I’m driving along an asphalt road, lousy with potholes. It doesn’t matter where I’m going. In Alberta, most destinations are similar enough. It’s not the sites on the side of the road, or the gloomy clouds ahead that get my attention—it’s the flag on the truck blowing by me.
For most of my life, the red bars and maple leaf of the Canadian flag has held a uniform meaning to most anyone likely to encounter it. It stood for pride, equality, and promise. Not the ill-defined promise of freedom so often associated with the stars and bars, but a more grounded, introspective promise that assured us we were working together, and supporting one another. Certainly, the country has never been perfect, but for a long while, it felt like we were on the same path—one helping the other down it as required.
That’s all in the past now. As the flag—torn and weather worn—flutters by above a brand new, lifted pickup truck, a new set of feelings arise in my heart. Where before there may have been pride, now there is resentment, judgement, and anger.
…The flag has been co-opted, and it’s meaning is no longer consistent.
In late January, 2022, the country witnessed an unparalleled level of unrest and division. Dubbing itself the ‘Freedom Convoy’, a sizeable group of Canadians jumped into their over-sized, high-end vehicles in an effort to show the world how hard-done-by they were.
While it may be understandable for people to tire of mandates, and few could argue against the notion that civil protest is a fundamental right to any free society, the convoy quickly took a turn for the worse when it reached Ottawa, and other Canadian cities.
Fed by misinformation and fuelled by paranoia, their demands became more and more outrageous, and their behaviour followed suit. While the more reasonable members of the protest focussed on lifting mandates and returning to ‘normal’, extremist elements sought to impose their will on the country through any means necessary.
The stated intentions of the convoy ranged from an end to vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the border—a policy reflected by the country sharing said border—to an end to all mandates, to the surrender of the government and the instatement of their own appointed officials. These latter intentions were outlined in a shocking manifesto delivered—and later retracted by—convoy leaders. For more information on that, see Here, and Here.
Soon enough, it was a protest no longer. The capital city of Canada was experiencing a full-on occupation. With trucks blocking major through-ways, protesters used horns to torture the residents of Ottawa day and night, for three weeks straight. They hurled insults at anyone wearing a mask, defaced public property, and damaged businesses who didn’t immediately cave to their wildly varied demands.
While provincial police and politicians sat on their hands—likely trying to decide which response was most likely to curry them the greatest favor from voters—innocent people living in cities across Canada grew increasingly incensed at the notion that this small minority could run roughshod over the fabric of society, and seemingly get away with it.
When Prime Minister Trudeau activated emergency powers to end the occupation, the country held its collective breath. Supporters of the convoy railed against perceived tyranny, while victims of the convoy cried for delivery from the occupiers. Everyone feared the precedent set, and the potential damage to our international reputation if the powers were misused.
To the shock of very few, the occupiers caved quickly when faced with actual consequences for what may have been the first time in their lives. Despite the hysteria, the application of the emergency powers was well-restrained. It specifically targeted the funding of occupation leaders, aiming to end their supply chain. In ongoing investigations that have surprised absolutely no one, it has been revealed that the majority of this funding came from foreign sources.
Police seized vehicles only after several written warnings, and convoy leaders who refused to move on were arrested. Once the crisis was over and the people of Ottawa were again secure to live their lives, the powers were promptly rescinded. While by all accounts this use of emergency powers was limited and practical, the country remains on edge.
To some, the occupation was a legitimate expression of discontent—the culmination of frustrations with COVID-19 mandates that were shared by most everyone. To the majority however, its execution was like the colicky wailings of a dying sense of masculinity—an entitlement so deeply rooted that harassing others and forcing your minority view on a nation seemed like justice.
Now the nation watches as the Right Wing of provincial politics seeks to gut our Universal Healthcare—claiming it had failed to get the nation through the pandemic. They miss the irony of course, as they were the very ones dodging public health efforts, and under-funding it at every turn. If the passengers of the Titanic had cheered on the iceberg, haranguing that ‘at least it’s not the one sinking’, the level of cognitive-dissonance could scarcely be greater.
Things have quieted down now. At least, that’s the case if you can ignore the desperate posts of those still married to their own victim-complexes.
The streets are quiet, and traffic can move again. The COVID mandates are lifting—as they were set to all along.
In the end, this occupation’s only real impact was likely the damage it did to the comfort and contentment of many Canadians. No minds were changed, and no policies were impacted to any significant degree.
Still, as the flag trails off into the distance in my rear-view mirror, I can’t ignore the adverse feeling in my gut. It’s been degraded, and I wonder what the rest of the world sees these days when the Canadian flag waves.
There’s another flag in windows these days. The Blue and Yellow of the Ukrainian standard flies high and proud around my city—supporting those fighting against real oppression, and facing legitimate danger.
It stirs something inside of me. A memory of a time not too long ago, yet far too distant. It was a time when people remembered that a society means that we are in this together—and that only by embracing that can we ever affect lasting change.
I hope that soon, our nation can remember that, and our flag can once more fly so high.
-Brad OH Inc.