For a long time, Canadians have largely been immune to the populist and right-wing ultranationalist movements that are deeply afflicting the world in places like the United States, Hungary, or Brazil. It seems unnatural in a liberal and tolerant society, such as ours, to finally have our eyes opened to the seething hatred ready to cleave our society in half. Yet Canadians saw that hatred, clearer than ever, in this week’s disgraceful ‘freedom convoy.’
Let’s be clear — the ‘freedom convoy’ is not about vaccines or truckers anymore. For many people, at the beginning of this movement, it was simply about protesting against what they viewed as government overreach — a valid and important contention to make — that many Canadians might even agree with.
Now, however, it is about hatred. Hatred of our prime minister, yes — but also of immigrants, of Black people, of Jewish people, and perhaps most prominently, of living in a society that follows through with its social contract of trading some individual liberty for common security. It invited the seething illiberal fringe waiting for a moment to hijack this convoy and transform it into a march of hate. This so-called ‘freedom’ convoy was the perfect scapegoat, the perfect indoctrination setup for the alt-right. That’s how we got here.
It has now allowed the subdued extreme right-wing faction in the Conservative Party to finally be themselves — to show support for Trumpism and to finally oust their largely centrist leader, Erin O’Toole, someone who I believe could have pushed Canadian conservatism in the right direction. This convoy invited all the Nazis in hiding, the Trump fanatics, the people blinded by delusions of populist nationalism, and the conspiracy theorists to congregate and even believe that, together, they could overthrow the democratically elected House of Commons. Indeed, the congregants of this so-called ‘freedom’ convoy showed the worst parts in Canadian society — racism, neo-nazism, antisemitism, homophobia, illiberalism, and chauvinism.
I don’t wish to attack well-meaning conservatives that genuinely believe that fiscally conservative governments who encourage personal liberty and free business are the best way forward for our country. It is a valid point of view that I personally very much sympathize with — I have even been accused of being a conservative myself.
After all, let’s not forget that while these protests are largely the fault of Canadian conservatives, in my experience, they are also partially the fault of the left. Younger left-leaning partisans’ increasing intolerance of opposite views, especially in the New Democratic Party, which is most notable perhaps for its overzealousness toward political correctness, have contributed equally — if not more — to the growing divide between left and right wing. I used to be a quite active Young New Democrat, but I left after it became clear that the dismissal of liberal standards was being allowed simply to appease the party’s growing contingent of unelectable radical idealists. Unfortunately, it seems that the Conservative Party of Canada is headed in much of the same direction.
The very strict restrictions on the liberty of unvaccinated people, paired with vaccine hesitancy and the increasingly socially progressive nation we’re building together, understandably scares some people. They feel like they’re distant from the rest of Canadians, or, as we’ve heard from protestors within the convoy, they may even feel like they’re being ‘discriminated against.’ That’s not only understandable; it should be expected.
Yet this convoy doesn’t show the heart of Canada — only its fringe. This convoy can be a wake-up call to Canadians, though not in the way its organizers intended. In 2011, David Cameron, the then-prime minister of the United Kingdom, was dealing with Europe’s own struggles with extremism. He said that what the fight against extremism needed was “a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.” I can’t help but agree. This muscular liberalism means acting against the organizational and monetary interests of both domestic and foreign extremism, and promoting equal rights and protecting freedoms on the basis of reasonable tolerance and respect for the ideals of democracy.
Let me be clear: to preserve our national fabric, there is no room for negotiation — we must ‘batten down the hatches.’ We have to recognize that, no, the extremists in the convoy are not representative of Canada. Just like how the January 6 attack in the US was committed by a small group of extreme right-wingers, this convoy also contains fringe conservatives who do not necessarily represent their party.
These extremists did not get their January 6 moment. If it were not for the heavy media coverage around it, many Canadians would not even have known it happened, and I suspect that this convoy would have been much smaller and much more moderate. But what they did do, from what I can see, is finish the transformation of many of Canada’s conservative movements from their principled liberal-conservative origins into something akin to right-wing movements in the United States.
It would be easy to condemn the more extreme protestors and their sympathizers, but that method is not the most effective. We must stamp out these currents of hatred and radicalism, not just among the fringe congregated in Ottawa but everywhere. Canadians can only hope to achieve this gradually by truly educating the public and coming to a collective political consensus that radicalism does not belong in Canada.
It is clear that now is the time to revive Canada’s tradition of liberalism. This liberalism should involve strengthening our nation against threats, like those in Ottawa this week, by pursuing muscular liberalism, a national standard of political and social life that encourages true Canadian values: tolerance, progress, and respect of the law and of democracy, among others.
Only liberalism can lead Canadians forward.
Liberalism must win.
Logan Liut is a first-year social sciences student at University College.