From the Hill — Affront to democracy in Canada
I’ve been in Ottawa for the past nine days, in the centre of the protest by the “Freedom Convoy”. My offices have been flooded by emails and phone calls on both sides of this issue, so I want to make it clear where I stand and why.
First, a short description of how the last week in Ottawa has gone.
The organizers of the convoy would have us believe that the occupiers of the city have been peaceful. But when the police themselves say that they cannot ask the trucks to leave for fear of violence, you can imagine how local residents feel. An acquaintance of mine was knocked to the ground yesterday because she was wearing a mask. Paramedics have had rocks thrown at their ambulance because the crowd didn’t like the colour of their skin.
Racist swastika and Confederate flags were flown unchallenged. People danced and urinated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and defecated on the lawns of local churches. Stores displaying the rainbow flag had their windows smashed. Overtly anti-Semitic signs are waved among the crowds and anti-Semitic buttons are for sale on street-side tables. Hospital workers have been told not to wear medical uniforms to work for fear of intimidation and violence.
Many stores are closed because of multiple acts of intimidation of staff. Air horns blare from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
I know that not all these demonstrators are racists or bullies, but the fact is many Ottawa residents have been intimidated into staying home and feel like prisoners in their own city.
This started as a protest against the withdrawal of the vaccination exemption for truckers entering Canada (the United States instituted a similar mandate at the same time for truckers entering their country).
Truckers had previously been exempt from the border crossing mandates because it was felt they were essential to keeping the cross-border flow of goods moving. But now that about 90 percent of truckers (and the general public) are vaccinated, there was no reason to continue that exemption.
Before the convoy reached Ottawa, other demands had been added, including one that the Governor-General dissolve Parliament and set up a citizens’ assembly from the convoy as the government. Now it seems that the main demand is to simply end all pandemic restrictions.
We are all tired of pandemic restrictions. We all want to get back to life as it was before. But our health care system is still bursting at its seams. Hospitals are filled with COVID cases. Cancer and cardiac procedures are being cancelled because there is no capacity to do them. Nurses and doctors are exhausted.
We can’t afford to relax all pandemic restrictions without making this health care crisis even worse. Alberta and Saskatchewan did that earlier and now have COVID death rates about twice that of BC.
Just last fall we had a general election in Canada. Vaccine policy was a big part of the election decision—I heard it on almost every doorstep. In that election almost two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties in favour of selective vaccine mandates that allowed businesses and borders to re-open safely and allowed people to return to their jobs.
This is not about rights and freedoms. We don’t have the right to endanger the health and well-being of others, just as we are not allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road, drive at unsafe speeds or without a driver’s licence. We must remember that the enemy facing us is COVID, not the mandates, not vaccines, not politicians, and certainly not public health officers who are the experts in pandemic behaviour.
The vaccines have given us a remarkable opportunity to cope with this pandemic. To relax these measures prematurely and against the advice of health experts because our national capital is being held hostage, could be disastrous and would certainly be an affront to democracy in Canada.
Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay