The so-called “freedom convoy” has captured worldwide attention as a minority of truckers and their supporters have asserted their right to assemble and oppose COVID-19 protocols imposed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. No problem there.
The problem lies in what’s not being said or acknowledged.
The one-word rallying cry — freedom — is the activist mantra. Who could be against freedom? But let’s take stock of the freedom that some have exercised during the ongoing rally:
- Descending upon a soup kitchen, intimidating staff and demanding to be fed — all without masks.
- Desecrating war memorials that pay tribute to those who fought for the very freedoms the convoy supporters enjoy.
- Defecating in public, including on the property of people whose home displays a Pride flag.
- Overrunning malls and shops that have forced many to shut down, thereby denying the shop owners’ and employees freedom to earn a living.
- Shutting down schools in the wake of rallies, denying parents the freedom to go to work and children their freedom to go to school.
- Uttering racist and threatening comments, making many people in Ottawa’s downtown feel generally unsafe.
In the tantrum for so-called freedom, the majority of participants have not denounced or condemned these reprehensible, well-documented behaviours which, notably, have gone mostly without consequence.
It’s worth noting that a freedom they’re demanding — the right to refuse COVID-19 vaccinations without curtailing their livelihood — poses immense risk not only to themselves but to everyone else, while also draining the health-care system and denying treatments for others.
But what might “freedom” mean to other Canadians?
Ask Indigenous people about freedom. Ask them about centuries of abuse and genocide at the hands of colonists. Ask them about the legacies of residential school horrors and abuse. Ask them about the devastation of the ‘60s scoop and continued government control over child welfare.
Ask Asian Canadians about intolerance and racism from other Canadians who blame them for COVID-19. Where is their freedom from the sheer stupidity of others?
Ask women and girls who continue to face sexism, sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual exploitation at the hands of men. What about their freedom from gender-based violence?
Ask trans people who regularly have to deal with transphobia. Ask people who are immigrants, disabled, poor, overweight, speak a language other than English. Ask any of the usual targets of social prejudice, ignorance, discrimination and hate about how their freedoms are constantly trampled on by other Canadians.
Not everyone’s freedom
Freedom is important, but many Canadians aren’t being considered by the “freedom convoy.”
I have been conducting research on social exclusion and prejudice since 1996. It is my job to listen to people tell their stories in the classes that I teach. I listen carefully to the experiences of exclusion, ridicule and discrimination marginalized people face in a country that is supposedly equal for all. Maybe the “freedom convoy” should likewise listen carefully.
I also know about freedom first-hand. As a queer Canadian, I can attest to how homophobia raises its ugly head any time, anywhere. We don’t have the freedom to be ourselves the way many straight, cisgender people take for granted.
When I hear people at the rally passionately advocate for their freedom, but not others, I can’t help but see ignorance. Fortunately, education is a remedy for ignorance.
The human rights struggles over the decades that continue to play out in Canada are about freedom. That is what Canada’s human rights history and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights make clear — as do research hubs such as the Centre for Human Rights Research.
What this “freedom convoy” is really about is self-interest. It is a petulant demand for participants to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of anyone else. Freedom is limited to what they can see in the mirror.
Instead of a self-serving, diesel-stinking, neighbourhood-clogging mob that is having such an adverse effect on the freedom of others, they should consider going home and learning about Canada from the perspectives of others.
At home, no masks are required.