By Pauline Kerr
It truly was a demonstration of freedom and rights, although probably not in the way the protesters intended.
After 22 days, police finally moved in on Friday, Feb. 18, to clear the illegal protest from downtown Ottawa.
The action came as a relief to local residents who had their lives and businesses disrupted for going on four weeks. What the Freedom Convoy people called a lawful, peaceful protest, local residents called everything from an illegal occupation to torture.
The police action probably came as a relief to many of the protesters as well; the Freedom Convoy had shifted from being a political demonstration to something more disturbing.
As for attitudes in the rest of the country, much depends on personal views. In general, there seems to be a feeling the bouncy castles, pig roasts, 24-hour honking of horns, and most of all, that hot tub, had gone too far. The time had come for this thing to end. As former London police chief Murray Faulkner said, “The dance was over.”
The party ended with remarkably little drama – cursing, pushing and shoving, mostly. Throughout the police action, officers from across the country including a mounted police unit from Toronto, moved methodically, in a controlled and co-ordinated manner. Protesters were offered ample opportunities to leave; routes to do so were not blocked for pedestrians or vehicles. People were given the choice – leave, or be arrested.
The moderate elements and most of the people with children left the area early on. As the police operation progressed, others followed, driving their big rigs – their livelihood – away from the area. But some inevitably chose arrest.
They will have their day in court. This is Canada, after all. Arrested people in this country do not disappear, never to be seen again. They have a right to a legal defence, and a public trial – rights people in many countries around the world would – and do – risk everything to have.
Rights of protesters, both moderates and hard liners, were respected, and will continue to be respected. What has to be remembered is the protesters were not the only ones with rights.
Protests in Ottawa are not exactly a novelty. What made this one different was the disrespect shown for the rights of the citizens of Ottawa – horns honking all hours of the day and night, businesses closed, lives disrupted, not for a few hours but for weeks.
It is significant that no effort was made to stop protesters from speaking their minds. Extreme measures were taken, including invoking the Emergencies Act, when it became clear this was not a protest but an occupation of our national capital. And the occupation was taking place in conjunction with highly disruptive blockades at border crossings including one where weapons were found.
Freedom is not absolute, nor are rights. As has been said many times, freedom to swing your arms ends where someone else’s nose begins.
Canada has a government and social system that provide a great deal of personal choice in terms of education, occupation, where we reside, how we worship and in general, how we conduct our lives.
Should we choose to express our displeasure with a government, we are free to do so in a range of ways, from verbal or written comments to voting in an election. We are not free to plot to overthrow that government through illegal action.
Use of the Emergencies Act to break up this protest will continue to be debated for some time, and rightly so. It is a strong piece of legislation that could be abused.
That said, the tactics of the protesters also have tremendous potential for abuse. Bringing large vehicles into the heart of our national capital, and using them to disrupt and harass over the course of a month … it worked disturbingly well and could, with refinements, be used again with a much more devastating impact.
Our freedom as Canadians is precious and well worth protecting. Few would disagree that rule of law generally does a better job at that, than anarchy.