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Glavin: Taking on the truckers — could everyone please calm down?


Pumping up the volume to 11 on the outrage knobs isn’t helping resolve this mess.

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As the Loud Truckist Noise in Ottawa carried on this week, it was perhaps understandable that certain of the civic leaders in the nation’s capital and quite a few otherwise respectable members of the Canadian establishment would become a bit unhinged. By now, the rest of us should be sufficiently entertained by the flights of rhetoric that have been coming from all quarters about what it all means, and what to do about it, to come to some decision about whose shouts we like the most. But no matter where you land on any of this, there’s one bit of advice we should all consider, and one can only hope it will be taken seriously by all sides.

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Everybody needs to just calm the hell down.

And that means everybody, from Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa police services board, to Mark Carney, former governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England and frequently mooted successor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and everybody in between, including certain loudmouthed Conservatives. I’m leaving out the protest leadership in this because whatever the genuine motives of the protest rank-and-file, most of the vanguard appears to be beyond reasoning with.

Quite a few of Canada’s journalists would benefit from chilling out and focusing on doing their jobs, too, if only to staunch the plummeting credibility ratings Canadians give the legacy news organizations in this country. We all love a good story, but there comes a point when there’s really not much of a public interest to be served by simply trafficking in the hyper-caffeinated hot-take “narratives” that purport to reveal the sinister forces behind all the ear-splitting, horn-honking hooliganism Ottawa’s Centretown residents have endured. That’s what Twitter’s for.

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Ottawa Coun. Diane Deans chairs the police services board.
Ottawa Coun. Diane Deans chairs the police services board. jpg

It isn’t easy to resist the urge to at least mock fashionable narratives, and this is at least occasionally what a daily newspaper’s opinion pages should be for. So let’s start with Deans, whose high-drama interview with CBC on Tuesday was so rich in deliciously mock-worthy ironies.

“This is not something this country has ever seen before,” Deans began, apparently forgetting the October Crisis of 1970, the Solidarity general strike in British Columbia in 1983, the Oka Crisis of 1990, the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots of 1994, the destructive 2010 G20 protest violence in Toronto, the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots of 2011, the crippling anti-pipeline blockades of rail lines, ports, highways and ferries across Canada in 2020, and so on.

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“This is treason. This is a group of well-polished, professional people that are trying to overthrow the government, the democratically elected government of this country,” Deans said. “This really is an insurrection … the money is flowing from the U.S., it’s right out of the Trump playbook.”

Say what you like about the Freedom Convoy crowd, they are not what any unexcited person would call well-polished people. As the Canadian Unity Group itself declared about its leaders on Tuesday, in splendid understatement, they are “not lawyers or politicians.” Neither are they all yobs and yahoos, exactly, and the insurrectionist intent that might be attributed to them was contained in a fantasy-rich blancmange of mumbo-jumbo that was so embarrassing to that faction of the apparent protest high command that produced it that it was withdrawn entirely on Tuesday because “it does not reflect the spirit and intent of the Freedom Convoy of 2022.”

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My favourite irony in Deans’s denunciations was her interregnum of high praise for Carney, who is supposed to be busy as head of “impact investing” with the $600-billion Brookfield Asset Management portfolio, which has turned out to be rather less than the carbon-neutral miracle he claimed it was last year (apparently Brookfield’s fossil-fuel and coal investments amount to a carbon footprint of nearly 5,000 tonnes).

Deans said she especially liked what Carney had written in a commentary published this week about the truckers’ Ottawa jamboree being a case of “sedition.” Carney also wrote favourably about Deans having earlier called the protests an insurrection, but he took particular aim at the police administration for having “ceded” the parliamentary precinct to the protesters and “facilitated the convoy’s entry into the heart of the capital … a policy of engagement that amounted to a reality of appeasement.” Which, speaking of ironies, would seem to lay blame for the “anarchy” he describes in rather close proximity to Deans’s own feet.

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And then there is the hard and fast rule followed by the Liberals from Trudeau on down, and by most New Democrats, that one is not permitted to say anything about the protests without using the words “swastika” and “Confederate flag,” owing to those appalling banners having been spotted during one or more of the protest gatherings. The purpose of their display remains unknown and subject to much speculation. Protesters say they are suitably appalled, too.

But that’s the thing about what we are all expected to say about the protests. There’s been little in the way of consistent journalistic effort expended in the work of separating what we can say we know about the protesters and their protests from what Trudeau’s Liberals would want us all to believe about them — which is essentially that the protest-sympathizing Conservatives have been consorting promiscuously with Nazis and Klansmen.

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But journalism of that proper sort is getting harder to undertake. More than 450 news organizations in Canada have shuttered since 2007, and a surfeit of recent polls shows that Canadians’ distrust of traditional media is hovering up towards 50 per cent. It’s not easy to say which of these developments is the cause, and which is the effect. But pumping up the volume to 11 on the outrage knobs isn’t helping matters.

Liberal MP for Louis-Hebert Joel Lightbound speaks about COVID restrictions during a news conference on Tuesday in Ottawa.
Liberal MP for Louis-Hebert Joel Lightbound speaks about COVID restrictions during a news conference on Tuesday in Ottawa. Photo by Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press

In a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday, the erudite Liberal MP Joël Lightbound explained in a thoroughly detailed presentation exactly why it is that he has had quite enough of this sort of thing (for his efforts he was obliged to resign his post as chair of the Quebec Liberal caucus). Noting the hundreds of entreaties he has heard about the stupid cruelties of Quebec’s COVID-19 mandates from his own constituents — among whom he counted despairing grandmothers, Black people and Sikhs, clearly not the “white supremacists” we’ve been hearing about for days — Lightbound said: “I have enough respect for my fellow Canadians not to engage in these easy and absurd labels.”

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A Leger poll released this week shows that while four in 10 Canadians take a dim view of the anti-mandate demonstrations, at least four in 10 say they sympathize with the frustrations the protesters are venting about. What Lightbound proposes is a nationally led roadmap to lift the COVID mandates — but the Trudeau government has stupidly tied its hands from leading it lest Trudeau himself be seen to have surrendered to regiments of goose-stepping schutzstaffel he keeps banging on about.

So now we have several provinces either dropping or planning to drop mandatory COVID-containment measures entirely or easing back on them unilaterally, and Canada’s public health czar, Theresa Tam, saying the Omicron variant is so ferociously infectious that all public health measures need to be re-examined, and the World Health Organization, whose dodgy counsel Trudeau has championed, is now decrying the uselessness of the cross-border type of travel restrictions both Trudeau and Joe Biden’s equally science-following administration in Washington have imposed on the truckers. Which was what kicked off the protests to start with.

It’s a mess, and we aren’t going to get through it as long as we’re calling each other Nazis or shouting about fake news. But we could make a start of it by calming the hell down.

Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.

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