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HUGHES – the View from the Hill …

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Freedom Convoy Takes the Air out of Ottawa

The Covid-19 pandemic has been exceptionally difficult on everyone. Whether you have lost a loved one to Covid-19; you have been overworked and exhausted on the front lines in hospitals and ICUs; you have struggled to balance work and life while trying to help educate your children at home; you have lost a job in the service, arts or tourism industries; the pandemic has pushed each of us to our limits. And yet we persist, helping our friends and neighbours while doing what we can to prevent the spread of the virus.

This growing frustration is palpable. Two years of uncertainty is a lot for any individual to handle, let alone a nation. We have done our part: we’ve cancelled plans, we’ve isolated when feeling sick, we’ve listened to the expert advice of medical professionals and scientists and acted accordingly, including following their recommendations on vaccinations. Like you, I am frustrated that life has not yet returned to normal and that we are still having to readjust our routines, our work environments, and our lives.

For some, this frustration has boiled over, and with the news of a convoy heading to Ottawa, led by a cohort of truck drivers frustrated by recent cross-border vaccination requirements, others took the opportunity to join in protesting all Covid-19 mandates. This was a way to express concerns and disapproval about how both federal and provincial governments have handled aspects of the pandemic and certain measures that were put in place. However, what may not have been apparent to many supporters of the movement at the outset was the motives of some organizers and participants, which included the ridiculous notion of making themselves the government by decree and protesting provincial mandates against the backdrop of the Federal government.

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Freedom of expression and association, including the right to peaceful protest, are fundamental rights that apply to all causes that we may or may not agree on, providing that it does not promote hatred or violence. However, what was promised as a peaceful demonstration has been plagued with acts most people would deem unacceptable. We have seen protestors sporting swastikas, Confederate flags, and other racist signs and paraphernalia. Vehicles were parked on the National War Memorial, and people danced and urinated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (one of our nation’s most sacred symbols of sacrifices made by our veterans). Others made a mockery of the Terry Fox statue by decorating it with anti-vaccination signs, homes and establishments flying Pride flags have been targeted. These acts are unacceptable by any metric, and as a result, the House of Commons voted unanimously to condemn the use of Nazi and antisemitic symbols, anti-Muslim rhetoric, the display of racist flags, and anti-LGBTQ+ harassment.

There have also been reports of aggression, including reports of assaults and reprehensible behavior towards staff and residents at a homeless shelter where protesters demanded food. They have put our nation’s capital in a chokehold. People can’t get to work, businesses have been forced to close just when they were going to reopen, schools have closed, and citizens have been subjected to verbal abuse and had to deal with incessant noise throughout day and night.

Although I have not always agreed with how the Federal and Provincial governments have been managing this pandemic, whether through policies, directions, support programs or decision making, we all realize that the focus has been on protecting the population and trying to minimize the impact on our already fragile health care system, which has been underfunded for too long.

It is however evident that what has been missing is clarity surrounding what the government’s plans are moving forward so we can return to a normal life while living within the endemic period.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Covid-19 cases are falling after a significant fourth wave, 82 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, ICU cases are stabilizing, and businesses are starting to reopen. We can and we will get through this pandemic with the mutual understanding that we’re all in this together.

 

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