Coloring The Canadian Revolution
Revolution Or Rebellion? You Decide
Merriam-Webster defines a “rebellion” as
opposition to one in authority or dominance.
Merriam-Webster also defines a “revolution” as
a fundamental change in political organization
especially : the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed
One could say a revolution is a successful rebellion.
Politically speaking, difference between rebellion and revolution is often a matter of perspective. If you oppose a cause public actions advocating that cause are a vicious rebellion that must be stopped. If you support that cause, those same actions become a principled revolution that must be celebrated.
While this is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex political question, it does provide a basic framework for understanding the media coverage of the “Freedom Convoy” movement currently underway in Canada.
Full disclosure: I support the Freedom Convoy movement and their stated objective of ending the COVID-19 mandates.
Who Are The Freedom Convoy Truckers?
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) characterizes the truckers in the Freedom Convoy as dominated by “far right" and extremist rhetoric.
"We're seeing signs calling our government communists and Nazis and comparing [the mandate] to the Holocaust. And if you're comparing this to the Holocaust, you need to educate yourself," Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
What appeared at first to be a group of truckers opposed the cross-border trucking vaccine mandate has amassed the support of groups broadly opposed to public health measures in general, some advocating violence and others even calling for a Canadian version of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Regarding comparisons between the mandates and the Nazi Holocaust, assessing the propriety of the analogy must necessarily include addressing the othering rhetoric of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself, who artlessly asked about unvaccinated Canadians “do we tolerate these people?”
Speaking in French on the Quebec broadcast, the prime minister defended the necessity of COVID-19 Vaccines and noted some Candians’ resistances.
“We will continue to convince them … but there are some people that are fiercely against vaccination,” Trudeau said.
“They are extremists,” said the interviewer.
“They do not believe in science,” he replied. “They are often misogynist, often racist as well.”
Trudeau continued, “A small group that occupies a loud space and … a decision needs to be made as a leader, as a county. Do we tolerate these people?”
Even as a matter of pure semantics, language that stereotypes and denigrate any group of human beings is what is typically called “hate speech”. Against the backdrop of Trudeau's own divisive rhetoric, his question about “tolerating” those who decline COVID-19 vaccination is deeply disturbing at the very least, and arguably fascistic; the ethical appraisal of such language is clear: it's unacceptable.
Moreover, as Canada's National Post points out, participants in the Freedom Convoy are a fairly broad cross-section of Canadian society.
The protestors comprised both old and new Canadians, young and old, of all political persuasions. What’s more, while the convoy’s stated objective is to oppose federal vaccine mandates and other restrictions, like lockdowns and mask mandates, two of the leaders and some of the protestors are in fact themselves vaccinated, but believe vaccination should be an individual choice. Those leaders have distanced themselves from parallel convoy organizers that have opposed vaccination outright, promoted vaccine misinformation, or have made other hateful remarks.
One myth that was busted right away was the striking diversity of the protestors starting with the two main organizers, Benjamin Dichter, who is Jewish and Tamara Lich, who is Metis. Far from being a uniformly disgruntled group of white Canadians, not that there is anything wrong with being that, one saw Indo-Canadians, Arab Canadians, Chinese Canadians, Black Canadians and just about every other ethnic Canadian under the sun.
The Freedom Convoy is not even entirely truckers.
People had different reasons for joining the protests. One couple from Cambridge, Ontario, whose nephew died by suicide due to depression during the lockdown, said that they were here to make their voice heard for kids, including for their daughter, who was with them, locked out of schools, physical activity and social life. Recall, as I’ve written about earlier, Canada has had amongst the harshest of all restrictions among advanced rich nations, and Ontario has been harsher on average than the rest of Canada, especially for children.
One Indo-Canadian trucker, Kamal Pannu from Montreal, I spoke to, was bemused that the protestors were being bracketed as white supremacists when so many of them including he himself are ethnic minorities and people of colour. Some Sikh Canadians who represent a large percentage of truckers in Canada appeared to be out at various transit points on the trucker’s routes to Ottawa to share food and blankets with the truckers, Pannu who is Sikh says.
The CBC has also raised the specter of political violence by the Freedom Convoy:
Stephanie Carvin a security analyst and associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said she has seen groups cite plans to smash through walls, bring rope to hang politicians and generally cause violence.
While it's not clear how serious any of these threats are, Carvin is encouraging caution.
"From a national security perspective, I do think a lot of people do have Jan. 6 in mind," she said.
"When you have a convergence of a number of angry people who are angry at an establishment and a symbol of that establishment [the Parliament buildings] right there, there is, I think, the potential, not the guarantee, but the potential for things to escalate."
However, as I highlighted on Sunday, during the first day (Saturday) the truckers were in Ottawa, the police reported zero violent incidents by the truckers. By the unambiguous demonstration of their own behavior, the Freedom Convoy as a group is not pursuing violence, political or otherwise.
Who Are The Freedom Convoy Organizers?
The people behind any “grass roots” political movement are essential to appreciating the movement's significance.
As has already been noted, Tamara Lich is a primary organizer of the convoy, and the person who set up the convoy’s GoFundMe page, which to date has raised close to 10 million Canadian dollars for the convoy. Ms. Lich herself does not work in the trucking industry, but is part of the Maverick Party, a Saskatchewan-based political party that advocates for greater autonomy for Canada's western provinces, and ultimately full independence from the Ottawa government.
The editor of Truck News, James Menzies, finds her political background suspicious and disturbing:
This is fairly significant, and startling, when you consider where that money is going. The fundraising initiative was started by Tamara Lich, who has a history of association with radical groups, including the recently formed federal separatist Maverick Party in Alberta. Yes, by this weekend, there is likely to be about $1 million in the hands of someone affiliated with a party that wants to break up Canada. (Plan B, mind you).
Separately, Mr. Menzies goes on to argue that Tamara Lich's involvement means the Freedom Convoy has nothing to do with trucking or truckers, and that the truckers themselves are being “duped" by Ms Lich.
Truckers who participated in a cross-country convoy culminating in protest at Parliament Hill this weekend have been duped into believing the convoy was about them.
It never was. It wasn’t about your rights to continue crossing the border unvaccinated. And by the time the convoy rolled through Ontario it had already fully morphed into something much bigger – and more dangerous – than what truckers were ever told.
However, this characterization presupposes there is something inherently illegitimate in political separatist movements. That is, at the very least, a questionable predicate, given the extent of separatist sentiment even within the United States.
A new poll from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics finds that large portions of the American public now favor blue and red states going their own ways to form separate countries. The survey results, writes political scientist Larry Sabato, highlight the “deep, wide and dangerous divides” between Trump and Biden voters, presaging a new secession movement. But the schism was already evident in the increasing number of state and local officials enacting laws and policies that ban travel and restrict commerce with other American places with governments they object to—a trend that the Covid-19 emergency has only deepened. In everything from tax policy to travel to contracting rules, a secession movement within the states has been building for years.
The Maverick Party's own articulation of their platform also must be considered, if the party itself is going to be an issue for the Freedom Convoy.
Our Platform is a reflection of what is best for the West, without compromise or any attempt to appease voters in Central and Eastern Canada.
Whether their ideas constitute what is “best" for Canada's western provinces is a political question that I will not even attempt to answer. I will, however, observe that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees to all people the freedom of opinion:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Arguably, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration encompasses a right to engage in political separatist activity and to pursue political independence:
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
If the “will of the people” is to change political affiliation, who is James Menzies to dismiss their right to do so?
In his “duped” essay, Mr Menzies also takes issue with Tamara Lich's involvement with Canada Unity:
And then Canada Unity, another of the organizers, posted a ludicrous Memorandum of Understanding/Manifesto on its website, which it plans to present to the Governor General of Canada. It essentially calls for the resignation of everyone within the federal government, the formation of a new government comprised of the Governor General, Senate, and members of Canada Unity, and the removal of all Covid-related measures – even those put into place at the provincial level. The trucks will remain until the document is signed, organizers said, dubbing its mission Bearhug.
Mr. Menzies’ characterization of Canada Unity's Memorandum of Understanding is fundamentally inaccurate, however, as the precise call is for the government to uphold both Canadian and international human rights principles, or else resign.
In this case the parties are “THE PEOPLE OF CANADA”, the “SENATE OF CANADA”, and “THE GOVERNOR GENERAL OF CANADA”, the highest authorities representing the Federal Government. The matter to be discussed and agreed upon is this; The Senate of Canada and the Governor General, combined referred to as the Federal Government, are to uphold and enforce all Canadian and International Human Rights Laws that are clearly laid out in the MOU or “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority Immediately”.
By having the Senate of Canada and the Governor General of Canada sign this MOU into action, they agree to immediately cease and desist all unconstitutional, discriminatory and segregating actions and human rights violations. It calls for an immediate instruction to all levels of the Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Municipal governments to not only stop but furthermore waive all SARS-CoV-2 (and not limited to SARS-CoV-2 subsequent variations) fines that have been issued and imposed upon its citizens, institutions, and private enterprises. Further, to immediately re-instate all employees in all branches of all levels of governments and not limited to promote the same to the private industry and institutional sectors employees with full lawful employment rights prior to wrongful and unlawful dismissals. Lastly it instructs all levels of government and private Sector that the Illegal use of a Vaccine Passport to cease and desist immediately.
Essentially, the MOU calls for federal government of Canada to do its job. Exactly how that is “ludicrous” Mr. Menzies does not say.
Canada Unity's base proposition is that the various mandates and protocols imposed on Canadians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are illegal violations of human rights. Mr. Menzies’ view of the MOU precludes the possibility the government has erred with the mandates. To call such blanket dismissal of an opposing political question “intemperate” would be something of an understatement; governments can and do make mistakes.
Again, the legality and propriety of Canada's COVID-19 mandates are political questions that I will not address here. I will observe that the vaccine mandates are directly challenged by the medical ethical principles of informed consent and freedom of choice articulated in the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki, the Declaration of Geneva, and the Declaration of Lisbon. As an ethical proposition I support efforts to defend and advance these principles.
Political Questions Deserve Political Discussion
Whether the Maverick Party's separatist inclinations or Canada Unity's restructuring of the government to abolish the mandates are suitable solutions for Canada is not for me to say. Nor is it for James Menzies or the CBC to say. Rather, it is for Canadians to say. That is what it means to live in a free and democratic society.
The Canadians who are in the Freedom Convoy are making their statement on what they desire for themselves and for Canada. The Canadians who have contributed to the group's fundraising are likewise making their statement. As Canadians, they have the inalienable right to make such statements.
They have the right to be heard, they have the right to be taken seriously, and they have the right to a vigorous political discussion on the political questions they have raised.
Even non-Canadians such as myself have a legitimate interest in seeing these issues fairly and vigorously debated. Such questions of freedom are universal questions which affect us all. While it is unseemly for non-Canadians to state what policies are best for Canada, it is very seemly for those who value freedom to support the efforts of Canadians to have this extremely important debate. No one can defend the cause of freedom and simultaneously deny anyone the freedom to debate, to assemble, and to seek through peaceful means suitable redress for such grievances as they have.
Does pursuing this debate make the Freedom Convoy a rebellion or a revolution? You decide.