In the end, we are to blame for emboldened protesters

By silently condoning COVID-19 protests the entire pandemic, Canadians have allowed anti-vaxxers to steadily turn to extremism.

For a long time, anti-vaccine beliefs were something we only heard during the holidays. When our weird family members would ramble on about COVID-19 conspiracy theories, we would pretend it didn’t happen. If anything, we’d laugh about it when they went home.

As the pandemic surges, and none of the mandates lifting, anti-vaxxers are getting brazen with their views. In response, Canadians turned a blind eye. We ignored them, maybe even giggled at their self-righteousness. Above all else, we treated them and their opinions like it was a gag. Even worse, many of our politicians and police officers encouraged and agreed with anti-vaxxers. Now, as thousands of people join a cause we deemed irrational, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore. The only people Canadians have to blame for the onslaught of COVID-19 protests, and a rise in cases, is ourselves. 

COVID-19 is a serious and sometimes fatal disease that has taken the lives of over five million people. Yet, as anti-vaccine rhetoric morphed into a selfish train-wreck that actively harms thousands of people, no one stood up against them. 

Anti-vaxxers go out of their way to dispute mandates put in place to protect us. No matter how we react now, COVID-19 protesters will continue to argue with reason and fight regulations. Canadians stood by, and now we reap the consequences. Instead of standing up against this insanity, many Canadians have become resigned. In fact, some people are showing support for these movements, even though they’ve devolved into extremism. 

Average Canadians are not the only ones at fault for the handling and reactions to COVID-19 deniers and anti-vaxxers. Throughout the pandemic, politicians, police officers, and government officials have significantly downplayed the risk these protesters cause. In fact, many support, encourage, and even participate in these protests. 

While anti-pandemic sentiments rise, Jason Kenney boasts that Alberta says no to mask and vaccine mandates. He mocks reactions and efforts from other provinces, calling Quebec “un-Canadian” for suggesting a tax for the unvaccinated. Former Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole agreed to meet with truckers taking part in the Freedom Convoy protest, despite outcry from fellow parliament members Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh. What choice does he have, when members of his own party are also protesting with the convoy? Michael Cooper, the MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, had an interview with an upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it behind him. Although Cooper condemned the flag afterwards, the fact that elected officials continue to associate with the Freedom Covey demonstrates a larger problem.

Everyone has the right to protest but the way the anti-vaxxers are acting is reproachable and should be treated as such. As the Freedom Convoy continues protesting in downtown Ottawa, their behaviour continues to escalate. Many members of the convoy are brandishing confederate flags, waving flags with swastikas on them, and even dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

While some politicians are criticizing unruly protesters, many police officers are failing to reprimand them. Even Jason Kenney, who regularly speaks out against vaccine mandates and admitted his government has been “very reluctant” to bring in public health restrictions, called many of the protesters’ actions in Ottawa “outrageous.” 

As tension rises in Coutts, Alberta due to the blockade, a video circulated of police officers very kindly and calmly talking to protesters. Even though much of the country refers to blockade protesters as terrorists, officers in the video insist they want to allow the protests to continue, as long as the highway is open. As RCMP went to the blockade to break it up, there were reports of violence towards officers and civilians alike. 

While protests bordering on domestic terrorism are allowed, Indigenous people protesting land sovereignty were met with extreme police reinforcement. After the Wet’suwet’en protests in 2020, the UCP implemented the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which stopped protesters from blocking important infrastructure. How come these protesters, who have blocked the border for multiple days, aren’t facing the same repercussions as Indigenous protesters? 

How are Canadians supposed to fight back when our politicians won’t? Instead of standing up for Canadians, our politicians are giving in. The UCP are planning to announce their plan to life health restrictions in the province this week.

This isn’t the Canada I know, and quite frankly, it’s embarrassing to be on the international stage like this. Although it isn’t shocking that anti-vaccine protests have turned extreme, Canadians need to stand up for themselves.

If we want the pandemic to end, we need to follow guidelines and advice from experts. Everyone needs to get boosters, mask up, and socially distance. Even then, getting yearly vaccine boosters is imperative to overcoming COVID-19. Siding with protesters, allowing them to deface public property and spout racist nonsense is the last thing we need if we ever want to return to normal.

Katie Teeling

Katie Teeling is the 2023-24 Editor-in-Chief at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2022-23 Opinion Editor. She’s in her fifth year, studying anthropology and history. She is obsessed with all things horror, Adam Driver, and Lord of the Rings. When she isn’t crying in Tory about human evolution, Katie can be found drinking iced capps and reading romance novels.

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