Appalled by far-right symbols at the Ottawa protest? The hate was in plain sight all along


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I’ve tried very hard to ignore the protest, or occupation, that has laid siege on Ottawa. It was clear, as trucks big and small rolled into our capital city last weekend, that this was going to get ugly in a familiar and oft-repeated way. It seemed not worthwhile to lean into the theatrics of what was going to unfold.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/02/2022 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I’ve tried very hard to ignore the protest, or occupation, that has laid siege on Ottawa. It was clear, as trucks big and small rolled into our capital city last weekend, that this was going to get ugly in a familiar and oft-repeated way. It seemed not worthwhile to lean into the theatrics of what was going to unfold.

So many of us are tired of shouting into the wind. Of seeing our warnings dismissed as hysterics. We’ve seen what the yellow vest protests of 2018 and “United We Roll” rally of 2019, both carried out in the name of job protections, have actually meant. We knew what the “Truckers Convoy” carried out in the name of “freedom” was going to end up being. We also knew the same old Supposedly Serious People would jump in to buffer our warnings with the same old “few bad apples” analogies. It is all supremely tiresome.

But within days, we’ve reached a point where displaying swastikas, Confederate flags, the flag of the hate group Three Percenters, and transphobic posters have all become situated in a discourse of “which protest doesn’t have bad elements?” The brazen appearance of these symbols doesn’t shock us anymore. Their toxic presence among us now stands normalized, legitimized even, by various members of Conservative Party of Canada.

PATRICK DOYLE - THE CANADIAN PRESS Trucks are blocked by police barricades as the rally against COVID-19 restrictions continued in Ottawa this week.

That cannot be ignored.

The display of hate paraphernalia is not the starting point of hate. It’s merely an outcome, the public manifestation of a profound lack of compassion, an entitlement and superiority that leads to a casual dehumanization of our fellow humans. It’s stopping point on a journey toward annihilation of the other, a public declaration if you will of an instinct for violence.

Of course, not every single person at the rally is a Nazi sympathizer or a supporter of slavery. Of course, there are people with legitimate grievances.

Who among us is not sick and tired of the pandemic? Who among us does not entertain doubts about the long-term impact of COVID, or wonders from time to time about the side effects of vaccinations? And still, the vast majority of us put our trust in peer-reviewed science and took the shots. Some of us come from lands where we see what lack of vaccines can do and we’re grateful. Many communities overcame justified historical distrust of colonial medical violence and took the jabs for the greater good. Who among us has not made sacrifices these past two years? Who among us has not helplessly borne witness to the suffering of our loved ones? Who among us has not suffered loss?

If this convoy was purely about the hardships created by pandemic — and there is a lot to fault governments on this — it would be focused on demands for better care.

Instead, the participants have corrupted the meaning of “freedom” to create a safe space for hate. The freedom to run a carnival of raucous, grinning hate. “I need to know what a white supremacist looks like?” a woman on a microphone asked a crowd on the weekend, “This, right here,” shouted a voice in the distance. “Are you a white supremacist, sir?” she asked a man. He leaned into the mic. “Yes, I am a white supremacist,” he said. “There we go,” she said and people cheered and laughed.

Not walked away. Not bolted after seeing their presumably innocent protest against government mandates hijacked by hate. Laughed. At the very least, overt white supremacy was not a deal breaker for them.

Ottawa police, crushingly ineffectual as all law enforcement are when protesters are neither Black nor Indigenous nor poor nor homeless, set up a special hate crimes hotline to investigate the complaints flooding in.

That is what this protest is bringing together under one tent.

I don’t pay much mind to the pundits who nudge-nudge-wink-wink at the hate symbols. Just note them and move on. They have shown their hand.

But there are those among us who claim to be appalled by the appearance of these symbols that I question. The ones who go along with the nudging winkers and only stop when we cannot pretend to not see anymore.

Are we so childish that we need juvenile symbols to spell out what exists in front of our very eyes?

Apparently, yes.

If the very same protesters had shown up, saying the very same things, just without the symbols, so many of us would have simply denied the existence of hate. We know this because when the convoy began, and well before that, when anti-vaxx protests were popping up around the country, there was little public discussion of its links to white supremacist ideology.

When symbols of white power showed up at rallies right from the early days of the pandemic, they were seen as fringe elements. Sparse attention was paid to how people who may have been understandably suspicious of new vaccines were being sucked into far-right conspiracies that suggested lockdowns are part of a plan to impose a global totalitarian regime.

We have a penchant for living in deep denial, confronting the ugliness of hate only when forced to and even then quickly distancing ourselves from it by professing surprise at its existence.

It’s not as if white supremacists are convincing good Canadians to suddenly turn bad. They are simply exploiting well-established prejudices and resentments. Bigotry surrounds us but we veil it in shrouds of politeness when our friends exhibit it or in outright denials when asked to tackle it. We neither confront nor care.

So unless those shouting their revulsion for this latest exhibition of overt hate are committing to changing themselves profoundly, may I suggest, kindly shut it with the sanctimoniousness.

Shree Paradkar is a Toronto-based columnist covering issues around race and gender for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @ShreeParadkar

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