It was a grey, bitter-cold day in January, and all the clocks were striking thirteen.
On the radio, the host was hectoring about “concerning scenes” that were sweeping across the highways of the nation.
In the real world, while pulling up to one of the many over-stuffed bridges that lined the 401, the principal concern was where to park. For, from nothing, there were flags as far as the eye could see.
Yes, even Toronto, the one-time lockdown capital of North America, had shown up to see what all the fuss was about.
Thousands lined the bridge, the sidewalk, and spilled down snow-covered embankments to the highway below.
These weren’t the people I was told to expect. This was not the “small fringe minority” with “unacceptable views” that our Prime Minister had told us to fear.
There were vaccinated and unvaccinated alike; a true diaspora of race, age, and gender.
What I saw on that day were Canadians desperate for personal connection; to leave two years of powerful behavioral psychology and isolation in the rearview; Canadians brimming with something akin to national pride for the first time in a long time.
Amidst the revelry, the honking, and the percussion of an Indigenous drum circle, dozens were reduced to tears. The amount of humanity packed onto but a humble overpass proved to be overwhelming.
Then the might of the state, and its subsidized messaging apparatus, roared angrily to life.
You know the score by now. By the time the ‘Freedom Convoy’ reached Ottawa, wheels of another kind were already in motion.
The ‘experts’ warned of a January 6th-style “insurrection”. The Prime Minister fled town, retreating to the confines of his cottage in Harrington Lake under the guise of a disease he did not possess. Journalists staked out their narrative positions early, before manifesting them physically on Wellington Street – like hunters waiting quietly in a deer blind in the early morning hours. By the time thousands arrived for peaceful protest and general revelry, their fate had already been sealed.
Two abhorrent flags drew the majority of ire (one belonging to one of the more-obvious ‘agent provocateurs’ in the short history of weaponized social media outrage), while the clumsy and regrettable decoration of the statue of Terry Fox was met with cries of “desecration!” from a crowd that cared not to voice their concerns about beheaded statues and burning churches less than one year prior.
In real-time, we witnessed what happens to a protest movement that does not receive a government’s seal of approval. Bad-faith actors were always going to attach themselves to the back of a few eighteen-wheelers resplendent in maple leaves and “F*ck Trudeau” flags, but the script had already been written.
Never in modern history has Canada witnessed the forensic accounting of a protest in real-time. Not only were we told where the well-imbibed danced and urinated, but reporters were even ready to police their garbage and recycling habits.
If you were to believe the words and actions of Canadian media, diffusion of responsibility and admittedly disgraceful acts had never before occurred in the history of mass public protest.
By nightfall, the thousands of Canadians who came bearing signs of peace, and who brought with them a renewed sense of hope that we may see our way through undeniably un-Canadian mandates and the literal definition of authoritarian overreach were branded with a Scarlet letter. Their great perceived shame? Choosing to engage in a humanist protest movement, which was always going to carry with it the many foibles and imperfections of man.
One day later, when the Prime Minister finally emerged from wholly-unnecessary exile, he of course chose to spike the football, in a transparent effort to incite more fear and division.
To give any credence to this grassroots protest – one that is still ongoing, and that is neither explicitly conservative nor progressive – would be to show humility, and to admit culpability. The teachable moments are never his. They’re only for the little guy, the working class. His racism is always our racism. It is for the proles to “experience things differently.”
So where does that leave us?
The answer, as you’d expect, is nowhere good.
If essential worker protests against government mandates can be met with the reclassification of words – like “fascism” – we are no longer the progressive Canadians we claim to be.
If we are willing to let the fat and happy among us call for the seizure of protest funds, and for violent military intervention against truckers and supporters, only because we find some of those participating to be particularly “deplorable,” we are no longer the progressive Canadians we claim to be.
And if we’re unwilling to ask why it is that while other, more progressive nations start to build permanent off-ramps from Covid, our government apparatus – the same one with troubling ties to the Communist Party of China – chooses to build bio-security superhighways, well, you get the point.
If we’re going to tell ourselves stories about the pretend apocalypse of today, if we’re going to embrace the very worst of our baser instincts, and our need to judge and shame as a country, perhaps it’s not too much to ask for us to engage in myth-making that’s at least passably Canadian in spirit.
Personally, I prefer to tell stories of those Canadians on the bridge; choosing to be present, united, and most important of all, human, even amidst all that gray and all that cold.