Witness to the Madness

As we hit the one-year anniversary of the “Freedom Convoy” protest in downtown Ottawa, I think back to the day it all started. I wanted to see what this was all about.  To witness the event that was being hyped for days beforehand as a big deal.  Who would have known it was going to last for another 3 weeks.

I took the OC Transpo bus to Tunney’s Pasture, where I boarded a train to take me downtown.  I figured it would be a fun little trip.  I could get off at Rideau Centre.  Grab myself a coffee at Starbucks and wander around taking in the sights.

How wrong I was.  As soon as the train pulled out of the station I could see the line-up of trucks along Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway.  A virtual standstill. I got off the train at Rideau and once I actually got into the mall I was a bit freaked out.  Of course, I was wearing a mask because I was indoors, the mask mandate was still in effect and well really, it’s not gonna kill me to wear a mask for my own safety and that of others.  Everyone who has experienced a pandemic before this raise your hand.  No one? Thought so.

There would be no Starbucks for me on that cold (-23 I believe) day because everything was shut down. My first thought was concern for the employees of the mall, many of whom are students, who would lose a day’s wages. I was screamed at for wearing a mask.  There were throngs of people gathered in packs taunting those who were wearing masks or “opposed to freedom”. (their words, not mine)

So, without coffee in hand, I headed back outside to the freezing cold to finally witness the madness.  And madness it was.

The sound of honking and cheering as thousands of truckers and others opposed to the restrictions gathered near Parliament Hill.  There was a heavy smell of diesel fuel marijuana as I meandered through the crowd.  I just took it all in. (no not the pot, the sights)

As usual, my political brain wanted to know what the political win was here and for whom? I could only come up with one answer.  There was no win here.  I am betting big that most of the people participating didn’t even bother to vote, like ever!

The protest was initially supposedly focused on the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but in reality, there didn’t seem to be any organization or focus as participants had signs against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, QR codes (not sure what that’s all about) and “lack of freedom”. Many of the signs also called for “freedom” and many of the protesters yelled for freedom (at no one in particular) as well.  Last time I checked, we were still in Canada.

As I continued down Wellington towards the Hill, I witnessed one big party.  Lots of honking, screaming and music blaring.  Did I mention the heavy smell of pot?  I was really beginning to wonder what the point of all of this was.  There was no unified message. No concise stated goal or objective.  (Well, unless you count that flawed manifesto calling on the GG to resign.)

I walked down side streets to get a sense of how much of the downtown was being occupied by trucks and continued until I reached Lyon station.  I was quite impressed by the guys with the hot dog cart because at least they were showing initiative and capitalizing on the crowd.  I had seen enough.

As I continue to reflect on what I saw, I am glad that I went down to see it in person and not just images on tv and social media.  Witnessing this madness continues to make me sad to see the mob mentality taking up such valuable resources in our nation’s psyche.  I was asked about the protest by friends and colleagues from all over the world. India, the UK, the US, all they wanted to talk about the protest and how I may be impacted by it.  The fact that it got so much attention really disturbs me.

Yes, it continued on for weeks with much of the same, but let’s fast forward to today.   We have had an inquiry, loads of media coverage, many court appearances, with many more to come and of course a lot of wedge politics over this issue.  I heard many horrifying stories from friends who live downtown.  The fact that this madness was allowed to continue is appalling.

What really continues to appall me is that it still drags on. How about we stop wasting so much time, energy and resources and at least try at elevating the political discourse in this country?  So much has been wasted discussing the fallout of one big mob party that has heightened conspiracy theories, lack of trust in the media and government; and spread so much disinformation.

Let’s stop pointing fingers around this and come up with a long-term plan (oh I could go on forever about the need for long-term planning) that ensures that all voices are heard in this great democratic country we call home.  This plan should include ways to increase voter turnout, civic participation and knowledge of our government structures at all levels of government.  It should allow for minority opinions to be heard without the need for the mob mentality to gain attention.

Yes, I know this is complex and this simple solution is but a mere drop in the bucket of what needs to be done, but we have to start somewhere and that should start with directing our attention, time (including the time it took to write this) and resources to ignoring the madness.

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