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Opinion, Dave Dale: Responsibility follows ‘freedom’

Canadians exercising the freedom to protest for freedom — again — are wrapping themselves in a social democracy flag while demanding individualistic exemptions. It would be nice and polite if they found their own flag. Maybe something in a wild and thorny rose…
Leaders of a movement seeking a permanent end to public health mandates gathered with supporters at the Callander community centre, Sunday, before heading to Ottawa for planned protests to begin on Canada Day.

North Bay saluted the Canadian Armed Forces yesterday with a healthy measure of pride for the military personnel charged with our country’s defence and honour.

Truth be told, we don’t support our soldiers adequately in preparation for modern and diverse duty. And it’s a shame we don’t treat them better after their service ends — especially when the sacrifice continues.

Perhaps this will improve with a fresh example of war pitting west against east once more as Russia tries to take over Ukraine. It’s the biggest and most deadly war in the world right now and global food security is threatened as many factors push inflation to historic levels in every direction.

For the moment, though, we live in a parallel universe where priorities seem incongruous with reality.

There are people gathering in Ottawa next week — and possibly for the summer — with the scent of political and religious ideology in conflict with the majority of citizens. For now, I will describe them as a serious and resourceful minority of disgruntled citizens that found a common purpose: a rejection of public health efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that hit North America hard beginning in March 2020.

The anti-mandate crowd is made up of many yet most echo similar views and I wouldn’t suggest they be underestimated or given a special grace, as the blockades at borders and defiant occupation of Ottawa in February proved. The convoy movement came just a year after the 2021 U.S. Capitol attack. A violent mob had stormed the gates to stop Congress from transferring power from Republican President Donald Trump, who had lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden two months prior. As the hearings in Washington, D.C. the past couple of weeks clearly demonstrate, it was a deadly failed insurrection stoked by Trump’s lies, lust for power and disdain for the rule of law. People brandishing the American flag beat police officers also wearing the Stars and Stripes. One of the assaulted officers subsequently suffered two strokes and died days later. I don’t think domestic terrorism and treason go far enough in describing what happened.

See related: 'This is how I'm going to die': Officers tell Jan. 6 stories

It was revolting to see the American flag alongside the Confederate colours, as well as Trump symbolism mixed in with our Canadian flag at the protests. I’m not the only one who now cringes at the sight of vehicles with Maple Leaf flags flapping behind — it’s hard to believe they respect what it represents when they reject democratic governance.

Five months before Ottawa was invaded, fewer than a million Canadians (almost 5 per cent of voters) supported the People’s Party, which best represented the convoy of anti-mandate voters. Former Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier and his new PPCs garnered 839,999 votes out of 17 million cast without winning a seat. The result was still shy of seven figures even after giving them all of the 100,000 mail-in ballots not counted due to missed deadline, improper completion or lacking a signature. It’s been reported another 90,000 special ballots were not returned at all and they can have them too — it was a losing far-right bid.

Part of that might stem from Canada already being ranked fifth in the world when it comes to freedom if political rights and civil liberties are taken into account.

The federal Tories could have used the core of the protesters’ support last fall but most Conservative candidates at the time supported public health measures in the midst of the pandemics recurring waves. A couple of provinces led by Tories actually had to back off full-throttle reopening mode when waves of residents fill hospitals to the brim.

It wasn’t a very popular decision for the ruling Liberals to call the election in the first place, and although it was framed as seeking a mandate for mandates, it was also to gain a stronger position when the COVID-19 fiscal impact comes home to roost. The Grits fell short of a majority despite gaining five seats to 160 with 1.12 per cent fewer votes than the Tories. Interestingly, the Ottawa and border point protests, provided the anvil to forge a Liberal and NDP pact that gives them combined majority clout in the House of Commons. It was a deft democratic maneuver. It's worth noting they share a smidgen over 50 per cent of the popular vote compared to the Conservatives 34.34 per cent.  

The situation shouldn’t comfort the combined left-leaning majority, especially with indications the protesters and some Tories are now installing figurative Bailey bridges to connect or redefine that far side of the political spectrum.

Several of the Conservative leadership candidates, in fact, met with protest leaders in Ottawa yesterday and at least one is promising to be their champion.

From what I can tell, the basic goal of this movement is to somehow function as a country where everything is optional. And if you listen to enough of what the leaders and followers say, it doesn’t end with public health mandates. It includes all aspects of life, for some, a reality that doesn’t exist anywhere on the planet or they’d already be there.

I suspect they want all the freedoms and benefits of being a Canadian citizen but none of the shared risks and responsibilities.

My mind can be changed but someone has to tell me how we’re going to deal with the next pandemic if a trusted vaccine is available. No rules at all? An infected person can mingle in public if they choose?

I realize there is ample reason to not trust entirely any government, expert or corporation. Pandemic blunders, official duplicity and profiteering re-enforced cynicism. But to swing all the way to ignoring election results and making “everything optional” isn’t better strategy that will solve dilemmas better.

We should actually put our energies into regional food security and public housing. There’s an economic freight train about to go off the global rails, unity and collective action are needed now more than ever.

These are the “interesting times” quoted in the often-cited curse-rooted “blessing” that a foe does not enjoy the tranquility of uninteresting peace.

P.S. For the record, I believe any hockey team armed with nothing but Sherwoods would have stormed that Uvalde school classroom to try and save those students and teachers from a mass murderer — a monkeypox should befall that police department.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website