The world around us has become somewhat unrecognizable recently. Passengers get into fist-fights on airplanes, consumption of alcohol and drugs has increased, people have become more tribal, social media posts pump up vitriol, mental health issues are on the rise, and faith in government has taken a hit in many countries. What is going on? The short answer—COVID 19. We continue to be plagued with natural disasters due to climate change, racism, terrorism, gun violence, and more. Those issues spark some anger and discontent. But this pandemic has brought the world to its knees.
There is one universal agreement—all of us are tired of COVID 19 and its variants. We just want this plague to go away. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in the way we would like to imagine. It will probably always be with us now, just in milder (or sometimes not-so-mild) forms. Therein lies the rub. Some people are optimistic that the milder Omicron variant signals the end of the pandemic and the beginning of a seasonal virus much like the flu. Others are more cautious, worried that a more dangerous variant might be brewing in places where only a small percentage of the population is vaccinated. A world map of vaccination rates in each country illustrates this problem.
The first group seeks an end to all COVID restrictions and mandates. They say that it’s time to get on with our lives. The latter group is much more cautious about striking down all the rules and protocols. They would like to see countries move more slowly in dropping all the restrictions.
There’s no question that COVID lockdowns have wreaked havoc on our planet. Economies have been hurt. Businesses, both small and large, have experienced crippling financial setbacks. The poor have suffered most of all. You would think that these issues would pull us closer together; spur us to help others heal. On the contrary, in many ways, they have torn us apart.
Right now, in Canada, we are in the midst of Freedom Convoy demonstrations in Ottawa. Even though 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, those that aren’t vaccinated organized a cross-country convoy of trucks headed to Ottawa to protest government vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the border into Canada. (The American government has also mandated vaccines for truckers crossing into the U.S.) The Canadian Trucking Alliance has denounced the convoy protest. Nevertheless, the Freedom Convoy gained momentum as it crossed Canada. Non-truckers joined and it quickly morphed into a bid to end all mandates and restrictions, both federal and provincial. A GoFundMe page (since frozen by that platform) raised over $10 million. Many of the donations were made from outside Canada. The protest has attracted white supremacists, nationalists, and other unsavoury characters. A couple of national monuments were defaced, and reports of violence and harassment are emerging as the truckers occupy Ottawa. Organizers have published a document calling for the resignation of senators and the Governor-General if conditions of lifting all restrictions aren’t met.
Yesterday Ottawa citizens spotted some Freedom supporters wearing ‘Make Canada Great Again’ hats and flying American flags. An elderly woman was told to remove her mask and if she was scared, she should go back on her meds. People are beginning to feel uneasy and unsafe. As well, demonstrations have begun in cities across Canada, blocking traffic and, in some cases, harassing health care workers.
I fully support the right to peacefully demonstrate. It’s part and parcel of living in a democracy. Many demonstrations draw attention to racial equality, a healthier planet, better conditions for the poor, etc. This Freedom Convoy seems selfish to me. I’m not sure that these protesters understand the full meaning of freedom. The unvaccinated are not being thrown in jail. They have the right to remain unvaccinated, but they must deal with the consequences during an international public health crisis. In Canada, you can’t smoke in public buildings. This protects everyone. Vaccine mandates are the same concept—less serious illness, less hospitalization, and fewer deaths. No basic human rights have been taken away.
I have a few questions for those that support the Freedom Convoy. What do you expect to achieve? Do you want to overthrow the government? Do you believe that government mandates and restrictions will be lifted if you shout loud enough? What were you planning to do with $10 million? Have you ever lived in or visited a country where human rights, such as the right to free speech, are denied?
This protest seems a little Trumpy to me. The latest world news shows that governments are moving in the direction of lifting restrictions and finding sustainable ways to deal with this virus that don’t negatively impact populations. Maybe this movement is too slow for the Freedom Convoy people. Or maybe they just want an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. Unfortunately, childish tantrums rarely yield the results we might be looking for.