We’re into day 14 in the occupation of Ottawa and this morning feels different. That’s because I think we’ve reached a point where people genuinely are not sure where this will all lead or go. That’s not a comforting thought by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s a very honest assessment of where things stand. As we’re seeing increased actions in places like Windsor with the Ambassador Bridge, it’s clear that things are not in hand.
When it comes to the wisdom that appears to be going around in the Canadian media sphere, I’ve started to noted two tracks that are becoming dominant. They are very different paths, each with their own dangers, but quite irreconcilable. To demonstrate my point, I’ll cite examples of these two narratives below, coming from journalists I have extreme respect for, their work and their opinions. Let’s start with the first one, in this column in the National Post:
In this piece, columnist Terry Glavin lays out the case for everyone to calm down, turn down the temperature and remember history. He points to events in our past like the October Crisis of 1970, the Oka Crisis of 1990, various Stanley Cup riots and other protests. In that sense he’s right; we have seen crises in our past, so the idea that we would have to face something dangerous isn’t a new Canadian experience. He lays a lot at the feet of politicians in the centre and on the left (making no mention of those on the right) and journalists for pointing out what their eyes have been seeing. As for those occupying Ottawa, he says that those doing the occupying are not “well-polished people” and that they are not “yobs and yahoos, exactly, and the insurrectionist intent that might be attributed to them”. In short, he’s submitting the position this is not that big a thing to worry about on the national security level. It’s a position, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. To look at the other narrative, I point to these two pieces below:
These two pieces came out within hours of each other and revealed new details that give us the other narrative; this is deadly serious, government hasn’t taken this seriously enough and we’ve got a big problem on our hands. In Matt Gurney’s piece in “The Line”, he speaks to the first-hand experience of going to Ottawa and seeing all of this for himself. He points to the inherent contradiction in Ottawa; those who might fit Glavin’s description of the occupiers quite well, and those who are the polar opposite and quite dangerous. Gurney described his visit to the baseball stadium site in Ottawa, and how different and foreboding that experience was for him. He speaks about sources telling him that the police are “very worried about the presence of a hard-right-wing, organized faction that isn’t there to protest mandates and vaccine passports, but to directly create conflict with the government.” That group apparent includes non-Canadians, who should have nothing to do with this.
The CBC’s Judy Trinh also does a great job adding more details about what we’re seeing on that site, pointing former law enforcement and military members involved in the organizing of it. That includes a former RCMP officer who was on the prime minister’s security detail, who quit last year after refusing to get the vaccine and is now the convoy’s head of security. They refer to the political leadership of the country and the police trying to handle all of this as “the opposition”, which isn’t the kind of language I’ve ever heard used by peaceful protestors to refer to such authorities.
And to top it off, while Gurney’s sources disagreed on some points, they appeared to agree on this score: is two separate events happening in tandem. You have the “protesters”, varying across the range of influences and anger, and then you have this other group there too laid out above, essentially providing cover, who have the primary goal to “further erode the legitimacy of the state — not just the city of Ottawa, or Ontario or Canada, but of democracies generally.”
As you can see, it’s hard to reconcile these two narratives, despite some of the similar things they see. And the reason why I chose those pieces to make this point is because the writers are people whose work I hold in high esteem, even if I disagree with some of their work in the past, or even some of the assessments here. In particular in Glavin’s piece, while I agree that we have history to remember when it comes to dangerous events, there is no comparison between drunken Stanley Cup riots or even the pipeline protests from two years ago to this. The best comparison I would argue would be the October Crisis, and that’s only because of the motivations of some of those involved. In both cases, the similarity is that people involved wanted to erode the legitimacy of the state and hurt the very democracy of this country. We surely saw that in 1970 and you’re seeing that now, as Gurney ably lays out.
And to me that is the crux of my concern about these two narratives. The first essentially tells us this isn’t as serious as it may be, that those who are ringing alarms are being over the top & are doing so to advance other goals. The second is telling us the opposite, that there are serious things afoot here that we all need to be aware of to ensure that they don’t succeed, and all in the expressed hope that they pray that they are wrong. I don’t know how easy it would be to “split the difference” between the two, but I would argue you can’t.
Only in hindsight will we know for sure which narrative is right, but with all respect due to the writers above who made their cases, we don’t have the blessing of waiting for that hindsight to act. While there are parts of Glavin’s piece that I agree with, as I’m typically not one to overreact to things, I cannot agree with his assessment at this moment. I would argue that part of the reason why we find ourselves in this position is because officials who should have been prepared weren’t. Too many of them didn’t take what was coming seriously, didn’t take these people at their word expressed in public, and gave a foothold for things to spiral to the point of where they are now.
With that in mind, Gurney and Trinh’s new information, from experience on the ground, is enough to tip the scales for me. I firmly put myself in the camp of “I pray I’m wrong” because unlike the assertions of some out there on social media, no one likes what we’re having to deal with here. No one takes any joy in having to treat what they’re seeing with their own two eyes as what it is. And because of the current mixture in the crowd, there is no way around that. It’s a total clusterfuck, one that could have been avoided if those trucks had never been allowed to occupy Wellington Street longer than a few hours for a protest. In short, it could have been avoided if we took these people at their word when they told us about their intent from the start.
And that’s where I see the two narratives diverging to the point of being irreconcilable. The first essentially results in us continuing to not take those words at face value, while the second breaks that cycle, taking these people at their word and acting accordingly. Only in the end will we know who is right, but if given the choice, I choose taking the cautious approach the second narrative proposes. Only in that approach are we better able to ensure that our hindsight-based observations will take place in a democratic society where the rule of law remains intact. Hindsight that comes after the fall of our democracy will not be of any use, because then it will truly be regret for those left to live in the aftermath. Again, I pray that I’m wrong, but I’d rather be wrong in a democratic country, than lose that democracy because our guard was let down.