Protesters’ ‘freedom’ excludes the press

Protesters at blockades in Ottawa, Winnipeg and at border crossings across Canada shouted “Freedom!” between blasts of their trucks’ horns.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Protesters at blockades in Ottawa, Winnipeg and at border crossings across Canada shouted “Freedom!” between blasts of their trucks’ horns.

The demonstrators, whose opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates quickly got lost in a cacophonous tangle of far right-wing and anarchist demands, shouted other words, too.

And many of them were obscenities and threats directed at members of the media reporting on the blockades. The worst of the rabble resorted to intimidation tactics and other disgraceful acts, such as spitting on reporters and camera personnel.

In so doing, the self-proclaimed guardians of Canadian democracy and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms revealed freedom of the press is one Charter guarantee they could wilfully and enthusiastically disregard.

The protesters’ expectorations amounted to violent eruptions of a long-dormant volcano. Not unlike data collected by scientists at geological hotspots, reporters who have experienced hostility and intimidation while doing their jobs have been warning that tremors of misinformed discontent might eventually explode in a fiery rage that would leave fissures and scars on Canada’s politics and public discourse.

Some of the recent early warnings emanated from the United States and former president Donald Trump, who during his campaigns of 2016 and 2020 would point out journalists at his rallies, accuse them of spreading “fake news” and declare them “enemies of the people,” much to the approval of his rapt and agitated audience.

Given the ubiquitousness of American influence on Canadian culture, there was little doubt Mr. Trump’s toxic populism, like so many U.S. trends, would find its way north of the border. So it was no surprise his condemnatory rhetoric found an ideological foothold among extremists who in turn directed their version of anti-media venom at Canadian targets.

Some began following and antagonizing politicians on the streets of Ottawa, such as a 2020 incident, which was posted on social media, in which NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was pursued by an individual who threatened to make a “citizen’s arrest” and tried to goad Mr. Singh into a fight.

The vitriol continued during the 2021 federal election campaign, when right-wing protesters shouted down their favourite target, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and threw rocks at his campaign bus.

Extremists of this ilk have also targeted media members behind the scenes, sending threatening emails and letters to journalists they disagree with — many of whom are women and people of colour — hurling abuse and menace with all the courage an anonymous message can muster.

The pent-up rage completely boiled over during the “Freedom Convoy” protests of vaccine mandates, whose misguided mob mentality was marked by displays of the Confederate flag, an antiquated American white-supremacy symbol that is completely irrelevant to current Canadian policy debate. Nazi swastikas were also among the emblems favoured by some who espoused freedom as their cause.

When journalists arrived on scene to report on the protests, and on some protesters’ unlawful behaviour, many in the crowds grew confrontational. The offensive behaviours that followed, which were widely viewed on television and online, laid to rest any wistful notions that Canada remains an oasis of calm, order and civility in an increasingly hostile world.

Canadians have fought for freedom around the globe, and this nation’s journalists have dutifully reported on such conflicts, often putting themselves in the line of fire. Some, such as Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang in Afghanistan in 2009, have even sacrified their lives.

So it’s particularly disturbing when Canadians seeking “freedom” at home — no matter how dubious their demands might be — seek to interrupt and antagonize media reporting on events in a free country with tactics lifted straight from the authoritarian playbook.

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