As I make my way to Ottawa for the rally of a generation, I can’t help but feel like I’m a bystander in that old Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, in which Cruise goes around arresting people for crimes they are about to commit. While the handcuffs aren’t being thrown on anyone just yet, the mainstream media and political class have spared no effort promoting the narrative that the convoy converging on Ottawa this weekend is a powder keg waiting to explode.
Newspapers and cable news outlets have been going wall-to-wall with “what-if” scenarios, often veering into paranoid hysteria. Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he was worried this would be “similar to Charlottesville or the January 6 insurrection.”
I don’t deny that violence is a possibility, but if it rears its ugly head it should be swiftly shut down and unequivocally condemned. The leading promoters of the convoy have already pre-emptively denounced violence and said anyone inclined to go that route is unwelcome.
Anyone supportive of the convoy I’ve spoken to in the last week has spoken of nothing other than wishing to engage in a peaceful protest. The only ones talking about violence are those who want the convoy to fail.
The few statements I’ve seen held up as examples of violent or criminal intent by purported convoy members have been resoundingly and rightfully rejected by the clear majority of convoy supporters who want no part of anything but a peaceful demonstration.
As Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre noted, the benefit of the doubt extended to the fringiest members of left-wing protest movements like Antifa and Black Lives Matter is not extended to their analogues in the freedom convoy.
While not all that surprising, it’s nonetheless revealing about the media and political discourse about the convoy.
The trajectory in the Laurentian response to the convoy has been clear: first, they ignored; then, they vilified; then, in the absence of any evidence, they predicted violence.
The first approach failed when the convoy got too big to ignore. The second one failed when thousands of Canadians lined overpasses, highways, and roadsides to cheer on the convoy. The third strategy is the convoy opponent’s last chance.
Those demonizing the convoy for non-existent violence are not afraid for public safety: they need the violence, for it’s the only way to delegitimize this movement.
I’ve spent much of the last two years grappling with an increasing pessimism not only about the encroachments on freedom being advanced by federal and provincial governments, but also by Canadians’ willingness to accept, or even invite, them. This past week is the first time during the entire pandemic in which I’ve felt hopeful.
A tide is turning, and people across Canada and around the world are seeing it.
I remarked on my show this afternoon that we’re witnessing one of the largest chasms between those who inhabit the few square kilometres of downtown Ottawa in which the nation’s government and parliamentary news bureaus sit, and those anywhere else. I can’t recall when the Ottawa consensus was so vastly disconnected from the rest of the country than in the past week.
If this weekend’s demonstrations proceed as they’re supposed to – peacefully – the narrative will crumble even more than it already has.
It’ll be hard to keel maligning those opposed to vaccine mandates as knuckle-dragging, racist, misogynistic Neanderthals when Canadians see tens of thousands of ordinary people taking a stand and see themselves represented far more in the protesters than in the elites denouncing them.
That Erin O’Toole figured out how to extend his spine and stood up in support of the convoy a few days after being unwilling to stake a position is no doubt an example of a political flip flop, but also of O’Toole’s appreciation that the convoy is achieving mainstream acceptance.
If one of the most risk-averse politicians is prepared to defend the convoy, it’s clear the Conservatives saw just how big this movement was getting – and perhaps even that these truckers have a point.
I’ve devoted two paragraphs more to a politician than I intended to in this newsletter, because the reality is that the convoy isn’t about politicians. It’s about people rising up to take action in the absence of any real political opposition in the last two years to the biggest assaults on freedom we’ve seen in generations.
That this is being channelled in such a way is an incredible testament to the resilience of Canadian truckers, and all those joining them.
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I've just returned from an hour on a west Ottawa overpass where 50-60 other people were gathered to cheer protestors on their way to the Hill. The honking and waving from the vehicles passing under us was constant. Many vehicles bore Canadian flags, and this wasn't even the main body of the convoy! I, too, now feel much more hopeful that people still care about freedom. You are absolutely correct that we can't let liberty be regarded as a partisan issue. If those who happen to form the government forget this, we need to firmly and peacefully remind them of the truth.