When the history of Canada’s fight against Covid-19 is written, after all of this is done, part of that history will tell the tale of those who shone in this moment, selflessly rising to the challenge and giving of themselves in the service of all. That same history will also tell the story of those who were selfish, sinking to new depths in the most important moment and who flew with the buzzards, cheering them on as they picked away at the carcasses of those that suffered.
Sadly, we’re seeing many examples of both, but sometimes within a short period of time you see two examples on either end of the spectrum that make for such a stark contrast that it’s impossible to ignore. The first example is one that I saw yesterday, which is a great example of the best of what Canada can be. The second example came into my Twitter feed this morning and while not surprising, was bad even for this person. Let’s start with the first, and with a story of self-sacrifice from Montreal:
I must admit when I first saw this story yesterday it brought a few different emotions. The first was appreciation for these asylum seekers for stepping right into the fire of Covid-19, working as orderlies in long-term care homes in the provinces and facing the biggest risks. They’ve stepped in, worked in these jobs and in some cases even come down with Covid-19 themselves. They’ve been paid little, scraped by working multiple part-time positions in multiple homes (something that is not just common, but been identified as one of the problems in the system), all while exposing themselves to the dangers of Covid-19 and in turn, exposing their families. As CBC Montreal’s piece on this pointed out, that’s part of the reason why Montreal-Nord, where many of these workers live, is one of the hot spots in the province.
The other emotion that I had when I read this story was a deep respect for these workers, mostly because of what they’ve been through and still choosing to do this needed work. Think folks Quebec Premier François Legault, the man now pleading with people to work or volunteer in long-term care homes because of their severe staffing shortages, is the same guy who railed and campaigned against these same asylum seekers when trying to get elected. He got elected on a campaign that in part used Roxham Road as short-hand for “illegal immigration” in the same way that Donald Trump uses the US-Mexico boarder. And despite all of that, despite that disrespect and vitriol that was whipped up and sent in their direction, despite the fact that some of them have had their asylum claims rejected once and twice, they still stepped up and sacrificed. Now let’s compare that with the next story, an opinion piece from none other that Conrad Black, which goes in a vastly different direction:
Look, I usually don’t make it a habit of commenting on Conrad Black’s long-winded dreck but given the context of that piece in the National Post, today I’m making an exception. I would call it “cold-hearted”, but you would need to have a heart for it to be cold and given Black’s past screeds against minorities, Indigenous peoples and others he looks down his well coifed nose at, I have yet to see evidence he has one. He makes an argument that is repugnant as it is dangerous. He makes the argument that some on the furthest of the right have, that Covid-19 has been overblown and the reaction has been far too much.
Connie looks at Sweden, which hasn’t followed the same measures as everyone else and had some of the worst results out there and sees inspiration. He suggests that “putting between a 1/5th and a 1/3rd of the population in grave financial danger and at risk of ancillary conditions that can also be deadly, to reduce the mortal incidence of the virus from 320 people in one million over the whole population to 200, is not a justifiable measure.” Yep, what a shock that this guy thinks that it’s alright for more people to die so the economy could keep humming along.
If that were all he said, it would be par for the Connie Black Memorial Golf Course, but being Black, he didn’t stop there. Oh no, he went on to show his glowing appreciation for those who were “exercising the Second Amendment right to bear arms, to assert their right to go freely about their communities, do their jobs, earn their pay and take care of their families.” Yeah, Connie sees armed militia members storming state capitals, threatened free-elected politicians as a good thing. Then he goes onto wax poetic about the times he would take his kids paintballing and the other men there he’d run into talking about the need to defend themselves and such. Jesus Christ on a Triscuit, while the rest of us is looking going wrong in these other countries and correctly cringe, Black sees a path that we should all be following. Oh, and because of who he is, he gets a national newspaper column to tell everyone about it. In a time when Facebook, YouTube and media outlets everywhere are trying to knockdown misinformation about Covid-19, Connie gets prime space in the National Post to spread it. But I’ll leave that aside for another day.
These two stories struck a major contrast for me, one that I couldn’t ignore. On one hand you have those asylum seekers, who came into the country trying to find sanctuary and safety for them and their families. In doing so, they became the object of scorn, vitriol and in some cases outright ignorance. They were used as a tool to help get a provincial party elected to government, and a rhetorical prop by three federal ones in another election, used to gin up support from voters who wanted to close our borders to others. And despite all of that, it’s those people who stepped up, put themselves in danger and have stepped into the fire. They have come to the service of that same Premier who rose to office partially on their backs, continued to give, and did so for minimum wage. No one would have blamed them for giving Canada the middle finger after all of that, instead they turned their cheeks time and time again and are now among the racks of the heroes of the pandemic.
On the other hand, you have Conrad Black, a man who has acted like the Canadian citizenship he gained by birth as something that’s not to be cherished. Remember, this is the same guy who renounced his citizenship in a fit of pique when it became a barrier to becoming a British Lord. And then after he served prison time in United States for fraud and obstruction of justice, he came pleading to be allowed to come back to Canada and live here. Of course, having renounced his citizenship he had no right to that, but when he suddenly saw the ability to come into Canada as a convenience to him, he pleaded to be able to return. Instead of going to the UK, where his now sole citizenship was, he wanted to come here instead. And of course, being a man of wealth and privilege seemed to count for more than his convictions, something that would normally disqualify someone from gaining entry to Canada.
In the first story, you see desperate people trying to find safety for their families stepping into a dangerous void in service of the country that is in the process of legally rejecting them. And in the second story, you see a vain, self-important former newspaper baron who has treated the blessing of being born as a Canadian citizen as a burden and inconvenience, not hesitating to toss it aside when it suited him best. He goes into a national newspaper and craps all over the sacrifice of those who are putting themselves at risk, all from the serene safety of his Toronto mansion at a safe distance from the riffraff of society that he seems himself as superior too.
If this Covid -19 crisis has shown us anything it’s character of many people. We’ve seen some amazing people stepping up, sacrificing so much and acting like the truest Canadians among us, even if our government continues to deny them the chance to become Canadians. And then we’ve seen the likes of Conrad Black, thinking in the ugliest, most selfish ways while sitting in self-important judgement of experts, politicians and those on the front line who are doing everything in their powers to tackle this global pandemic. If this has shown us anything, it is that we need more Canadians like those selfless asylum seekers working in those long-term care homes in Montreal, much more than we need someone like Conrad Black. If Connie feels so strongly about the examples he’s seen in the US, maybe it’s time for him to ring up his buddy Donald Trump and ask for asylum. Given that he’s already gotten a pardon from him, I bet his chances are better than most. I’ll gladly given Donald Connie so that we can keep those hard-working folks in Montreal. They’re showing themselves to true Canadians through their work while Conrad Black is showing us what he always has, that for him what’s best for Conrad Black is more important than what’s best for Canada.