Working out what to think about … all this … in real time.
- It is most accurate to say that the Ottawa protest is a far-right movement calling for the overthrow of the Canadian government, installing itself in power.
- That this sounds absurd or would be unlikely to succeed doesn’t change what it is.
- This extremist movement, led by white nationalists, used antivax sentiment and trucker cosplaying in order to cloak itself in some form of legitimacy.
- But this was never about truckers or ethics in vaccine passports.
- This is a fringe movement, supported neither by the public (who took Canada’s vaccination rate among adults from 0 to 80% remarkably quickly) nor by truckers (who are 90% vaccinated and busy out earning a real living).
- The protest movement effectively took over Ottawa’s downtown core for three weeks, creating a lawless area, harassing and intimidating residents.
- The Ottawa Police Service proved itself either incapable or unwilling of stopping the protest.
- Ottawa City Council and its police oversight proved itself utterly incapable of exercising legitimate direction and oversight over its police force.
- The most effective actors in addressing the blockade have been private citizens with no support from government: to get an injunction against the incessant honking; to mount a class-action lawsuit against the protesters; and to block the arrival of more protesters into the city.
- The Province of Ontario only declared a state of emergency two weeks into the Siege of Ottawa, following the blockade of Canada’s most important trade corridor, the Windsor-Detroit crossing.
- The province moved incredibly slowly to address the collapse of the rule of law in Canada’s capital.
- The federal government was slow to address both the siege of Ottawa and of its vital trade links with the United States.
- The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act after the Windsor blockade was cleared out.
- The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act while the Province of Ontario and the City of Ottawa remained paralyzed or very slow-moving to address the ongoing Occupation of Ottawa.
All of which leads me to conclude, provisionally…
- All levels of government have failed in mind-bogglingly spectacular and previously unimaginable ways:
- Ottawa should never have allowed these protesters the time to set up camp. Once it was set up, Ottawa police should have immediately moved to dismantle it and expel them from the city.
- Ontario should have taken the siege of Ottawa at least as seriously as it did the threat to Canada-US trade. And even there it took them almost an entire week to get their act together.
- The federal government should have immediately acted when protesters blocked the Detroit-Windsor bridge, treating it as a threat to the economic and political security to the country.
- Somebody should have recognized that it is intolerable to hand over a city, let alone the nation’s capital, to a bunch of lawless thugs who don’t seem to have seen a movie since 1995.
- Safeguarding the Canadian economy should never have fallen to a municipality (Windsor) and the automotive industry. Canada and Ontario should have stepped in.
- Any one of these (in)actions would normally be grounds for those involved to be chased from office in disgrace.
- Especially Jim Watson. Negotiating with people who occupied his city, want to overthrow the government and have no coherent demands (vaccine mandates are a provincial responsibility; even if Canada got rid of the mandate for truckers, the US mandate would keep them out), and then to turn city council into a street brawl at the time of the city’s greatest need: what a pathetic end to three decades of public service.
The empty comfort of “it never should have come to this”
- Those who say, regarding the invocation of the Emergencies Act, that it never should have come to this, are correct.
- But here we are. And being where we are, instead of in a fantasyland where time can move backward, we have to deal with where we are.
- When governments, in the face of an occupation, over several weeks, have failed to act to remove protesters, it’s absurd to argue that governments already have the tools to address the protesters.
- The important and unavoidable fact is that, in the face of an intolerable situation, governments and police refused to use the tools and laws at their disposal.
- The Emergencies Act, to my eye, broke this impasse, effectively federalizing a situation that the province and city were either unwilling or unable to confront.
- Trudeau’s inaction in the face of a clear and present danger to Canada’s economic and political stability (the Windsor border blockade) made it essential to act decisively via the Emergencies Act, to signal to the United States that Canada is serious about maintaining its economic ties to the US and its territorial integrity.
- That it never should have come to this doesn’t negate the absolutely inescapable need to signal to our most important trading partner and the world’s superpower that we’re a responsible country.
- Canada’s job in North America vis a vis the US is to provide security to the United States at its northern border. This is a non-negotiable fact of the relationship, if we want to maintain our status as an independent country (see: 9/11).
- (Yes, it’s that serious.)
- That it never should have come to this is a strike against Trudeau, not against the use of the Emergencies Act, which is appropriate given the circumstances.
- To reiterate, it’s hard to prove a counterfactual, but I would argue that it’s taken the federal invocation of the Emergencies Act to get everyone to smarten up and start retaking downtown Ottawa.
- Yes, this is a real goddamn emergency.* Even if you ignore the border blockades, the occupation of Ottawa – the freakin’ capital – represents a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.
- No, this is not a legitimate protest that just happened to attract some unsavoury elements, including Nazis. It’s a far-right, extremist operation that’s free-riding on anti-vax sentiments.
- The protests were not “mostly peaceful.” The lawless occupation of a downtown is an act of violence. And the constant harassment and interruption of sleep with incessant honking are literal acts of violence.
- Right-wing extremism is likely to be an ongoing threat. Once the pandemic has come to an end, these right-wing extremists will attempt to continue their attempted insurrection by glomming onto something else. Because vaccine mandates were never the point of these protests, something that has been clear from the beginning.
- This is the kind of thing you want to take care of before it metastasizes into a movement that, say, takes over a major political party.
- Using the Emergencies Act also acts as a signal about where we draw the line in Canada when it comes to the difference between legitimate debate and unacceptable, anti-democratic behaviour. The United States failed to do this with Trump and they will continue to reap the consequences for years, if not decades.
- The invocation of the Emergencies Act, by identifying extremism for what it is, gives us a chance to avoid the United States’ mistake of assuming that fascists are good-faith actors.
* Gratuitious Shellac reference. Enjoy The End of Radio.