Define “freedom”

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a month from hell for many Canadians — watching truckers clog the Ambassador Bridge and destroy normal life in the national capital for thousands more living in the city center. Not to mention an arson attempt — including locking shut the building’s front doors — on an Ottawa apartment building.

For those readers here who are not Canadian, this thuggish bullying behavior (still felt by First Nations and Inuit) has come as a tremendous shock to the system, in a country where we are socialized heavily to be polite, civil, calm. To discuss issues, not block millions of dollars of global trade because you feel like it.

It has really struck at the heart of what Canadians, at best, like to think of themselves — and I was born there and lived there ages five to 30. We are generally well-educated, thanks to much more affordable university than the U.S., and with a stronger system of public education. We are proud of being less aggressive and violent, not shooting one another daily, our children not subjected to “active shooter drills” in school.

So persistent aggression is simply…not what we’re used to.

The pandemic and Trump and the GOP and reams of disinformation and misinformation and about zero media literacy have added up to a new and toxic form of “freedom” — spitting and coughing viral load onto others for amusement; punching flight attendants in the face for daring to insist every passenger wear a mask; screaming abuse at retail clerks for asking shoppers to wear a mask. (Data point — the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team at Beijing 2022 beat the Russians wearing masks.)

Freedom has become weaponized into others’ fantasy we owe them deference, obedience, admiration, when all they’re doing is having the sort of public tantrum any weary parent hopes will fade after toddlerhood.

I am also really fed up watching fellow journalists — often trying to do a TV stand-up out in public — being shoved, shouted at and insulted for doing their job.

It’s incredibly selfish for anyone refusing vaccination to suck up ICU and ER and OR skills when others are getting sicker and sicker or dying for lack of access to the care they need.

People who were mature enough to care for themselves and their neighbors.

21 thoughts on “Define “freedom”

  1. Steve Threndyle

    Listened to The Daily earlier this week and Katharine Porter, the Times Canadian Affairs reporter, painted a VERY different picture of what was happening in Ottawa than Canada’s MSM has done.

  2. I prefer Janis Joplin’s “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose…”

    My impression from reading news reports is a lot of these people aren’t even truckers, and I’m not getting the impression that these people are at all representative of Canada, but rather an extreme aberration. How many people are involved in this? If 1000 Canadians are involved in this, that’s 1 in 38,000 Canadians, a minuscule percentage of the population.

    “Freedom” is NOT the right to do things that interfere with other peoples’ freedom to lead a decent, safe, and healthy life, for example by ignoring the need to get vaxxed or to mask up for the sake of public health during a pandemic. But the US right wing has gone bonkers.

      1. David Holzman

        It has indeed been sobering. But I don’t think it’s a genuine reflection on Canada. Another thing to think about along those lines is that most of the go fund me type money is coming from the US, not Canada.

        All the sh!t that’s happened in the US IS sobering. As an American Jew, from time to time I’ve wondered whether a phenomenon like Nazi Germany could happen here. Since the trump era, I’m inclined to think that it could. But not in Canada.

  3. I have a friend, a fellow Canadian, who has been drawn in by conspiracy theories. Her conversion began long before this happened. She kept dropping hints about stocking up on necessities, and that something was being brought to Ottawa to dispel all the myths about COVID. While she could never really explain anything in a way I could understand – her dots never connected – I now recognize the cult-like indoctrination playing out.

  4. I hear you. They talk about “freedom,” but really they hate that anyone tells them what to do. They talk of patriotism, but it feels more like nationalism and fascism. I’m really scared for what this country is becoming, especially as more states try to restrict the vote and decide what counts as “history.”

  5. Scott Bowen

    What’s the social/cultural dynamic underlying the protest, Caitlin? The protesters, based on what I’ve watched and read, are largely labor/working-class and small-business people who dislike the ideas of the urban elites who voted for Trudeau. With vehicle convoys coming from provinces east and west of Ottawa, was there something long festering in the minds of the protesters and the vaccination requirement for truckers was just a final trigger for taking this action?

    1. Honestly, no real idea…I know Canadians had more restrictions and are sick of those….although it’s helped reduce death rates.

      I think this was just an excuse for something bigger and quite frightening.

  6. The same thing is happening now in New Zealand – the whole Parliamentary precinct and surrounding government area has been occupied by protestors for the past fortnight, a confused and multi-faceted group with no single leader or agenda, but where they demand ‘freedom’. Your take on what that currently means is, I think, on the money. I blogged about the NZ issue yesterday – essentially, from the broader historical perspective, I keep thinking the Covid constraints and the immediate issues raised by these protestors in Canada, NZ and Australia (so far) merely proxy deeper matters flowing from a couple of generations of socio-economic systems that have dispossessed whole swathes of people across the developed world. Mix that with the exalted individualism and a society conditioned to easy gratification of its wants – now for two generations – and stir in the toxic effects of social media ‘validation bubbles’, and all I can see is trouble.

    It is, as you point out, uncharacteristic of the nations involved. And yet a poll here indicated that up to a third of New Zealanders supported the local protest – something suggesting far deeper issues are entwined with the whole.

    1. Hearing this about goings on in New Zealand is weird and troubling to me. (I live in Massachusetts.) How can a third of the people in the country led by Jacinda Ardern, which is far from most of the rest of the world, have this sort of nonsense going on? And if in New Zealand and Canada, is this going to spread to Scandinavia too? And does this say something more about the times, or more about people generally, or what?

      1. Ardern has a tremendous repute internationally but she’s been flat useless in NZ – all fairy dust and sparkle but no vision, and a government that fluffs around the edges of things. To me that explains a lot about the local protest. NZ topped The Economist’s 2020 list of civil liberties – 9.71 out of 10; and there is, I think, a much deeper issue afoot, associated with current socio-political frameworks and inequities in which the Covid issue merely acts as a trigger for deeper-set anger – I blogged in more detail here: – in which, you’ll note, I criticise one of the NZ government’s top ministers. Not something I have any concern about: he or his office can always get in touch and I’ll happily have a civil and constructive discussion. (See what I mean about NZ’s freedoms?).

      2. It’s always interesting to see what foreigners think a country is about…rather than what it is. There’s a LOT of anger about the NYT coverage of Canada’s convoy right now.

  7. It is scary the disrespect given to journalists. Our youngest is a journalist. He received his first death threat at 21. I know we just lost a journalist in Ukraine but to risk death for printing the results of your months or years of research is scary.

  8. I am so sorry! Social media has enabled true toxicity in ways journalists of my generation were simply not exposed to! You wrote a letter to the editor or you called the newsroom (I had both.) That was it!

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