The protest involving Canadian truckers in Ottawa is far more pertinent to the UK than we might initially suspect. Having received a surprisingly low amount of press coverage from typically reliable sources such as the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera English and others, truckers are raging against the machine in a member state of the British Commonwealth without many Brits taking notice.
It would appear that this story is relatively minor and doesn’t matter. This perception is incorrect. What we are seeing in Canada is monumentally important for all of us, not just Canadians.
The trucker revolt also comes at a time when Brian Peckford, former Premier of Newfoundland, is taking legal action against the Canadian Federal Government over Covid restrictions, claiming that such restrictions violate the inalienable rights of Canadian citizens under the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document which Peckford helped to write (he is the only surviving author of the document). This is such a unique historical situation that it is almost incredible – could you imagine Thomas Jefferson suing the US Government after leaving office? – and few are paying attention.
Part of the reason these stories have received no coverage is that the media establishment would prefer to smother the flame rather than pour gasoline on it. Some have addressed the story and publicly disparaged the trucker protest as a manifestation of far-right activity designed to destabilise the Canadian government, but this is an effective ad hominem attack to shut down the protesters without giving their arguments a fair trial.
Dismissing this event as far right propaganda, fuelled by misinformation or perpetrated by bad actors, is a useful way to avoid engaging with the arguments that this event has provoked. Perhaps there are bad actors at the protests, but the vast majority are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who have important questions to ask their governments.
Are restrictions in Canada overly harsh? Are they fundamentally infringing upon Canadians’ rights to travel internally in Canada, associate with those they wish to and enter and exit the country as lawful citizens going about their work? Has the cost-benefit analysis of Covid mitigation measures shown that these restrictions were not just ineffective, but fundamentally immoral? Has the government overreached itself in trying to control citizens’ behaviour? Is it right for Canadians to lose their jobs if they refuse to get vaccinated, even though the scientific consensus is that vaccinated people can still spread the virus?
These are all incredibly pertinent questions and are perhaps the most important conversations we could be having right now. The world has gone through a unique and traumatic event, and we must be able to look back on what happened, assess our choices and their consequences, and do our best to avoid repeating mistakes we have made. This is true for all nations, not just Canada.
In the UK, we are similarly discussing whether lockdown measures were justified. We had government officials similarly telling us where we could and couldn’t go, who we could and couldn’t see, and what we could and couldn’t say in public forums.
The dangers of misinformation are real, but the dangers of a central authority designating what is and is not true are even more real. The British government repeatedly justified their decisions as “following the science” when even an amateur epidemiologist could tell that these decisions made little sense (remember that 10pm curfew?) and the American CDC repeatedly made authoritative statements on the virus and the vaccines only to go back on them once public pressure became too great. The Scottish government even demanded that Scots do not travel to England on New Year’s Eve, as if they had any right to tell their citizens which areas of their own country they could and could not go to! Is this not the exact same issue the truckers are casting light on? Should we not be doing more in the UK to hold our government accountable?
In democratic nations, we are not just privileged to question authority, but it is our civil and moral obligation to do so. If we fail to think for ourselves and hold authoritative figures and institutions to account, we are dishonouring the memory of those who fought totalitarianism and died to protect our freedoms.
If governments have been making it up as they go along, causing economic meltdowns, social mayhem and great personal loss to their citizens, we deserve to know. More importantly, we need to make sure that it never happens again. Canadian truckers, in their own way, are contributing to this moment in Western history by demonstrating that they are not afraid to question this authority, to publicly show that they do not accept the “consensus” and to demand greater transparency and accountability from those who were elected to serve them.
As we continue to have this public debate, we can only hope that protests remain peaceful, that governments begin to recognise that they have overstepped, and that the democratisation of public speech and information brings greater truths to light.