Opinion: ‘Freedom Convoy’ has nothing to do with freedom

Opinion: 'Freedom Convoy' has nothing to do with freedom

Over a week ago, news of a convoy of truckers barreling across Canada from British Columbia to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates inundated the airwaves – most decried it as a pointless movement that would achieve nothing, while others cheered them on.

Now, after days of unrest, we all have a front-row seat to free-flowing circus of extremism and fanatical nationalism unravelling in our nation’s capital. The movement has, unsurprisingly, attracted other disenfranchised groups and individuals; from anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists et al, anarchists, even the Nazi party, as proudly represented by one truck flaunting Nazi and Confederate flags.

Solemnly-sacred Canadian memorials were vandalized and desecrated; from tossing “mandate freedom” placards and the Canadian flag upside down on a statue of Terry Fox, a national hero who fought until his last breath to kickstart cancer research in this country, to standing on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier yelling “freedom!” — no less the same freedom that the unidentified soldier interred within once fought for. Yet this degeneration of civility and integrity didn’t stop there; locals reported countless individuals urinating and defecating on their lawns and in their neighbourhoods, while others left trash and detritus in their wake.

Needless to say, such abhorrent and disgraceful behaviour is uncommon among animals, let alone civilized human beings.

In 2020, when the pandemic began, the airwaves were clearer, with far less static. There was a light of hope, of positivity; that yes, we can’t see our friends, we can’t see our families and we can’t do the things we usually do, but we’re all in this together and we will figure it out somehow – together. At 7 p.m. everywhere, pots and pans echoed with clanking and whistles in the air as thanks to all the front-line workers and medical staff who fought tirelessly to keep us alive, safe, and fed.

Nearly two years later, what is left of that unity and optimism is a phantom, a membrane. Outward hope and sense of community has turned into outward bitterness and hate. We’ve seen those same people, who were once lauded and praised, spit at and harassed on their way to work to hospitals and clinics because they are following the rules and doing the best they can.

It’s not hard to see how such groups like the “Freedom Convoy” can amass so quickly – anti-vaxxers maintain their firm grip on the airwaves, whether it’s online or in the streets.

More so, it’s this double-standard of “freedom” that is self-evident in the average anti-vaxxer’s desire to maintain control over their narrative. They call themselves peaceful, yet quickly turn aggressive when someone else challenges their (often baseless) statements. Last year, a local woman attended several anti-vaxxer protests in Victoria holding up anti-anti-vaxxer placards with messages such as “vaccines save lives” and “ignorance kills” – she was quickly hounded and followed, even had hot liquid tossed at her. At one point, a horde of people aggressively descended towards her until a group of cyclists nearby intervened and fortunately shooed them off.

“My freedom, my rights”

Like a constant pinging in our ears, this is all we’ve heard about from a relatively small group of individuals over the last two years. Their rights. Their freedoms. Their choices (even if it means making the choice for others too). There’s a strong feeling that some people in this country have lost sense of what freedom actually is, or where it came from. Freedom was earned by others through hard work and sacrifice so that you could speak out against your politicians without being thrown in jail or executed behind closed doors so that you could maintain a level of agency in your life that simply does not exist in other, less-fortunate nations. People forget that freedom, unfortunately, is not universal, even though it should be.

But the right to choose has become tainted, corrupted. It has been forcefully commandeered by conspiracists and anarchists whose perverse sense of self-righteousness guides them to defy rules and stir chaos, not bring peace or order. Benefitting from the perks of freedom and democracy, while at the same time whoring them for one’s own personal, twisted agendas is, without doubt, the biggest insult to every man and woman and child who lost their lives for freedom, in the pursuit of that privilege to choose that so many take for granted.

Let’s see these same protesters flaunt the same courage in a country such as Russia, where the desecration of a national statue will end with a swift, merciless beating and possibly life imprisonment.

“I can, therefore I will.”

And where many see chaos, others see opportunity. With trust in government at an all-time low, coupled with the general public’s general fatigue of the pandemic and restrictions, this is fertile ground to grow theories that don’t necessarily place action on part of the user (i.e., wearing masks, getting vaccinated, maintaining a safe distance from others) but on anything else – be it evil governments, Bill Gates, or alien plots to destroy humanity.

This is the very juice in which anti-vaccine, anti-government, anti-science individuals and groups thrive on and use to reach the ears of a tired and terrified general public.

There is at least a dozen of these self-imposed pariahs in every nation, every city, every community on Earth, hell-bent on “giving people the truth” and “allowing them to choose for themselves” and “freeing them from the evil media and government oppression” – the text changes and the phrases rotate, but the message is essentially the same.

The idea that Joe Blow down the road knows better than a government official or medical professional was once ridiculed, but now it seems that’s all it takes for people to avoid getting vaccinated, to quit their jobs, leave their partners or break away from their families — because being a martyr is apparently more important than just being a responsible member of society.

Not that personal responsibility was ever the objective of such individuals. Tenacity, insatiable mania and an overall lacking knowledge of how the world works are trademark anti-vaxxer traits. The very people who obnoxiously chant that their freedoms are being taken away are also the same people who will stop at nothing to force their agenda by any means necessary, whether it’s through physical violence and intimidation, or verbal harassment and abuse. Whether it’s super-gluing the doors of vaccination clinics, or disrupting Remembrance Day ceremonies, or as we’ve seen, desecrating national memorials to advance their message.

Like Trumpism and its attack on empirical evidence and the institution of science before it, the screams of misinformation grow ever louder from the darkness, unyielding and without fear of consequence. This is a threat to all mankind; to the stability of civilized society and the sanctity of scientific, evidence-based knowledge. The public- me, you, us- the citizens- undoubtedly rely on our governments, as imperfect as they may be, on our civil systems to keep us safe, to keep us alive. If those who gain power (or currently have it) reign over our lives do not have a strong sense of what’s right or wrong, real or fake, then what will be left of civilization? Who will we turn to for advice when a health disaster of such magnitude strikes us again? How will we know reality from total nonsense? Imagine an anti-vaxxer at the head of the Provincial Health Authority, or World Health Organization – extremely unlikely, but never say never either.

In the end, if we leave the pillars of our society to be chewed away by these individuals, we would have surrendered ourselves to their ills and the unspeakable chaos that would undoubtedly follow, and, to some extent, has already followed.

Octavian Lacatusu is a journalist, writer, photographer and marketing specialist. He worked as a reporter and editor throughout Canada for more than 10 years, and his work has appeared in a variety of news outlets and magazines, including CTV News/Bell Media, Toronto Observer and Black Press. In his past time (and to stay relatively sane) he builds LEGO creations that move and drive, and daydreams about cars he can’t possibly afford.

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