You never know when you’re going to get the lift you need.
On Thursday January 27, I drove the Franklin Blvd bridge over Highway 401 in Cambridge, Ontario. I was feeling a bit distracted because I was visiting Cambridge to deal with a family member’s health issues. I was 600 kilometres away from home, away from my computer and temporarily out of touch with the world.
To my amazement, the Franklin bridge over the 401 was lined along one side by a row of parked cars and crowds of people. What’s going on? Then I saw the Canada flags, and I knew. They were there for the truckers’ convoy.
I knew about the convoy, the “Convoy for Freedom 2022”, a country-wide truckers’ “march” to Ottawa to protest the recently-imposed vaccination mandate for cross-border truck drivers. Let me say this: I am fully vaccinated. I am also fully opposed to all the myriad vaccine mandates that have been imposed on people in certain jurisdictions in Canada and beyond. I recognize the harm the mandates are doing, and what seems their limited effectiveness in curbing the pandemic. Not to mention the ethical considerations of coercing people into making a choice they don’t feeling comfortable making. But that’s another article.
As I passed over the bridge, I slowed down. The convoy supporters were orderly and not blocking traffic, and most other drivers slowed down to look, to wave, and to honk their support. I felt so uplifted to see those people on the bridge, that I welled up with joyful tears.
A few minutes later, I heard a radio station in nearby Kitchener report that all the bridges over the 401, from at least London to Toronto, were similarly lined with supporters for the Convoy for Freedom. Not only that, but people were lining roads adjacent to Highway 401, holding signs and Canada flags, waiting to cheer the truckers on.
The truck convoy making its way east on Highway 401 was but one branch of the massive convoys streaming from all corners of Canada to converge on Ottawa. The commentators on that Kitchener radio station seemed totally caught off guard by the support the convoy was generating locally. The day before, they’d been dismissive of the rally and its intentions. By Friday, the rally was the sole focus of their programming. Support continued to swell across Ontario, as it had across the rest of the country.
The convoys began arriving in Ottawa on Friday and continued arriving well into Saturday. The Convoy for Freedom’s organizers had worked with Ottawa police to ensure the convoys entered the city in an orderly fashion. Parking for the convoy and its supporters was organized, and police helped to keep essential routes clear for emergency services.
On Sunday, I was heading back to my home in Eastern Ontario along Highway 401. By that time, some of the convoy and its supporters were starting to head home. While I drove hundreds of kilometres east on Highway 401, I watched as hundreds of vehicles festooned with Canada flags drove west. It was liked the longest Canada Day parade ever, and that was the first time I can ever recall enjoying a drive on Highway 401. I found it so uplifting to see people pulling together, at a time when unity is so desperately needed.
Despite all the vehicles I saw driving away from Ottawa, many more remained in Ottawa for the full weekend and beyond. I was pleased to hear on the radio that, over the whole weekend, only one arrest had been made related to the rally. The police termed the rally “peaceful” and the mayor of Ottawa agreed, although he did note there were a lot of parking violations.
When I got home I was able to monitor the rally online. The reports from some media outlets stood out in stark contrast from others. One radio station zeroed in on the few minor problems that had occurred during the rally, and pounded out reports over and over about a handful of incidents as though they were the dominant actions of rally participants.
For example, when someone hung a sign on one statue, a few media commentators used terms like “defaced”, “defiled”, and “desecrated” to describe the incident. Another radio commentator, acknowledging the intentionally inflammatory language used by some of his colleagues, said tongue-in-cheek, that “redecorated” would be a more accurate term. Even after the weekend ended, some media outlets persisted in dismissing the rally as involving only a “few hundred” trucks, despite abundant photos—not to mention traffic reports—showing otherwise.
Considering the thousands of people who went to the rally in Ottawa, and the thousands upon thousands more who supported them along the way, our current prime minister’s scorn-drenched comments about the Convoy for Freedom representing a “fringe” element seem, as one radio host commented, “tone deaf.”
Conservative MP Eric Duncan, of the Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry riding just southeast of Ottawa, had sharp words about the prime minister’s comments in a post on his Facebook page:
“The Prime Minister is making this issue worse and flaming tensions even more when he says all participants are racists and extremists. 10,000s of Canadians who rallied on roadsides and participated in the protest in Ottawa this past weekend are not racists or horrible people. The small number of individuals responsible for unacceptable behaviour have been universally condemned and called out- rightfully so. To have the Prime Minister lump everyone together is divisive and wrong- and does nothing to unite the country and get us back opened up again.”
And while Duncan accuses the prime minister, along with some media and others, of continuing to sow divisiveness, many Canadians took the opportunity of the Convoy for Freedom to sow unity.
Thousands of trucks travelling thousands of kilometres requires much organization and support. As the convoy streams got closer to Ottawa, the support needed grew in tandem with the size of the convoys.
At each overnight stop, volunteers showed up with meals for the convoy participants, and food for the next day’s travels. People offered rides, accommodations, and showers to the truckers and their supporters.
In an opinion piece posted by the Western Standard, Night in truck stop shows true value of being Canadian, Travis Smith had this to say about those volunteers:
“They exhibited a spirit of generosity, compassion, and optimism that has not been seen —or permitted — for a long time… It is refreshing to observe that the Canadian readiness to be, well, so Canadian to each other has not yet disappeared despite an unrelenting effort to extinguish it.”
For me, the Convoy for Freedom represented hope. To see the sheer size of the convoys, and the massive shows of support as it headed to, and arrived in, Ottawa, demonstrates to me that Canadian values are not dead yet.
It is not too late for us to recover the generosity, compassion, and optimism that Smith witnessed. It is not too late to recover our respect for our neighbours, our love for our relatives, and our dignity for ourselves.
I hope we don’t lose the momentum of the Convoy for Freedom. It’s time to end divisiveness, and instead embrace what unites us as Canadians.