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Letter From a Young Canadian: Authoritarianism, Media Propaganda and Repression
Rav Arora, a 20-year-old writer from Canada, offers his perspective on his government's ongoing despotic response to the convoy protest.
NOTE FROM GLENN GREENWALD: As is true with all of the Outside Voices freelance articles that we publish here, we edit and fact-check the content to ensure factual accuracy, but our publication of an article or op-ed does not necessarily mean we agree with all or even any of the views expressed by the writer, who is guaranteed editorial freedom here. The objective of our Outside Voices page is not only to provide fresh, independent analysis and reporting, but also to provide a platform for young talent and writers outside the gates of corporate journalism to receive exposure for their work and have a venue to develop their independent voice and journalistic skills.
By Rav Arora
Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, much has been made of the threat of government tyranny from the right. In the US, Democratic politicians warned incessantly of the creeping rise of 'fascism' during the Trump administration. Mainstream media outlets, both in Canada and the US, echoed and embellished these fears. And yet cloaked under the liberal left's rhetoric of diversity, compassion, and respect for the institution of journalism lurks the equally if not more dangerous threat of authoritarianism.
In Canada last week, Trudeau set a historic precedent by declaring a National Emergency on dubious grounds. This act has existed for 34 years without once being invoked, and now the Trudeau government is wielding it as a cudgel against one of the most organized displays of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Three weeks prior, the Freedom Convoy rolled out of Vancouver. Media smears proclaimed that they were a Covid convoy spreading a plague across the land, or that they were a band of alt-right white supremacists. Justin Trudeau called them a “small fringe minority” who held “unacceptable views” that “do not represent the views of Canadians." These remarks seemed to galvanize supporters of the Freedom Convoy. Large demonstrations popped up across Canada, and on January 28th the convoy arrived in Ottawa. Protesters clogged the streets of Canada’s capital, rallying against nationwide vaccine mandates and other Covid restrictions.
On the ground, the reality of the movement starkly clashed with the melodrama of the government's declaration of a National Emergency: kids jumping in bouncy castles, crowds merrily singing and dancing (a relief in the bitter cold), protesters hugging police officers, and youth playing street hockey. In one video, a group of Sikh Canadians can be seen preparing traditional Indian meals to feed the truckers (an act of charity known as "seva" in the Sikh tradition), all in the name of national unity and freedom.
In fact, Trudeau’s opponents bear more resemblance to Gandhi’s satyagraha movement than any terrorist faction. The truckers and their supporters were brimming with national pride, and they appeared to be committed to peaceful protest, non-compliance, and civil disobedience.
Only Trudeau and his media allies' warped, Machiavellian perception could caricature this diverse coalition as a group of “swastika wavers." When the media was able to find a handful of protestors donning a Swastika, or spot a couple confederate flags in the convoy, the predictable histrionics ensued, as Liberal and NDP politicians attempted to defame the intentions of the vast majority of those present.
In a particularly striking example of the disconnect between the dominant media narrative and the reality on the ground, a local gym owner, Soungui Koulamallah, brought his mother, who "watches the news religiously," to the protests where she was pleasantly surprised by the geniality of the demonstrators:
"I don't know what they're talking about in the news — these people are so friendly."
I spoke to Koulamallah — whose family immigrated from Chad and Haiti — about his experience at the protests.
“There was nothing but love, joy, and friendliness,” he said.
“I did not experience any racism, or even witness anything that would cause me to feel threatened or uncomfortable, and I am a black man.”
He added, “I witnessed people dancing, smiling, saying hello, shoveling snow, sharing food and warmth — someone even offered me food.”
Koulamallah later posed in a photo at the protests with an Indo-Canadian man and an Asian-Canadian woman who held a sign that read, “Am I racist?”
The diversity and jovial nature of the protesters were only presented by independent and alternative media voices (such as Rupa Subramanya and Jamil Jivani); mainstream news outlets sensationalized the truly fringe elements at the protests and ignored the sensible grievances driving the movement. When someone draped a Canadian flag over the statue of a national hero, the media lost their minds. There was chaos, some unfortunate incidents of vandalism, but the protesters quickly settled in, handing out food, protecting monuments, and protesting in a manner that was peaceful and quintessentially Canadian — though with significantly more honking than is typical.
The Canadian government reacted by freezing the flow of funds to the protesters (as Greenwald covered in his recent piece), and a court order silenced the horns, yet the protest remained impressively peaceful. Police stole the fuel of truckers, and declared it a criminal act to supply them with food or fuel, but the sheer number of protesters made enforcement of this impossible, and it appears that the truckers had plenty of food and fuel in reserve. Protesters blocked some border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge, and the government responded with court orders that they move – which were largely ignored.
For three weeks Trudeau attempted to deal with a “small fringe minority” that seemed anything but small. Trudeau’s early rhetoric had inflamed things, and security concerns forced him into hiding. His media allies did everything they could to marginalize and demonize the protesters, but they had lost grip on the narrative. International media outlets were reporting on the protests, and provincial leaders were lifting mandates and other unpopular Covid measures, pretending that these decisions had nothing to do with the movement's demands.
When Trudeau finally emerged from hiding, he decided to double-down on an approach that seemed to be failing spectacularly. He leaned into his remarkably undisguised authoritarian impulses and informed the nation that "Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end, and it will end."
Trudeau declared, "We hope these people will decide to go home. Otherwise, there will be increasingly robust police intervention." On Twitter, Trudeau warned, “Make no mistake: The border cannot, and will not, remain closed. Every option is on the table. So, if you’re participating in these illegal blockades that are taking our neighborhoods and our economy hostage, it’s time to go home – especially if you have your kids with you.”
On Valentine’s Day, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act.
The absurdity of such a draconian intervention can't be overstated. According to the Emergencies Act, a National Emergency can only be declared in a situation that "seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it."
The various disruptions caused by the protests come nowhere near meeting such a threshold. The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest border channel between the US and Canada, reopened just prior to Trudeau’s announcement after police cleared the obstructive protesters. It is fully within the powers of law enforcement to clear any further blockade that disrupts the economy and cross-border travel, and this does not require any extreme, federally mandated measures.
Provincial leaders across Canada have voiced their opposition to Trudeau's politically manufactured hysteria. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tweeted, “The illegal blockades must end, but police already have sufficient tools to enforce the law and clear the blockades, as they did over the weekend in Windsor." Premiers in Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta also expressed their opposition to the emergency measure as current law enforcement resources were sufficient to contain protests and mitigate disruptions. Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney, is taking the federal government to court over this abuse of power.
When Trudeau announced the Emergency Act, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland laid down the legal ramifications of the new measures. Freeland declared the expansion of federal powers allows the government to tow away vehicles, freeze truckers' bank accounts, regulate cryptocurrency transfers to the truckers, and suspend the insurance on their vehicles. Most egregiously, banks can now freeze the accounts of those who donated to the protests, which can be undertaken without court orders or protections from civil liability. They must then disclose those individuals’ funds to either the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
As CNN reported, law enforcement swiftly started imposing financial restrictions on those “believed to be involved” in the protests this past weekend:
“The RCMP froze 206 financial products, including bank and corporate accounts; disclosed the information of 56 entities associated with vehicles, individuals and companies; shared 253 bitcoin addresses with virtual currency exchangers; and froze a payment processing account valued at $3.8 million, Duheme said at a news conference.”
In my own small British Columbia town, Chilliwack (about an hour and a half away from Vancouver), a woman who donated $50 to the truckers Convoy reported having had her bank account frozen. As our local Member of Parliament Mark Strahl tweeted,
"Briane is a single mom from Chilliwack working a minimum wage job. She gave $50 to the convoy when it was 100% legal. She hasn't participated in any other way. Her bank account has now been frozen. This is who Justin Trudeau is actually targeting with his Emergencies Act orders."
For the sake of Briane’s privacy, Strahl has denied media requests to provide further information about her.
On the ground, law enforcement officers began their major crackdown efforts on Friday, February 18th. Police marched in strength, using stun grenades, pepper spray, and batons. More than 170 protesters have been arrested so far and clashes between protesters and police led to more than 20 injured people being transported to the hospital as reported by CTV.
In a press conference on Saturday, interim chief of Ottawa Police Steve Bell said law enforcement will continue investigating those "involved" in the Freedom protest for months to come:
“If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges. Absolutely. This investigation will go on for months to come."
Meanwhile, the House of Commons' sitting to debate emergency measures on Friday was shut down due to the police operation near Parliament Hill. As renowned American law professor Jonathan Turley said, “The House of Commons just postponed debating Trudeau’s emergency powers because he is using his emergency powers near the Parliament to clear protesters. It is like postponing a war powers vote because there is a war going on.”
The justification for these emergency measures has relied on elaborate exaggeration. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the government's actions due to Canada's democracy itself allegedly being under threat. She said, "A liberal democracy must be prepared to defend itself."
It remains unclear how the Freedom Convoy demonstrations posed any grave threat. They have not once risen to widespread violence, looting, or civil unrest. They didn’t promote ideological extremism or discrimination of any kind. They were oriented towards the opposite, insisting that no one should be discriminated against based on their vaccination status.
After all, medical discrimination of this kind no longer confers any societal benefit (as partially evidenced by the rise of “breakthrough” infections). Vaccinations may provide immense personal benefit, drastically reducing one's risk of death and serious illness, but sound scientific justifications for vaccine mandates are running thin. As CNBC reported last month, double-vaccination (Pfizer or Moderna) is only about 10% effective at preventing omicron infection 5 months after the second dose.
In light of the new omicron variant, Stanford medicine professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya told me he believes vaccine passports are no longer grounded in any scientific rationale:
"Vaccine passports serve no positive public health purpose. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can get infected and infect others, and since many unvaccinated people are also Covid recovered, they may be less likely to spread the disease than vaccinated individuals. This is especially true since the advent of the milder omicron strain, which infects both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The passports in Canada have created social division and a sense of coercion about the vaccination decision that may violate patients’ right to informed consent. Vaccination remains important, particularly for older people who have not previously had Covid, and may have an elevated risk of severe disease if infected."
The science has been updated, yet Canadian leaders have failed to make a public policy or safety argument for continuing to bar unvaccinated Canadians from working in federally regulated industries and traveling by plane or train both domestically and internationally.
The ubiquity of omicron could well have offered Canadian authorities the excuse to lift mandates and end lockdown measures. Instead, omicron was used to justify more intense measures. Instead of restoring foundational freedoms to Canadians as the pandemic subsided, Trudeau embraced authoritarianism. There appeared to be no attempt on his part to understand the sentiments animating this national movement.
One could imagine the justified outrage on the part of the liberal media if President Donald Trump had decreed martial law and froze the accounts of those who donated to Black Lives Matter. Yet conduct during Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA rose to a much more threatening level than anything seen in Canada during the trucker convoy. The riots in 2020 left 25 dead, and arson, vandalism, and looting were commonplace occurrences across American cities, causing $1-2 billion in insured damages nationally — surpassing all previous records.
President Trump had good reason not to respond with excessive measures. The media was always eager to depict President Trump as a fascist tyrant. They knew he would leave them free to hurl their insults, and he knew the media would never let him get away with anything.
In Canada, things are different. The media is in bed with Trudeau. Most of the funding for the CBC comes from the taxpayers of Canada, and the government has secured media sympathies with large bailouts and lucrative government ad buys.
Media matters, and in a functioning democracy, it makes all the difference. Trudeau is a darling of progressives, and yet the current tyrannical regime in Canada is the nightmare scenario of every honest liberal activist.
In a concerning turn of events, Trudeau has brought to bear on the Canadian public an authoritarianism that far exceeds what we were propagandized to fear from Donald Trump. Only now, the much-vaunted adversarial media is nowhere to be found.
Rav Arora is a 20-year-old writer from Vancouver, British Columbia. He reports on topics ranging from vaccine mandates to psychedelics and spirituality, which you can read on his Substack Noble Truths.
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