A few weeks ago, I was standing at the bus stop with a friend when a man with a swastika tattoo walked by. It seemed as though he deliberately flashed it to my face when he turned back to look at me before continuing on.
I immediately felt a palpable sense of hostility directed at me as a person of colour. Canada is the land of progress where everybody belongs right? This wasn't supposed to happen to me. This event sparked a curiosity within me beneath the waves of discomfort about the Canadian identity and the dichotomies within it.
The Freedom Convoy was a natural starting point for my investigation. Many of the supporters came out with fiery passion for the Canadian identity and the love and freedom therein, but also seemed to show a chilling disregard for many of the most vulnerable.
An analysis of the voices speaking out on the convoy revealed a complicated dynamic at work. In order to break into this unfamiliar world, I had to also break the chamber of ideas and feelings within which I was comfortable existing.
I needed to get to the heart of what movements are made of: the people who support them. I am extraordinarily grateful to have spoken with my guest, Darrel, who was willing to share his perspective as a supporter of the convoy.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I work on the railroad; I’ve worked there for 15 years and I have a family and three kids. One of them's actually going to college in Halifax. I’ve been working a lot lately.
Could you describe the average person who supports the Convoy in your own terms to break away from popular misrepresentations?
There's so many different types of people. I know a lot of the people I work with are and I imagine blue collar workers are generally more supportive.
Beyond that, I think it's just something like freedom that just unites people. The feeling of being proud to be a Canadian just brings people together. A lot of people have suffered from this pandemic and there is a sentiment that a lot of it was not necessary.
There are some things that have been done wrong. A lot of people just want their voice to be heard. This was one of those things where it was something that was waiting to erupt.
This was the catalyst that was going to wake up the sleeping giant, because people in Canada, we have a culture of being polite and not making a fuss in our communities.
[The Freedom Convoy] really inspired many to see that they were not alone. Many Canadians were thinking the same way but were unable to voice their concerns from fear of being marginalized. With the Convoy, our voice has been able to be represented through this movement.
To what extent do you endorse the freedom convoy on a personal level?
One of the reasons why it really touches my heart so closely is because I had a personal incident with this in my job.
I almost lost my job because I didn't want to take the shots for personal health reasons and for religious reasons, too. It was mostly for religious reasons. I wrote two religious exemptions to my company. They denied both and sent me a generic response.
Do you sense that something about the Canadian identity is at stake with the mask and vaccine mandates?
I think there's various things at stake.
I do think there is something at stake with the mask and the mandates. Canadian culture has always been a freedom culture. People move here for our freedom, and individual rights. Individual rights are extremely important.
I heard this one quote that I like: “the most oppressed minority is the individual.” Nowadays, we have identity politics and it's like the oppressed versus the oppressor.
The one thing that gets sacrificed always is the individual.
I think that individual rights and liberties are some of the Canadian values that we are losing. I think a lot of that does go along with the vaccine mandates and the masked mandates and stuff because you lose those individual rights.
In my Canadian beliefs, I want you to be able to think differently than me. I want people to be able to think differently, because that's the mark that we live in a free society. I don’t think that a lot of the government’s responses to the truckers have reflected this part of the identity.
When the Prime Minister says those things about unacceptable views, I think that's something that's not a Canadian value.
To be fair, I think some of the heavy-handedness in shutting down alternative narratives is because even if certain individuals in the convoy are coming out and saying that we have evidence that “this is not necessary,” we still have to operate on our tried-and-true empirical processes of knowing.
We can’t rely on what a few individuals say. We have to look at the aggregate opinion from experts which suggests that the best path has been a systematic de-escalation of mask mandates.
I think that a lot of people don't see it the same way as the status quo.
I think that's why you see a lot of the blue-collar people that are not in academia that are involved in this.
They're not so attached to that kind of like having most of the scientists on board and stuff.
It's almost like our senses or something.
It's like, we feel like there's something wrong and its overreach.
It’s kind of like fighting against a scientific dictatorship.
We have health officials that are out here, making edicts and stuff, right, and telling us how we're going to live our lives for the next few weeks. When we've voted the politicians and not the health ministers in. It's like bypassing our legislative and our democratic processes.
In a release on the official Freedom Convoy Facebook page, some of the main organizers of the Freedom convoy stated their two goals- terminate vaccine passports and end contact tracing and covid vaccine mandates.
I am skeptical of whether their actions and objectives reflect the attitude of altruism and benevolence that the group portrays publicly when you consider the people that would be affected by these actions. For example, the number of people living with loved ones with medical disabilities or those who have medical disabilities that compromise their immune response.
Do you see this as a contradiction? You spoke of intuition before but there are a number of people who live in a viral tyranny that threatens their lives for whom intuition is not enough.
I think it is an inherent contradiction but I don’t think the Convoy was meant to be this totally altruistic thing.
It also is one of those things where it's so hard to get to the bottom of it because there's valid points on both sides that I can see.
I think a lot of people for the first year or whatever were first like, sure yeah, let's flatten the curve. People were reasonable, but I think it's just gotten to the point where people have lost their jobs. You know, their children, their teenagers are having mental health problems.
And you know, so it's like at what point is the cure [worse than the disease?] I know that scientists really believe in this. I think there's something to be said for intuition.
We all have God-given reasoning and logical faculties, right? We can't just keep relying on experts all the time.
We went too far down the scientific dictatorship road and this is the balancing act, this is the backlash.
My heart goes out to the people that are worried about this. I wish I could tell them there's nothing to worry about because I really don't feel there is. Everyone has their own way of looking at this and I’m not the one who knows everything about everything.
For the people who are worried about their own freedoms though, I feel that that is what the people in the convoy feel like has happened to them for the past two years. So, it has a double side to it, right?
It's also one of those things where there's people that are immune-compromised and live with people that are immuno-compromised that are not afraid of COVID and like they don't wear masks and they don't get sick.
They don't care, so it's like a personal responsibility thing. How far do you want to go down this rabbit trail? Do you want to live in fear?
What is your reaction to the dangerous elements that have hopped on to this movement for freedom?
For example, Tamara Lich, who until recently had a role in the Maverick separatist party that wants the Independence of Alberta and other provinces of Western Canada and was recently caught up in the GoFundMe debacle for her financial backing of the movement.
Another is Benjamin Dichter, who is a former budding politician and podcast producer who has been sued for allegedly spreading Islamophobic smears. He was warning protestors of political Islamists in government.
Some of the more alarming parties reported on were individuals sporting confederate flags and flags bearing the symbol of the Nazi party.
I don't know if I can put too much credit to these Nazi allegations especially since I looked at the live stream footage. There's like Sikh truckers, there's black people. There are natives. There's every minority, every race. There are pride flags. It's almost laughable to me to even think that they would be able to tag it like that.
It’s just Canadians.
I think it turned into something much bigger than identity politics when we found out how many Canadians actually are ready for freedom.
I haven’t heard of Benjamin Dichter or political Islamism. As far as what you said about the Separatist parties, a lot of the western provinces have always been like that. I see the Convoy as more of a plea from like a place of love for the Canadian identity.
There may be some bad actors, but, I don't think generally that's the vibe of it.
It wasn’t a hate fest.
I don't think that everybody involved in the convoy is a racist, but in my view, the hegemonic relationships and outcomes connected to this protest should be observed for their consequences rather than the specific group membership of the individuals who protest in the first place.
You can be part of a marginalized group and caught in behaviours and ideologies that contribute to the suffering of others like you.
For example, people who live with disabilities or people in marginal communities, have to live in a society in which they are marginalized all the time. Not just in the last two years. So, it doesn’t matter whether or not members of their group support the Convoy, it doesn’t vindicate them if their actions contribute to their group's continued subordination.
I understand what you mean. However, I always find it heartening when there are certain people. It's like they're marginalized in a way because they have the disability and my heart goes out to them.
But it's always nice to see when people have that kind of mindset where it's like, I'm not gonna let it get me down. I think it’s a Canadian virtue: that sort of courage. The deck can be stacked against you, but you also have personal responsibility and I like this balanced approach at it because I think it's true.
I can’t help but feel that with the conversation on the Convoy, there are more pressing virtues at stake like compassion, don’t you think?
Perhaps, but I don't think you can sacrifice liberty because it can get too ideological too quickly. I think there may be some people that are always going to get hurt.
What do you want people to know about the Freedom Convoy and those who support it?
They're just normal people like me and you.
What do you think? Write to The Phoenix on Instagram (@ubcophoenix) and tell us your thoughts.