One thing we can do better
What’s happened in Ottawa and across this country is a reminder that we’ve lost our way … there’s one thing we can do to make it better.
Let’s start with what’s happened in Ottawa - It’s heartbreaking.
What has become very clear is that the Freedom Convoy people love Canada. The group that assembled, for the most part, have done so because they believe that their perspective needs to be heard and has not been to this point. They also, for the most part, believe in peaceful protest and have brought their families not as shields, but as an active demonstration of their desire for peace. They have celebrated their love of Canada with music, chanting, hugs, fireworks and food. Oh, and bouncy castles. They, for the most part, do not condone the arson attempts, harassment, vandalism and hateful displays of a fringe part of their group. They are in full belief that they are on the right side of history (if there is such a thing).
On the other hand, there are people calling them terrorists and racists. They rightly point out that there are men and women, mostly women, who have been harassed and assaulted for wearing a mask outdoors in the proximity of the protest/occupation. They point out that there is no acceptable use of hateful images of stylized swastikas, Confederate flags, Nazi imagery, and yellow badges stylizing the Star of David. The people condemning the Convoy protestors/occupiers cite that bringing their families and children into this is reckless and foolish. These people believe that there is no room for discussion of the Convoy participants’ demands until it ends.
The politicians on all sides are wrong.
They have continued to preach and scream into their collective echo chambers. Not all of them, but most of them.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. - WB Yeats, The Second Coming
They are screaming “what abouts” and “how dare you” to their political rivals and throwing their arms around those that speak and think just like themselves.
Most reasonable people are standing around in horror, watching the unfolding of this insanity wondering about what comes next. Weary from two years of pandemic challenges, fearing the intensity of the moment at hand. Again.
None of this is truly Canadian. In 1971, the year before I was born, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt a multiculturalism policy. It was the extension of a theory first described by John Murray Gibson in his 1938 book called Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation, where he contrasted the US ideal of cultural melting pots and assimilation. It took about 30 years for this to start to become considered a possible Canadian differentiator. Over the last 40-50 years, however, the concept of the Mosaic has changed to include not only different cultures, but different ways of life, genders and much more. I’m proud of the place we have played in considering a more tolerant and inclusive world.
The events of these last several weeks (months/years?), however, make it clear that we are far from the ideals we hold dear. The concepts that held the idealized Canadian Mosaic together are much more fragile than we could have hoped.
We should be alarmed by the events of the last several weeks in Ottawa. Not just because of the possibility of the Emergencies Act. Not just due to the actions of the Freedom Convoy, or the various counter-protests. Not just by the need for the greatest deployment of police action in a single city in this country’s history. None of that is as significant as the complete lack of leadership from ALL of those that we have elected to help govern this city, province and country.
No one with the capacity to do anything constructive has done anything but wait for someone else to come along and save the day. After having waited too long, they are full of passionate intensity to blame their most obvious and identifiable opponent to cull favour with their constituency.
As for the citizens? Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the convoy protest summed it up when she said, "I don't think there's a lot of faith that's left in the city to protect its residents." Can there be any doubt that this lack of faith extends beyond municipal leadership to the province and the federal governments as well?
So, today, as I watch the events unfold in the core of my hometown, I am sad. My heart is broken.
What do we do now?
For one – we stop shouting at each other and start listening.
Let’s stop blaming “the others” for the problems around us, let’s support and hold each-other accountable to making progress. Let’s find out what they were thinking when all this started, what they’ve been thinking about since. Let’s discover together who’s been hurt and in what ways. Let’s brainstorm ways that we can make this moment right – and ensure the 100s of moments that will follow this one will also be right.
Let’s put our Mosaic back together again. It’s broken but our diversity is our strength and our beauty. And the good news is a Mosaic is never broken, we can consider it just disassembled.
A great mentor of mine once said that flexibility of behaviour is the hallmark of a great leader. Today, all the political leaders have become rigid – inflexible and mediocre.
I think the greatest thing to come from all this could be the recognition that we are not really that divided. We are all looking at what's happening with horror and disappointment. Perhaps there are factions that profit from pandering to the fears of some that suggest that we’re divided – let’s beware of those people. Let’s pay attention to those that would seek to unite us. Let’s honour those who bring important issues to light in peaceful protest.
Let’s also acknowledge that it is just never ok to harass and assault people as they walk down the street on their way home or to work. It’s never ok to occupy public spaces for prolonged periods of time, while disrupting the lives of tens of thousands of residents and scores of businesses. No one’s right to protest should impact the ability of another to quietly enjoy their home and public property or conduct their lawful business.
It’s also not ok for the municipal, provincial and federal politicians and government to fail so badly as to have allowed this occupation to become entrenched. The occupiers should not have been given the opportunity to gain such a strong foothold and for so long. We all know that those in charge can do better than this. For example, when Indigenous groups have planned protests there were significant restrictions imposed governing the temporary erection of even a single teepee. When Black Lives Matter protests hit the Capital, there was a significant police presence and fencing in place to guide the protest in a safe and manageable manner. All levels of government and law enforcement failed by not acting more swiftly.
Finally, let’s remember that we’re not divided. All Canadians are looking at the events of the last 3 weeks and possibly the last two years and are united in saying, we are better than this. This is not who we are. Let’s remember that. Let’s remember that we have a right to Good Government and we haven’t received this from any level. Let’s end the politics of division and remind them that we don’t want to hear it any longer.
Let’s remind them of the ideal of the Mosaic. It is a not-so-secret power – it is our strength. Especially when we start by listening to one-another.