Typically, I try to avoid the day-to-day nonsense that comes with the territory in politics. There’s a lot of yelling, misunderstanding, and lying that exists in the political sphere to score cheap points. I know this frustrates people, and so I’ve always tried to be as straightforward as possible when talking to constituents and my colleagues.
In this letter, I would like to address the so-called “freedom convoy” and resulting political controversy which has lately been troubling us all.
In the past, I’ve prepared some longer letters and “explainer” type documents for people to read when it comes to bills or votes that may have seemed unusual, or required a bit more context, and that’s my goal here. This is going to be a longer note, but I hope that it provides clarity and additional information for people during these troubling weeks, and explains things in context and detail, which is rarely apparent from quick clips or tweets.
First of all, this isn’t about truckers. Most truckers are on the road, keeping things moving. It’s never been about truckers, it’s a theme that’s been co-opted to provide legitimacy to this movement. The vast majority of truckers are vaccinated, working, and have been throughout the pandemic. For this, we are grateful.
As a way to examine some of the issues, concerns, and misinformation that surrounds the “freedom convoy” and the use of the Emergencies Act, I am going to try and provide a clear answer to some of the concerns I’ve heard raised.
I get a lot of emails, letters, and phone calls about every conceivable issue under the sun, and this issue is no different. There are some reasonable concerns raised. There are also a significant number of emails that are completely off-kilter, disturbed, or completely and shockingly misinformed.
Don’t forget that the written manifesto of this group included the overthrow of the federal government. It didn’t begin as a friendly action, and was never about mandates.
I recognize that many of these individuals are so far into their misunderstanding or echo chambers that this kind of document won’t be of use to them because they are simply unprepared to learn or recognize facts that challenge their narrative or opinion. That’s not my goal here. I have prepared this for my neighbours, friends, and constituents who genuinely want to know more about what’s going on in our country and who want to be better informed.
Given the way these “protests” have formed, expanded, and changed they have included many illegal activities. The notion of this protest being completely peaceful or friendly isn’t true anymore. (I have been amongst them almost every single day since this has begun due to my in-person work on the Hill.) It has evolved well beyond civil disobedience or the norms of protests, even in Ottawa.
It should go without saying, but, to those who are truly ill-informed, I’ll say it again. Canada isn’t a dictatorship, and it’s not becoming one. No matter how many times people scream this on the internet or hear it from the PPC and the Conservatives, it isn’t true and a quick reading of history, or a cursory examination of actual dictators demonstrates this to any reasonable Canadian.
While I know that many individuals participated peacefully, there are also thousands who haven’t. This is partly what led to these “protests” becoming illegal. Framing this as “civil disobedience” is a common and convenient misunderstanding of what is happening. It is far, far too easy to show a dozen friendly clips on social media and say “See! Look! They are peaceful!” Many protesters have been arrested. Many more will likely be arrested. Some have been charged with serious crimes, firearms violations, property damage, and other worrying offenses. Many more are violating court orders. Hundreds more should probably be charged, but never will be, for intimidation, threats, and seriously disrupting the legal activities of businesses and families. The major shopping centre in downtown Ottawa has been closed for weeks due to these activities. Some of their decisions also accounted for millions in lost revenue from small businesses. These actions were not legal, even if the individuals involved haven’t been charged. This has never been a legal way to protest in this country.
Moreover, blockades were erected at several critical border crossings, which violates existing Canadian and provincial laws, irrespective of anything to do with the Emergencies Act.
I should clarify something to those who have asked me to vote against the use of the Emergencies Act “before it is in full effect”. This is a common misunderstanding. The Emergencies Act is already in full effect. There is a requirement under the Act that, after it is invoked, there must be a vote in the House of Commons and Senate on its use. However, it is already in “full effect”. (It would be pretty useless for Canada, or any country, to have an Emergencies Act that had to wait a week, or wait for votes in their Parliament to come into effect, particularly if there was an emergency in the middle of the summer, or at Christmas, when Parliament wasn’t sitting.)
It also is important to note that the use of the Emergencies Act doesn’t violate the Charter. The Act, when passed, took into account the requirements of the Charter, (and it has been in place for many years without the courts declaring it unconstitutional). This is a common “interpretation” of the Charter that is a misunderstanding. Your Charter rights (and mine) have reasonable limitations. You have a right to free speech, but you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t participate in hate speech, etc. It is clear that this occupation in Ottawa, and many of the border blockages, are violating the rights of Canadians broadly, harming their livelihoods and our economy. These rights, when violated so grossly, are taken into consideration when placing limits on other rights like free-speech.
I recently got a petition which included this line, and I think it deserves explanation and rebuttal, because of how incorrect it is: “This is most assuredly a brazen attack on our freedom of expression and cannot be tolerated.”
This is such an incorrect understanding of what is happening and how our rights work. We all have freedom of expression in Canada, but that freedom of expression doesn’t (and has never) included the funding of organizations that are engaged in criminal activity. It’s also important to note that this is different than in the United States, where a lot of this misinformation (and funding, I might add) is coming from. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (in Citizens United), essentially, that money equals speech. The same is not true here in Canada. This is why there are limits to funding of political campaigns, political advertising, and other forms of money in politics when there aren’t any in the U.S.
I have also seen a lot of nonsense about bank accounts that I want to address:
Yes, individual bank accounts can be investigated / frozen / etc., which is similar to other situations where people are financing criminal activity. Many of these protesters are committing a crime, and they have been warned by police (and there have been court injunctions in place for some activities) that they are committing a crime. There are several class-action lawsuits underway in light of this - particularly as businesses and citizens who are downtown have had their lives upended and have incurred real costs and losses because of the actions of these individuals.
No, your bank account isn’t going to be affected if you donated $20 or $50 to the protests. These are trivial amounts compared with the tens of thousands that some are funneling, knowingly, to illegal activities. There are reasonable and specific rules and measures in place when it comes to the actions of Canadian banks (and other financial institutions). Second, there are protections for the banks if they accidentally target the wrong people, but they must have acted in good faith. Also, these activities are being coordinated with law enforcement and not being taken at your local bank branch because someone saw you talking about the protests in the bank lobby, for example.
I hope that is helpful in debunking what some people believe is happening, and how this is being framed (incorrectly and with ill-intent) for Canadians who spend a lot of time on the internet, in echo chambers, and consuming U.S. and Canadian far-right media.
It is important to point out a few more things:
When it comes to COVID-19 - we know it isn’t over yet. No matter how much we wish it was. Nobody enjoys the medical and travel restrictions that have been put in place. Make no mistake though, they have saved lives. Canadians know this by looking to the south. The US, which is so close to us in culture, geography, and economy, will likely reach 1 million COVID-19 related deaths in the coming months. That is horrifying.
Per capita, the US has had 279 deaths per 100,000 Americans.
In Canada, we have had 94 deaths per 100,000 Canadians. This is the work of rules, mandates, vaccines, and so many incredible healthcare workers.
In both countries, so many deaths were preventable.
Here’s a sobering statistic: Around 2,000 Canadian deaths from COVID-19 have occurred just since the start of the protesters occupying downtown Ottawa a few weeks ago (around 5% of the total deaths). This is after we have had widespread vaccine availability, some therapeutics, and public health measures in place. That’s far too high. Again, so many were preventable.
Don’t give up. We must continue to face COVID-19 with caution, intelligence, grit, and our humanity for one another.
Bryan May, MP
Member of Parliament for Cambridge
LINK to PDF version