Non-truckers co-opting truckers for political purposes
It was early Saturday evening when I got a text from my friend Erin.
“I never thought I’d see swastikas in downtown Winnipeg,” she wrote.
Erin is Jewish. Her grandfather hid from the Nazis in a barn in the Netherlands before making a life here on Treaty One territory.
“He would be devastated if he saw swastikas flying on Broadway.”
My daughter and I drove through the stream of vehicles in Winnipeg supporting the “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa Saturday afternoon.
At one point, she asked me why so many anti-vaxxers have beards — a lighter moment in an otherwise dark afternoon.
We saw swastikas. We also saw dozens of signs chanting homophobic and Islamophobic slurs, threats against politicians, and near-endless messages about “freedom.”
I saw lots of sign-less people alongside children and elders.
I hope everyone I saw realizes that there’s no point chanting “freedom” when you stand beside someone calling for violence.
No one credits someone with a “differing opinion” while watching violence. The watcher is as complicit as the doer. Ask the German people if you want to know what I mean.
So, two days after International Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan. 27), Nazi symbols were brandished openly in downtown Winnipeg — and nobody stopped it.
That’s the most important message about the convoy this past weekend, in which just over 10,000 protesters shuttled to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, calling for an end to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Notice I didn’t say this was about truckers, because it wasn’t. Nearly every single trucking association said the mandatory vaccination policy implemented Jan. 15 at the United States and Canadian border is fine and over 85 per cent of truckers are already vaccinated.
This is not to mention that truckers already allow government regulations on their trucks, including what they can transport and laws governing their physical and mental health to stave off disasters like the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.
So, what was the “Freedom Convoy” all about then?
Well, the date organizers chose was significant.
Saturday was Canada’s National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia.
Five years ago a terrorist attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre Mosque in Quebec City killed six people and seriously injured thirteen others.
The hero on Jan. 29, 2017 was Azzedine Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocery store owner, who was killed while grappling with the shooter until others could stop him.
Saturday should have been about Soufiane.
Instead, it was about non-truckers co-opting truckers for political purposes.
Don’t get me wrong, the mandatory vaccinations for truckers is an issue. Around 15,000 Canadian truckers are not vaccinated and may lose their jobs, impacting the supply chain.
For most Canadians though, it’s not a crisis. It’s a longer wait for groceries mostly.
No, Saturday was about people who used frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic to spread hate, sow division, and try to intimidate people they disagree with.
I’m not so sure people in attendance on Saturday realize that though. If they do, they had better decide if they’re willing to participate in violence. Period.
Simply put: there is no “other side” if that side is based in racism, xenophobia and violence.
It’s just racism, xenophobia and violence. Period.
Truth be told, I don’t know if anyone during Saturday’s rally in Winnipeg or Ottawa had the courage to speak up against those waving swastikas. I’d like to hope there were a few.
Back in 2013, during my activist days of Idle No More Winnipeg, about a dozen of us organized most of the public events — like round dances in malls, marches down Portage Avenue, and traffic slow-downs — “teach-ins” — at Portage and Main.
The vast majority of these events were joyous and intended to teach Canadians what it means to be a treaty person — a person who cares for all in this place.
One day, we had a group who decided to burn a Canadian flag at a “teach-in” and yell obscenities to upset drivers.
I understood this group’s anger. I share it. I actually felt it again while watching bearded men draped in flags and cruising in their trucks around Treaty One like they own the place.
After that “teach-in” though, Idle No More Winnipeg had a big meeting, deciding collectively that burning flags is not a message we wanted to send and there were better, more clear ways to do it.
Some from that group who burnt the flag continued to come to our events. Others held alternative, separate events. People could choose which one they wanted to attend.
It takes courage to stand up for what one believes in.
It takes much more courage though to stand up for what’s right.
Originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in February 2022. Republished with the permission of the author.
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