Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 10, 2022
A better response to illegal protest
Leave aside, for now, the ethical and moral questions around anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations and occupations taking place right now in places across the country.
That debate is far from over, but today we want to focus on the law and preparations for future occupations and demonstrations.
Whether you support or abhor the occupations and protests, you cannot logically deny that the organizers behind them have latched on to a winner. They figured out how to shut down the nation’s capital, to block at least two major border crossings and they’re not done yet. They are violating the rights, human, economic and social, of millions of Canadians, and they’re getting away with it.
A perfect example is that Wednesday afternoon several Ontario auto plants announced they were reducing production and sending workers home because the Ambassador Bridge blockade in Windsor is causing a parts shortage.
Police, to their credit, have managed to avoid violence for the most part, but following that public safety strategy means they have done next to nothing to ease the blockades and return Ottawa, for example, to its citizens.
Governments, municipal, provincial and federal, don’t just appear to be impotent when it comes to these events, they are. There are something more than 300 trucks and vehicles parked in Ottawa, and no government, no police agency, seems to have a clue of how to get them out. It’s not just Ottawa. The same trucker protesters have choked off a major border crossing at Coutts, Alta., stranding motorists and truckers trying to do their jobs.
It’s not as if police and governments weren’t warned. Truckers made no bones about their intentions as they crossed the country. Governments have been warned time and again about fundraising of the sort that is keeping the Ottawa occupation going. And yet, they were flat-footed in the face of illegal protests and occupation.
Clearly, the status quo is broken. Canadians expect more than hand-wringing and verbal condemnation when a major city is locked down and occupied, when two vital border crossings are shut down by a loud minority.
Organizers and their funders will celebrate this sort of strategy as a great success, just as similar groups around the world are doing. There will be other similar occupations and protests in other countries, and they’ll be modelled after these ones since they seem to be working so well. And Canada has not seen the end of this sort of activity.
So what do we do? First, we need a new approach. Now that we know what these people and their backers are capable of, we need a new and different way to respond. It needs to be co-ordinated between all levels of government, and critically, the matter of competing jurisdictions has to be dealt with.
It’s not good enough for a federal minister to simply say policing is a provincial jurisdiction, nor is it good enough for a municipal government to simply say it doesn’t have the resources to deal with insurgency. Instead, we need a collaborative approach that overrides jurisdictional issues in specific circumstances, for specific periods of time. We don’t need the War Measures Act, with all its invasive tentacles. But some all-government and law enforcement partnership that can move quickly and firmly to prevent illegal blockades from being established and turning into occupations, as has happened in Ottawa.
It won’t be easy, especially the novel concept of overriding provincial and federal jurisdictions, which are embedded to a point in the Constitution. But while those jurisdictional boundaries have a role to play in day-to-day Canadian life — preventing government overreach — they can be a hindrance and an excuse for inaction when emergency action is called for, as is the case now.
None of this can be pulled together in time to deal with the current protests and occupations. But there will be others, on these or other issues. This sort of activity is a symptom of growing societal polarization, imported (and funded to a point) from U.S. sources. We should definitely work toward less polarization, but that doesn’t mean we can afford impotent responses in the face of clearly illegal actions by these protesters or anyone else. We need to do better. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)