Op Ed NOW Magazine Toronto. February 19, 2022. (longer version)

Since when is hot-tubbing with hate groups an acceptable practice in Canada? Like many, I am deeply troubled by these images and the underlying messages they convey. 

After visiting Ottawa and devouring press reports about the protests and the Emergencies Act over the last few weeks, I am concerned by the direction the coverage is taking.  For example, a Globe and Mail article February 16th by James Bradshaw (Banks grapple with new Emergencies Act powers to curb the flow of funds to support blockades) quotes a Canadian in New Zealand who contributed four thousand dollars to the protests who claims she “donated in good faith to a peaceful protest”. 

Excuse me, but this attitude is either disingenuous or naïve. There is nothing peaceful about powerful trailer transports sporting swastikas and Confederate flags. Reports of angry men traipsing about Ottawa intimidating residents is hardly peaceable behaviour.

In a similar vein, a security expert on a CBC special broadcast last weekend stated that the protests have been free of violence. Although he might possibly be excused since the seizure of firearms in Coutts Alberta had not yet surfaced, I beg to differ with his rather glib characterization of the protests as “peaceful”.

Peaceful people do not sport swastikas. The violence inherent in the symbols of hate displayed by the convoy and elsewhere is dangerous in and of itself. Confederate flags and Nazi symbols display an underlying hostility to anyone other than white men. They also convey antagonism toward order and good government, when these are precisely the democratic practices most Canadians cherish.

The danger, if coverage remains milquetoast on the question of hate, is that the narrative becomes one of quiet acceptance:  ordinary folk have a right to protest. Of course they do. But many Canadians, from myriad backgrounds, are genuinely appalled by the flaunting of hate symbols and the historical horrors they evoke.

In 1930’s Germany, one did not have be a member of the National Socialist Party to be a supporter of the atrocities committed by the regime. One just had to remain silent, to stand by and do nothing. Silence constituted consent. It still does.

I don’t pretend to know whether bank accounts of our Canadian friend in New Zealand should be frozen. What I do know is that her example suggests the dangerous territory upon which we are now treading.

As accelerationist right wing groups attempt to spark chaos in Canadian society — and police have linked them to the weapons seizure in Alberta — it could be argued they are succeeding.  Just look at the policing situation in Ottawa wherein the oversight board and municipal council are locked in conflict. Can we not learn from the past that this kind of destabilization creates fertile ground for a lack of belief in our institutions and possibly, the rise of fascism?

Relatedly, I’ve heard more than one media commentator quip lightheartedly that ‘a one or two hundred dollar donation is really nothing’. I disagree. Money spent in this way signals more than being ‘fed up’. It signals acceptance of discrimination against racialized people, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ2S? individuals, people with disabilities, First Nations and others. 

If Canada does not want to slip into that territory where we accept swastikas beamed from our television sets while we sit in our living rooms, we need to register our concern.

This is, perhaps, the only silver lining of these protests. The Alt-Right is well organized in this country as the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and others have demonstrated. The tendrils of their organizations have been partially exposed by the coverage of the media and academics they call upon to comment.

I submit it is now time for the rest of us to speak up and, moreover, to organize in civil society – in our communities, our unions, our schools, and our synagogues and churches — to counter the extreme ideas conveyed by these disturbing events.