Using politics as an excuse for violence

Using politics as an excuse for violence

I spent most of the week watching the Public Order Emergency Commission. Or rather, I spent the week with the POEC running in the background as I went about my work, paying attention to it enough to get a good sense of the flavour, tenour and substance (allegedly) on display. Having been a journalist and a homeschooling parent — yes, at the same time — for many long years, I am a super-duper multitasker. Which of course means that by Friday night I was a slightly bedraggled wretch with an impressive headache. 

Mostly it’s the gaslighting that did it. One after the other convoy leaders denied everything from the honking to the violence to the fact that they had been asked to leave. That and the nonsense from the self-proclaimed alpha male crying in the witness chair whose asides on political theory were more ridiculous than a jesuit’s attempt at explaining the mystery of the trinity. 

Even if you buy the explanation that organizers felt unfairly treated by governments and wanted very badly to have their grievances heard, the week’s testimonies were mind-bendingly infuriating. 

The gist of it is that they launched a convoy because their emails to various authorities weren’t answered. Of course they had to come and occupy downtown Ottawa. It was the only way they would be noticed. 

I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head.

Who the fuck do they think they are to believe that not getting an answer to I don’t care how many emails entitles them to take an entire city hostage, I want to know? 

Do they not realize that millions of other people in this country have grievances that go unheard, emails that go unanswered and phone calls that go die in a mailbox to nowhere? Or do they know and not care? If they don’t know, that makes them pretty dim. If they know and not care, that makes them pretty rotten. There is no in-between. 

I have no problem with people who want to argue about the reasonableness of various pandemic restrictions. We live in a democracy and the point of democracies is to be able to talk about things and resolve disagreements using rational deliberations and as transparent a decision-making process as is possible under the circumstances. 

When we’re dealing with a deadly and highly-contagious disease, we’re bound to err on the side of the overly cautious, and most people are fine with that. But that doesn’t mean our various governments got the balance right — far from it. We never had a rational, reasoned debate about any of this, thanks in great part to doofuses who couldn’t tolerate not being the ones in charge. Not just them, to be fair. But you know. 

In the real world of grown-ups, it’s not enough to object to the duly-elected government’s measures. You have to convince other people that you’re right, which takes a lot of work. Or you can ignore or disobey the rules if you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. Like being fined or losing your job or being sent to jail. 

What you can’t do is throw a fit and terrorize the population of the capital city because the prime minister didn’t answer your email. 

But even that is not what the convoy was about. 

COVID-19 was not the reason for the convoy and occupation. It was just a convenient excuse. The real reason was a deep and unending dislike of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government. I know this because a lot of the people who supported the 2022 convoy also tended to support previous, and pre-pandemic protests like the United We Roll convoy or the yellow vest movement. With the mask and vaccine mandates they finally had something with which they could get support, or at least sympathy, from a larger group of Canadians. 

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and it’s perfectly alright, if not especially healthy, to wake up at night and curse this government. You can also protest, write letters, lobby, produce documentaries or podcasts, hand out leaflets on street corners, run ads, raise money to fund your preferred candidates, run for office yourself, launch a website, whatever you think might help you. It’s all good, provided it’s not violent. And by violent I don’t just mean physically attacking people. I mean using dehumanizing or threatening imagery and language. 

My column in the Ottawa Citizen this week makes the case that we can’t ignore or normalize violent speech any longer. We also can’t tolerate extremists using politics to unleash violence. I encourage you to read it and join me in speaking up against all kinds of violence.

One type of violence deserves special mention, and it’s antisemitism. This piece in the New York Times calls it the canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of more political violence to come. 

I see the rise in antisemitic incidents, increased need for protection at synagogues and the way some people on the extreme right casually slip in and out of that kind of hateful rhetoric on the campaign trail. You’d have to be blind not to see it. Kanye West just made it mainstream. 

We cannot be quiet in the face of rising antisemitism. 

I’ve said for years that antisemitism is at the intersection of evil and stupid, and right now that street corner is getting very crowded indeed. It’s not because there’s suddenly more evil and stupid people. Rather, it’s because those people feel entitled to be out and loud with their hatred given that so many prominent people are out and loud with theirs. 

That’s why we must speak up and combat antisemitism and all other forms of violence. We cannot afford to normalize any of it. 

Silence is not an option.