Canada’s capital is being held hostage by extortionists

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Canada’s capital is being held hostage by extortionists
© Provided by Al Jazeera People wave flags on top of a truck in front of Parliament Hill as truckers and their supporters continue to protest against the COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa on February 6, 2022 [Reuters/Patrick Doyle]

The job of columnists is to convey their ideas in writing. Sometimes, these ideas are shared by readers. Others, are not.

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It does not matter, really. A columnist should say something fresh or pithy – whether readers agree with them or not. That means thinking of something that other columnists, writing about the same subject, have not thought about.

There have been many columns written in many forums about what has been happening in Canada lately.

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You may have seen or read news or columns about a bunch of mostly angry white men driving big trucks and tractors to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, and other Canadian cities and making trouble.

I like making what the late US Congressman John Lewis coined “good trouble”. So, I do not mind it when other people make “good trouble” in different ways. But this is not “good trouble”. This is ugly, venomous trouble.

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As such, you may have found the images of what has been happening in Canada a little surprising or perhaps even jarring. Canada is supposed to be a quiet, peaceful country where people get along – generally speaking.

That is the “nice” Canada you have probably read or heard about or experienced. So, now you know that there is also a not-so-nice Canada where – like in lots of other places – rage, ignorance and a heaping measure of selfishness can make for a toxic brew.

Before I get to that, it is important to understand the context of what has been going on lately in Canada.

First, most of the long-haul truckers living and driving in Canada believe in science. More than 90 percent of them have been vaccinated. They know that to cross the border with their loads into the United States – Canada’s largest trading partner – they need to be vaccinated.

They appreciate that beating COVID-19 – if that is, hopefully, possible – means that Canadians have to not only work together, but think about what is best not just for themselves, but their neighbours, as well.

It is called having an abiding sense of community.

It might sound naïve and pollyannaish, but, in turbulent times like these, it becomes more acute and true.

Most Canadians have, I believe, kept this devotion to community close to their hearts and minds to try to protect themselves and their neighbours against a lethal virus not because they have been ordered or forced to, but because they know it is the right and neighbourly thing to do.

We get vaccinated. We wear masks. We are patient and considerate. Many Canadians have made sacrifices – far costlier and more often than me – in the interest of their communities. Cashiers. Bus and subway drivers. Grocery store and restaurant workers. Teachers. Pharmacists. Nurses. Doctors. Scientists. I am grateful for and indebted to my fellow citizens.

Sure, we are tired of COVID-19. We, like you, want it to end. To get back to living life with the wondrous spontaneity and urgency that we have lost. But most Canadians know we are not there yet. We need to show a bit more grit to get to that illusive and what will be an oh-so-gratifying finish line.

Most Canadians – the silent, thoughtful, kind and generous majority of Canadians – are, I think, united on this score.

Not these truckers and their furious supporters. What unites them is not patience, calmness or understanding in the face of grim and stubborn adversity, but incoherent anger, stupidity and self-indulgence, wrapped in a Canadian flag featuring an upside-down maple leaf to boot.

They do not believe in science. They do not believe in sacrifice. They do not believe in unity borne of common purpose and determination.

Instead, they believe, like tantrum-prone toddlers, in what they want, when they want it. Now. They believe in charlatans and their lunatic potions and “theories”. They believe in division borne of threats and intimidation. Some of them believe that Jews profit from vaccines. They believe, of course, in Donald Trump. They believe that journalists are the “enemy of the people” who should be executed. They believe in urinating on war monuments. They believe in defecating in the streets. They believe they can honk their Tinnitus-inducing horns 24/7. They believe they can do all this damage without fear or consequence.

They have taken Ottawa hostage and like all hostage-takers, they have made demands. They demand no more vaccines, masks or mandates. They demand the “freedom” to deny the freedoms of others. They demand democracy be replaced by autocracy. Yes, they do. They demand to be able to continue to pollute a city with their presence until their demands are met.

It is extortion.

Still, there are Conservative politicians who not only agree with the hostage-takers, but have given their blessing to what the hostage-takers have done and will do until their demands are achieved.

They have posed to take pictures and selfies with the happy hostage-takers. They have made inflammatory speeches in the House of Commons – the very chamber some of the hostage-takers want to dissolve immediately – in support of the aims and means of the hostage-takers.

Among the many Conservative Members of Parliament who stand with the hostage-takers is Pierre Poilievre. He is likely to become the leader of the Conservative Party soon. The last leader, Erin O’Toole, was booted from the job last week, in part, for not backing the hostage-takers loudly or quickly enough.

My astute daughter says Poilievre is the doppelgänger – ideologically – of the slick US right-wing flamethrower-for-hire, Ben Shapiro, but with glasses.

I see the similarities. Although this may sound impossible, I can assure anyone unfamiliar with the pedestrian characters who populate Canadian politics that Poilievre is a more rank and irritating facsimile of Shapiro.

Anyway, the hostage-takers are poised to take Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition hostage, too – with their dear confrère, Poilievre, at the helm.

All this is causing a lot of white male and female columnists who dominate Canada’s two centre-right “national” newspapers considerable angst and grief.

They are apoplectic. How and why did this happen to a once “great” party, they wonder – with varying degrees of apoplexy.

It is no mystery at all, you suddenly amnesic lot.

Here is a clue. First name: Stephen. Last name: Harper.

The former prime minister whom you lauded and celebrated as the avatar of “steady” and “sober” governance was and remains the father of the dangerous discord you now condemn.

You applauded his tactical abilities while he doused himself and the Conservative Party in “wedge” politics. Harper spent a career leveraging West against East, pitting new Canadians against “old stock” Canadians, defaming the National Council of Canadian Muslims as a hive of “terrorists” and stoking the fury and grievances on grotesque display in Ottawa.

You were warned of the harm Harper’s cynical modus operandi was causing and would cause. You dismissed Harper’s “enemies” as suffering from Harper Derangement Syndrome. Remember?

The thread that binds every Conservative Party leader since Harper’s defeat in 2015 is this: they are enthusiastic and faithful disciples and servants of Stephen Harper.

If he prevails, Poilievre would be the most rabid iteration of Harper of all. Like the others, he will fail because a majority of Canadians will reject being held hostage by truck driving, MAGA-flag-bearing extortionists.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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