While politicians, economists and journalists continue to gauge the fallout from the so-called Freedom Convoy that laid siege to Ottawa for three weeks I think about one victim of the occupation that might take some time to recover.

Our flag.

Ironically, while the Maple Leaf was draping the giant rigs parked outside Parliament and various border crossings and being worn as a cape by the protestors in the streets, our Olympians in Beijing were raising it a near record number of times.

Like many of us I suppose I’m a little confused by what it stands for right now. Yes, it still means Canada, our home and native land, but what is Canada now? And what exactly is “true patriot love” supposed to mean now that the patriots who invaded our nation’s capital have adopted the flag as an emblem of their own? It’s a symbol of freedom, they declared, while holding hostage the residents and businesses of Ottawa for 23 days.

Lester B. Pearson also saw our flag as a symbol of freedom when he raised it for the first time on Parliament Hill in 1965. “May the land over which this new flag flies remain united in freedom and justice…sensitive, tolerant and compassionate towards all,” he said.

Most likely he was thinking of a different kind of freedom than the anarchic version we observed last month in Ottawa.

The red maple leaf framed by red borders on a white background wasn’t everyone’s choice back then. I remember one commentator remarking that it looked like a nosebleed. Some wanted three maple leaves and blue borders, others a single leaf with one red border featuring the Union Jack, and on the opposite side three golden fleurs-de-lys on a blue background. But the nosebleed won out and was showcased to the world at Expo ’67 two years later.

It was stitched onto the backpacks of Canadians traveling in Europe largely because they didn’t want to be mistaken for Americans during the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the race riots. I remember seeing footage of protestors on U.S. campuses burning the Stars and Stripes, while our Maple Leaf somehow managed to remain aloof from politics.

It came close in 1995, when demonstrators carried a flag the size of a football field through the streets of Montreal, expressing their affinity with Quebeckers, and their wish that Canada remain united.

When the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in the early ‘90s the flags were flying high because, well, we had beaten the Americans at their own game, eh? So what if the players were American or Dominican or whatever. And how dare they raise our flag upside down in Atlanta. The nerve.

There were a lot of upside-down flags in Ottawa last month, along with signs that used the maple leaf in an expletive directed at the Prime Minister. Symbolism run amuck.

Some suggest that our flag first became politicized when Mr. Trudeau decreed that it be flown at half-mast on Parliament Hill until Indigenous leaders agreed to have it raised again. That motion collided head on with Remembrance Day, when the flag had to be raised to be lowered, before being raised again and then left that way. All very confusing.

Now that the world has seen the Maple Leaf brandished by organizers intent on lawlessness and truckers led by a self-declared white supremacist, how do we get it back? And who exactly are “we”? Many believe Canadians are divided as never before, while others maintain such divisions only exist on social media. Mr. Trudeau, giving himself yet another pat on the shoulder, recently reminded us that throughout the pandemic Canadians had each other’s backs, that front-line medical workers, truckers and everyday shift workers in business and retail kept the rest of us going while 80 percent of us got vaccinated. He said this is who Canada is, and not the “fringe group of racists and misogynists” that occupied Ottawa.

Now that the world has seen the Maple Leaf brandished by organizers intent on lawlessness and truckers led by a self-declared white supremacist, how do we get it back?

Well, according to CTV’s Joyce Napier, that so-called fringe group were the winners this time around. They confounded all levels of government for three weeks, while closing borders in Windsor, Coutts, Emerson, and Surrey, at inestimable cost to our economy. They wanted the world to take notice, and the world surely did.

They also captured the flag in the name of something that didn’t look anything like freedom or justice.

And they forced the first ever invocation of the Emergencies Act to restrain and remove them. After they left, the Act was debated and passed because the crisis remained; two days later the Act was rescinded because the crisis had suddenly evaporated.

As Bob Dylan sang half a century ago, “There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” Was the protest really all about vaccine mandates? These are a provincial matter, so why did they go after the Prime Minister in his own backyard? And when the mandates are removed, come spring, will this “fringe group” melt away with the snow? And why does the rhetoric of its Canada Unity leaders parrot Trump supporters who allegedly donated millions to its funding. And what of the stated aim of the organizers to topple the government and replace it with a coalition of themselves and select Conservatives? Did the truckers even know this when they set off for Ottawa and the border crossings? Let’s remember they were law-abiding working people with families before all this happened. So why did it happen, and will it again?

Some say that with Covid, climate change measures that impact on our fossil-fuel based economy, inflation, redundancies, and the remote chance of owning a house, the future looks grim for a large group of Canadians who feel frustrated, helpless and unrepresented. As many of them said, they feel they have nothing to lose. For them to inconvenience the privileged residents of a “public service city” was no big deal, suggested Conservative Senator Denise Batters. Do we have class divisions right here in Canada? Yes we do. But for the ruling elite to characterize the truckers and their supporters countrywide as racists and misogynists while applying the Sledgehammer Act won’t mend them.

In the meantime, I look forward to the return of our Olympians, who all played for Canada and proudly carried our flag in Beijing. Maybe their stories will remind us of what we were and encourage us to be that again. And I look forward to a Canada Day when the citizens of our nation can assemble peacefully in Ottawa to salute our flag in a spirit of healing, without the dark cloud of guilt, remorse and division.

At least until next time.

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this balanced and nuanced assessment. For myself, I know that I will never look at the Canadian flag the same way again. It has been tainted by extremists whose ignorance is matched only by their gullibility. This is a mob that can be conned into believing anything. Literally anything.

    Now they have descended on Fonthill. Last Friday around noon there were big, loud pickup trucks roaring along Highway 20, their absurdly giant Canadian flags snapping in the wind. It turned out they were headed to a public park close to the residence of Niagara’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Hirji, a man who has done nothing but his best to protect public health for the last two years.

    Real babies are being killed by a madman bombing Ukraine and these crybabies are still screaming about…about what? What is left to protest? The mandates are being lifted. Soon (too soon) the mask mandate is probably going to be gone as Ford looks to placate his base ahead of the election. So what’s left?

    It’s becoming clear that these rebels without a cause are deeply ignorant about more than just Covid. Their references to “First Amendment rights” would be funny if they weren’t so indicative of how US right wing media has brainwashed them. Then they complain about being mocked and talked down to when called out for their QAnon craziness.

    Well, folks, when you strut around braying like donkeys, expect to be called donkeys. The rest of us have had enough. We’ve had enough of being held hostage by angry small men with backwoods beards in big trucks, whining about how their “freedoms” have been taken away.

    (Those loud mufflers are evidence enough that these man-children are antisocial at their core.)

    We’ve had enough of people (some of whom are clearly mentally ill) harassing our elected officials and calling for the overthrow of Canadian democracy. We’ve had enough of anarchists who don’t care if they burn everything down because their lives suck.

    Please, you want to fight for freedom so bad, go get on a plane and fly to Ukraine. Vent your tantrums at a real enemy, not your fellow Canadians.

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