I don’t claim to know very much about Canadian politics — in fact, I have enough trouble figuring out what’s going on down here.
Nevertheless, as someone who lives just about 80 miles from the Land of the Maple Leaf, I found the recent big-rig occupation of Ottawa rather fascinating. Not because of the actual issue, which started to be yet another mass protest against a new Covid-19 mandate (this one targeting truckers), but because of how it unfolded. For better or worse, what was put on display, there was something we can expect to see repeatedly in the near future.
Having attended several anti-war rallies in Washington during the early 1970s, I felt a twinge of deja vu. In both cases, the original issue became swallowed up by something larger and cloudier, the focus shifting from unpopular laws to unpopular personalities — Richard Nixon then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this month.
On the issue of mandates, it’s becoming evident that a heavy-handed approach isn’t working, either here or in Canada. We in the U.S. do not have a good track record of passively following government edicts, and I assume the same is true with our neighbors to the north.
Requiring that Canadian truckers produce proof of vaccination at the border upon returning from the U.S. (or be forced to quarantine) seems especially unnecessary. In the first place, 80 percent of them are already vaccinated. Moreover, these individuals generally drive alone to their destinations, sit in their trucks while someone else unloads them, maybe pop into the office to get a check, and leave. Under those circumstances, the odds are rather long that they could infect anyone. They can be required to wear masks, anyway.
What’s happened, as the long siege of COVID-19 drags on, is that lots of people have been herded into parallel universes. Some believe that the government is simply doing its best to protect its citizens against a virus that killed millions. In the other universe, this is a sinister ploy to establish further government control over the population, leading to who knows what down the road.
Sure, not everyone sees it from these extremes, but this overall dichotomy does not bode well for compromise. It has led to skirmishes between store managers and customers, airline flight attendants and unruly passengers, school boards, and protestors. Meanwhile, partisan politicians and pundits gleefully stoke the glowing coals into flame.
As always, when the latter two groups get involved, new stereotypes are forged and applied. Mandates are a Communist plot, according to the anti-vax whisperers. On the other side of that line in the sand (or the snow, up in Ottawa), an incredibly annoying strain of self-righteousness has flourished. Yet it’s not going to kill anyone to wear a mask, and not everyone who resists vaccination thinks Bill Gates wants to change their DNA.
In the Upstate New York county where I live, there have been 13,100 recorded cases of Covid. Deaths? 120. Here, at least, this is not exactly the bubonic plague.
All I’m saying is that adding to the already tense atmosphere in either the U.S. or Canada doesn’t seem helpful.
I heard one protestor in Ottawa say he was “ready to die” to protect his freedom. Think about that: Here’s someone ready to die to stop the government from trying to save his life.
One observer described the three-week occupation of downtown Ottawa as “a huge tailgate party.” There were speeches, to be sure, and efforts to negotiate with an unbending Trudeau (who responded by invoking Canada’s Emergency powers Act for the first time ever) but there were also sing-alongs and entertainment.
I learned from my experience years ago that gathering in a public place with thousands of like-minded people is a heady, energizing, and addictive experience. There is now talk of a similar anti-mandate truck convoy moving across the U.S. from California to Washington next month, and it seems reasonable to wonder: Why?
In the U.S., vaccination and mask mandates are mostly set down by the individual states, not the federal government. Could it be that the Canada episode seemed so invigorating that some Americans want to experience it for themselves?
Get ready for more of this, aimed at all kinds of issues. Black Lives Matter is just one example.
Where once these mass protests were somewhat disorganized, they are now becoming functioning organisms. The Canadian “Freedom Convoy” had many people live-streaming what was happening and even set up what amounted to an independent news service to tell the world their side of the story. That network often disagreed with the “mainstream” media, which isn’t surprising.
We need to make life easier for the people working in hospitals when COVID cases spike. It would make sense to find out before someone steps onto an airplane if they have a problem with the mask mandate.
Still, I think about prohibition, the only Constitutional amendment ever canceled. I suppose it made sense from a medical point of view to stop people from drinking alcohol, since it was responsible for many of society’s ills. What happened, though, is that the people who drank kept drinking, and those that didn’t…didn’t.
The government does some things well but declaring mandates and laws that are virtually impossible to enforce isn’t one of them.
As one of those caught somewhere in between, I wonder why instant testing isn’t becoming more of an option. Even so, I didn’t go to Washington back then because I thought my being there would make any difference. I was against the war primarily because it had killed two of my high school friends and because my logic told me it didn’t make much sense. Then, too, I was of draft age.
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."