Events unfolding in Ottawa revive memories of January 2021 when Trump followers tried to subvert the democracy America has practiced for generations. Urged on by Republicans, hateful mobs repudiated civil behaviour and rejected the rule of law. Now, encouraged by Conservatives, similar protesters have taken centre stage in Canada.
Unable to gain adequate support without embracing fanatics, the second largest party in Canada’s parliament boasted of a “Big Blue Tent” but ensured it held open a doorway for the far-right. Like Republicans a year ago, Conservatives share part of the blame for encouraging the formation of street mobs in the capital city.
Members of Canada’s Official Opposition are comfortable spreading disinformation and hyperbole, but the most dangerous instigators of disruption are operatives using social media, chat rooms and dark corners of the Internet. Radicals are encouraged by corporate elites and right-wing media, and some may be assisted by foreign powers conducting campaigns to roil targeted societies.
When I studied political science long ago, we examined philosophy, the history of governance systems and slow movements toward democracy. I believed representative government was secure in the 20th century in most of the world’s developed nations, but democracy was rock solid in the USA and Canada.
Today, more cynical than naïve, I fear that democracy is at risk, especially in America, but also in Canada.
Seventy-five years ago, Winston Churchill wrote:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…
In modern times, we are accustomed to politicians making promises in campaigns but forgetting their commitments when elected. Those issues are significant but for most, not sufficient to embrace hate and violence.
So, when hordes of disaffected people threaten peace, order, and government, we should try to understand what motivates them to join the mobs. Eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire issued a warning:
Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. If the God‐given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God‐given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well.
A paper by researchers at Berlin’s Charité University Medicine provides information:
[Embitterment] is a response to injustice, humiliation, and breach of trust. There is the nagging wish to undo what happened, reinstate justice, get even, and take revenge...
Injustice is experienced as an act of aggression and downgrading, resulting in counteraggression. Victims of injustice strive to restore justice and their self-worth, if necessary, by taking revenge…
Economic injustice has been growing in Canada in the past forty years. The rise of neoliberalism resulted in a massive push of wealth to financial elites and the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. CCPA wrote, “If any group is faring well in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s Canada’s billionaires whose wealth has increased.”
Families struggle to meet basic needs. Seniors worry about survival; young people worry about opportunity. Lives are disrupted by the effects of climate change but the fossil fuel industry dictates policy. Unionization in the private sector has been declining and secure, liveable wage employment is replaced by gigs, short-term contracts, and freelance work.
Immigration sustains our economy and provides professional skills that our governments choose to develop in numbers too few to meet Canada’s needs. But right-wing media ignores our dependency on new citizens and promotes racism because their audience feels threatened by a diversifying population.
Social restrictions needed to moderate the impact of COVID-19 create a new layer of stress on much of the population. Since the days of Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservatives have undermined trust in science. So too has the powerful oil lobby and allied climate change deniers. Ordinary folks are conditioned to be skeptical of expert advice, particularly when the guidance makes life more difficult.
Politicians who advocate policies to get elected and promptly set off in opposite directions contribute to mistrust felt by citizens. Political leaders promise ethical behaviour but are unguided by ethics, speak hollow words of reconciliation while sending armed forces to evict Indigenous people from traditional lands, pledge transparency while pulling down veils of secrecy. They are architects of unrest.
Where we are today is a result of interconnected events.
Climate organization 350.org circulated statements that explain the demonstration in Ottawa but encourage us to push aside distractions and take actions that are vital to progressing on the climate change that threatens future generations of Canadians. It is shown below:
As of this morning the “Truckers for Freedom” occupation has entered its third day in Ottawa, choking off access to the downtown core and putting hate symbols on open display.1 Whether they were watching on the news from the other side of the country or from their front doors in downtown Ottawa, people across the country were disgusted by the harassment, vandalism and hate.
You probably know by now that members of Canada’s far-right movement organized the convoy, and the protest has attracted the sympathy of thousands more who are angry and disaffected by a system they know is rigged.2
In fact, the current convoy camped out on Parliament Hill looks remarkably similar to the Yellow Vest convoy that descended on Ottawa three years ago. Claiming to be in opposition to Trudeau’s carbon tax, it similarly became swept up by anti-immigrant and far-right sentiment.
Right wing politicians and their operators have been pouring fuel on working class frustration ever since. Instead of addressing the problems we face, they’ve successfully tapped into working people’s rage in order to further their visions of everything from fossil fuel expansion to privatization to white nationalist ideologies.
We can’t combat the rise of the far-right by ridiculing or ignoring it away. We have to out-organize it. We have to build a movement big enough to stop them — one that holds space for people’s anger against a broken system, and channels it into a positive vision for the future.
That means organizing our communities around the vision of a bold, inclusive just transition that responds to this moment of crisis without leaving anybody behind.
The convoy has generated a lot of media coverage and that’s been frustrating to see too, especially when I think about how often Canada’s news outlets ignore and marginalize our own, much bigger movements. These so-called “Truckers for Freedom” are sidelining the majority of transportation workers – particularly immigrant and South Asian truckers who are currently struggling against poor working conditions and wage theft.3
Fighting for a Just Transition is how we can come together across movements and build power in our communities to win the future we deserve. Get involved now by adding your voice to the thousands who have already signed the petition.
Out-organizing the far-right is the only way forward. Together, we can push this Parliament to meet the moment and pass sweeping just transition legislation that acts at the speed of the climate crisis, creates good, green jobs, and leaves no one behind.
PS – We’ve published a blog post with these thoughts, plus a list of places to donate. The convoy has raised more than $9,000,000 from 115,000 individual donors backing their radical, right-wing agenda. We can fight back by supporting grassroots organizations fighting against hate and injustice. Please read and share the post!
- CBC: Trudeau will address Canadians as anti-vaccine mandate protest enters 3rd day in Ottawa
- Canadian Anti Hate Network: The “freedom convoy” is nothing but a vehicle for the far right
- Toronto Star: ‘Freedom Rally’ is distracting from truckers’ other day-to-day battles, some argue
The video noted by Lew Edwardson: