By Chelsea Kemp, Brandon Sun, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sixty-six per cent of Canadians fear for the future of the country after witnessing political unrest for the past three weeks, according to recent polls released by Maru Public Opinion.
Additionally, 82 per cent of Canadians say there is no way the protesting in Ottawa should have been able to last as long as it has.
The numbers released by Maru “speak for themselves,” said Brandon University political scientist Kelly Saunders, in showing the protesters represent a minority in the country.
The Emergencies Act was not an overreaction given the growing unrest in the country, she said, explaining it gives the government the power to take immediate action against the protesters that have been holding Ottawa and international borders hostage. She described the act as the only possible step that can provide the tools needed to increase police forces in downtown Ottawa, keep borders open and fundamentally seize the bank accounts and cut off the financial resources being pumped into the anti-government groups.
“We see immediate action now in Ottawa where they are stopping the protests and trying to bring an end to it,” Saunders said.
“It’s illogical because in some cases, these protests are getting bigger just as provinces are starting to walk back from all of the restrictions.”
The Maru Public Opinion surveys “The Emergencies Act” and “Shaken to the Core” each included 1,518 participants from across the country.
The polls found a majority of people, 62 per cent, have lost faith in the ability of the country to keep peace and order, while 52 per cent believe the country is broken beyond repair.
“There’s no common ground for civil discourse in any of this,” Saunders said.
The surveys showed 67 per cent of participants believed it was time to clear out the Ottawa protesters, even if it meant the people who will not leave may get hurt or worse.
The country has been following due process, democratic traditions and democratic structures, Saunders said, but these essential processes are being called into question and threatened by the convoys — some segments have even said they want to overthrow the government.
Police moved in on protesters in downtown Ottawa over the weekend, making more than 200 arrests.
“We’re starting to see it [law enforcement] now in Ottawa, but we’ve not seen it in a lot of ways in these various scenarios, and I think that a lot of Canadians are frustrated with their political leaders, police chiefs and all levels of government …. There’s an overall dissatisfaction with that.”
The hesitation from public and political leaders to act has been astounding, and this sentiment is being reflected by a majority Canadians, she noted.
The Maru survey found 53 per cent of the participants had lost faith in the enforcement of law in the country, and 69 per cent believe the consequences protesters will receive are proportionately far less than any other law-abiding Canadian would get if they were involved with an infraction with the law.
“The fact that police forces had ample time to come with a plan on how they were going to respond to this and then not doing anything for weeks is, I think, the big question a lot of Canadians are asking,” Saunders said.
While it is healthy for citizens to think critically and hold politicians to account when they are discontent, Saunders said, what makes the “freedom” protests different is the anti-intellectual push and the minority of participants talking about overthrowing a democratically elected government to install themselves in positions of authority.
There are visible parallels with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Capitol Hill in the United States.
“We’re actually seeing the framework of our own democracy being challenged in a way I haven’t seen before in such an overt way.”
The future of Canada will depend on how the country navigates the aftermath of the ongoing protests. The events have been a “wake-up call” that these underlying elements have been present and politicians who have traditionally been risk-averse will need to say what views are right and wrong in society.
“This has been building for some time, and so I’m hoping this is a wake-up call to everybody that we need to shut down racism when it appears. There are no good views on both sides — racism is wrong, period,” Saunders said. “They should listen to the politicians and the political leaders that are taking a stand on this and go home and stop holding Canadians hostage with their antics … I see it as not as a protest at this point, but now an occupation.”
A so-called freedom convoy rolled through Brandon Saturday morning. The Sun attended the convoy’s stop at the COVID-19 testing site at the Manitoba Emergency Services College parking lot. The protesters declined all requests for interviews.
The Sun posted on Facebook Saturday asking for comments from community members about the protesters in Ottawa and received more than 200 comments.
Some commenters said the invocation of the Emergencies Act was a step too far when it came to dealing with the protests. Others said the government has taken away Canadians’ rights to peaceful assembly by invoking the act.
“I stand with the convoy. Time for mandates to be over,” one person said.
“They are protesting peacefully and their right to do that should be upheld regardless of what their cause is,” another person commented.
Meanwhile, some respondents questioned why action was not taken sooner.
“Had Ottawa Police not let them get entrenched at the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are now. It’s long past time for the protesters to vacate; when streets are blocked, businesses are closed and residents are tormented, a protest can no longer be considered peaceful.”
A former Brandonite living in Ottawa for the past 13 years said several protests occur each week in the capital; however, the convoy marks the first time the protesters remained on-site following the initial rally.
“This was not a protest, but an occupation — an important distinction. They came in, fortified themselves with vehicles, and set up camps. While there were certainly a few people involved who meant well, a substantial number were here to take advantage of the relative lawlessness, at the expense of downtown residents and businesses these past few weeks. These weren’t protestors, just criminals in the end.”
Top image credit: Freedom Convoy 2022, Ottawa, Canada by Maksim Sokolov (Maxergon) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA, 4.0 License)
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