need to actively counter these convoy-rallys (as Ottawa residents are doing) peacefully now and reinforce our own networks in kind.
Because if we do not confront this convoy movement, if we do not stand together in solidarity every time they show up somewhere, extremism will only continue to grow.
Read more: The Convoy is No Mirage.