Even as the trucker occupation of Ottawa ends its fifth day, the high-stakes game of interpreting what it all means has already begun. Today’s entry, from the Globe and Mail editorial page, goes with “mid-sized inconvenience.”
The editorialists are comforted that it didn’t become “a CanCon take on the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol,” and argues that we shouldn’t vilify the protestors, who were mostly there to protest vaccine mandates.
As it happens, both this line of reasoning and the whole trucker protest have a clear parallel in recent US history, but it’s not January 6, and there’s absolutely nothing reassuring about it.
Canada may be a few years behind the United States, but, judging from the Globe’s woefully off-base editorial, we might finally – finally! – have gotten our very own Gamergate. Only with trucks and vaccines instead of video games.
For the blissfully ignorant, who might just include the editorial staff at the Globe and Mail, I’ll let Vox’s Aja Romano bring us up to speed on what Gamergate was, and is:
In the fall of 2014, under the premise that they were angry at “unethical” games journalists — a lie that persists today — thousands of people in the games community began to systematically harass, heckle, threaten, and dox several outspoken feminist women in their midst, few of whom were journalists. The harassment occurred under the social media hashtag “Gamergate,” which is still a hotbed of debate and anti-feminist resentment today.
Gamergate began as a campaign of harassment against one, and then many women, under the guise that the harassers were actually just interested in “ethics in journalism.” As Romano notes,“The hate campaign, we would later learn, was the moment when our ability to repress toxic communities and write them off as just ‘trolls’ began to crumble. Gamergate ultimately gave way to something deeper, more violent, and more uncontrollable.”
The “something deeper, more violent, and more uncontrollable” being Trump, the rise of Trumpism and, eventually, the January 6, 2001, attack on the US Capitol.
The disingenuous argument that this hate campaign was merely a legitimate questioning of journalistic ethics made it difficult for people to fully realize that the hate was the point.
Unwittingly or not, this morning’s Globe and Mail’s editorial, titled “The ‘Freedom Convoy’ was hauling a load of bad ideas – but the people on board are not the enemy,” is very much in the “it’s about ethics in journalism” vein.
Welcome to Gamergate North: The Arctic Edition.
It’s about ethics in vaccine mandates
The editorial tries to make a distinction between (some of) the arguments made by the “Freedom Convoy” (or FluTruxKlan, if you will) and (some of) the people involved in the protest. Tellingly, it can only do so by assuming that its headline argument – “the misnamed Freedom Convoy and those who gathered around it want an end to vaccine mandates” – is both the only and legitimate (if wrong-headed) argument protesters are trying to make.
As I noted in a previous post, there are numerous tells that these protesters are not really interested in a rational debate over vaccine mandates. Health care is a provincial responsibility. The United States has its own vaccine mandate keeping unvaccinated truckers out of their country. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government are powerless to change this reality.
In a statement, the Canadian Trucking Alliance said a number of protesters appear to have “no connection” to the trucking industry and are pushing a “separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements.”
Oh, and then there’s the matter of a leader from the protest openly discussing how they want to overthrow the government. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason:
A Kitchener, Ont., radio show this week interviewed Jason LaFace, said to be the convoy’s main Ontario organizer. The protest “is no longer about the [vaccine] mandate,” he said – it’s about people’s “rights” and how the government has been “manipulating the population and oppressing us all the time.”
Mr. LaFace said the protest organizers are employing “constitutional lawyers” to draft a document that “compel[s] the government to dissolve government.” For good measure, he added: “[Justin] Trudeau is a criminal in this country, he needs to go.”
Ignoring the haters and the hate
Pretending that Gamergate was about “ethics in journalism” distracted from the reality that the people driving Gamergate were engaged in a “hate campaign.” This campaign was designed to harass and bully vulnerable groups – women, racialized individuals, the usual (non-White, non-male) people. But when you focus on the ethics in journalism canard, these problems disappear.
Or they’re reduced to “a mid-sized inconvenience,” as the Globe describes the chaos inflicted by these freedom-loving citizens, who were enjoying “a street-party atmosphere, as participants basked in the affirmation of the like-minded.” Tell that to the people of Ottawa, who are still being harassed and whose downtown core remains largely closed five days after the protest began.
Sure, some bad things happened, but #notallprotesters, amirite?:
And yes, some idiots climbed on the National War Memorial; some decided to demand a free lunch at a homeless shelter, some marched through a shopping mall without masks, and among the thousands of Canadian flags, a few had swastikas drawn on them. But the truth is that the protesters were, on the whole, mostly peaceful.
(For the record, the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter was a bit more pointed in the way they described the harassment inflicted upon their staff, volunteers and the people they’re helping. And what’s a few swastikas among freedom-loving volk?)
This is a carbon copy of the Gamergate-adjacent #notallmen argument pushing back on allegations of sexism and misogyny that grew into the #MeToo movement. Here, it’s couched in the language of, sure, there may have been a few Nazis in the crowd, but that’s no reason to discredit the rest of the crowd. Both cases attempt to redirect our sympathy, from the people actually experiencing the harassment (Ottawa residents, in this case) toward protesters (honest people who are just interested in ethics in vaccine mandates).
Protesters who really are just concerned about the vaccine mandates. Back to the editorial:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a particularly personal and divisive line of attack against the protesters who took to the streets of downtown Ottawa this past weekend.
Given that the misnamed Freedom Convoy and those who gathered around it want an end to vaccine mandates, or even an end to vaccines, the PM was of course right to reject these calls. Obviously.
However, in responding to the people honking horns in front of his office, the PM went far beyond just dismissing their demands. Instead, from Mr. Trudeau on down, ministers and MPs spoke words that seemed designed to polarize and radicalize the situation, by demonizing the protesters rather that calmly refuting their ideas.
Somehow, in a week that featured people stealing food from a homeless shelter and actual Nazi flags, Justin Trudeau ends up as the bad guy. And gets Covid. Dude can’t catch a break.
The line in the sand
And here we get to the lesson that we should have learned from Gamergate, almost a decade ago. Trudeau is not “polariz[ing] and radicaliz[ing] the situation.” The situation is already polarized and radicalized. When a protest openly parades Nazi symbols, when a protest leader openly advocates the overthrow of the duly elected government, “the situation” is already polarized. It was polarized by the protesters.
It used to be, as recently as two weeks ago in Canada, maybe 2015 in the United States, that we generally agreed that Nazis were definitively beyond the pale. Now, the Globe and Mail is downplaying the open parading of fascist symbols and asking us to separate the messenger from the message. (They’re also asking us to ignore a lot of the messenger’s message, but anyway.)
Justin Trudeau, in calling out the protesters, is attempting to draw a line in the sand: if you truck with Nazis, you lose the right to be considered a legitimate player in Canadian politics.
This should not be controversial. Trudeau’s comments recognize that, as with Gamergate, vaccine talk disguises the protest’s “deeper, more violent and uncontrollable” underside and dark potential. We’ve seen where that leads in the United States. We really don’t want Canada to go down that path.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not OK to criticize vaccines, vaccine mandates or pretty much anything else, as the Globe seems to worry, because the protest is not about ethics in vaccine mandates. Condemning the protestors for their reprehensible actions is a sign that there are some lines that can’t be crossed in a liberal-democratic society.
If you, a well-meaning protester, are standing next to someone touting Nazi symbols, that should be a sign to get the hell away from them as soon as possible. And maybe to rethink your life choices.
Writing in the National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin makes a similar point:
Everyone in that crowd, including Poilievre, Lewis, and O’Toole had the chance — nay, the obligation — to call out the intolerance. Not after the images hit Twitter, but immediately. On the spot.
If you stand shoulder to shoulder with people who display racist symbols, and don’t tell them right then and there to leave your protest or take them down, you are not standing up for freedom. You are standing with hate. If you stand with people who verbally abuse hotel clerks and inflict 24-7 mayhem on an entire city, you are not standing up for freedom. You will be tarred with their hatred and become complicit in their agenda.
To quote retired Australian Lieutenant General David Morrison, the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept. That goes for politicians and protesters. Understanding this very basic point is the key to cutting through the Gamergate knot that seems to have confounded the Globe editorialists.
Gamergate eventually metastasized into the disastrous Trump presidency. This happened in part because media outlets treated dishonest arguments and far-right, anti-democratic extremists as legitimate. With its myopic editorial The Globe and Mail is repeating the same mistake. Hopefully more media outlets will follow Kheiriddin’s lead than the Globe’s.