Keep Our True North Strong and Free

Nearing the two-year mark of the pandemic, it appears that some politicians are using this crisis to indiscriminately remove our freedom and vilify certain citizens. One troubling example is our Prime Minister’s alarming hate speech scapegoating those in our country who have chosen to forego being vaccinated.

In case you missed it, Justin Trudeau lashed out during a French interview labeling the unvaccinated as “extremists who don’t believe in science, they’re often misogynists, also often racists. It’s a small group that muscles in, and we must make a choice in terms of leaders, in terms of the country. Do we tolerate these people?” 

No alarm bells there at all.

When a minority group is singled out, villainized, and dehumanized by a leader using exclusionary and divisive speech, we should collectively sound the alarm.

It appears a trickle effect is in operation as hatred and othering are becoming the modus operandi among some of our leaders. The PM’s flagrant display of prejudice seems to have given permission for other premiers to jump on the segregation bandwagon. In Quebec, those who refuse a shot will have to pay a “health tax”, or more accurately a “punishment tax”. Quebec banned the unvaccinated from retail stores over 1500 square meters such as Walmart and Costco, and from liquor and cannabis stores. In New Brunswick, there were rumblings that vendors could choose to forbid the unvaccinated from entering grocery stores until public outcry led to a reversal.

At this point, we would do well to recall The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1981, when it was birthed under Pierre Elliot Trudeau, it effectively secured protection to every citizen from government overreach, ensuring individual liberty and ultimate authority over their own person. The Charter drew a clear boundary so that if ever an impasse should occur, the state must bow to the citizen regardless of popular opinion held by the majority or during times of upheaval. The Constitution was to act as the citizens’ cease and desist should the government ever overstep; a proclamation that ensures the government exists to serve the citizen, and that the citizens own the state, not the reverse.

Click here to view the Canadian Charter: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/pch/documents/services/download-order-charter-bill/canadian-charter-rights-freedoms-eng.pdf

Yet, it appears the son of the prime minister fondly remembered for bringing the Charter to life, is behaving as though it was never penned. How else can we explain that, at present, in our “free” country, those who, for various reasons, have chosen to forego injections are being name-called by our national leader as women-haters, racists, and science-deniers?

In our free country, the unvaccinated cannot frequent restaurants, gyms, city facilities, sports stadiums, museums, and theatres when they are open to others. Unvaccinated children cannot play sports, and their parents cannot watch those who still can. Many citizens may not continue their chosen livelihoods if they choose to remain unvaccinated. In certain cities, they are being restricted from entering a hospital to be with their loved ones. Ironically, the unvaccinated cannot physically enter a voting centre to cast a vote in our democratic society. They can not leave Canada.

Does this sound like the Canada we know and love? Does this sound like civil liberty for all?

If we insert other minorities formerly targeted into the above list of can not’s, doesn’t it sound eerily familiar? Are our consciences not seared by this sort of segregation? 

Perhaps we are unconcerned that this minority can no longer enter our businesses or that they must incur a fine to exercise their freedom. After all, we’re in a pandemic for heaven’s sake, and don’t they deserve punitive measures for their disagreement with the government? But heck, why stop here? While we’re at it, why not extend a health tax to smokers, drug addicts, the obese?  

Perhaps we feel protected by, and from, these strict measures, or believe they are warranted because we’ve obediently followed the repeated slogans by “doing our part” or “doing the right thing”rhetoric intentionally and effectively deployed to incite division and elicit control. But what happens when you or I choose to decline a newly mandated medical intervention, step out of line in the next restriction of social life, or are segregated due to our beliefs, our race, or yet another virus? What happens if we become the next “other”?

Are we really exasperated with the unvaccinated in our midst, or rather a government who for months has deployed uncontested edicts, mismanaged our health care system, and unlawfully held us hostage under the guise of “keeping us safe”? Combine that with an unending state of emergency, ever-changing restrictions, repeated lockdowns and censoring, and one has to wonder if it isn’t time to put the responsibility back onto the shoulders of the citizens to manage risk, and if what was perniciously stolen will ever be returned.

Governments are notoriously stingy when it comes to relinquishing any power they’ve garnered.  Conveniently, the pandemic created ripe conditionsaka mass fear—for raking in power by the fistful. In a state of despair, it was easy to convince us that such overreaches were “for our own good”. But as the narrative unravels and it becomes increasingly clear that the vaccinated can still get sick, spread the virus, and end up in hospitals, Justin Trudeau—whether to cover himself or clutch control—still seems bent on scapegoating and spewing hatred toward those darn “extremists” who refuse to do as they’re told, determined to convince us that things are never going to get better unless we get rid of the problemthe unvaccinatedunhem, the virus.

Like the regimes of the past, who maximized fear and turned citizens against one another—instead of uniting them in times of distress—if we unquestioningly follow weak leadership, we inadvertently become perpetrators of segregation and hatred. Like many such historical shifts, it’s a slippery, perhaps imperceptible slide into intolerance for those who don’t look like you or share your beliefs or viewpoint, spearheaded by an unaccountable leader blaming and threatening a minority who they deem unfit to enjoy what should be their inalienable right to freedom. 

It has been said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But at what point will we say enough is enough? When this minority is denied medical treatment? When they are forced to wear an armband so we know to avoid these disease carriers? What if “to keep people safe”, as the government’s repeated mantra likes to remind us, we toss them into internment camps? Better yet, how about we outlaw the right to choose what we inject into our bodies and place those who refuse in jail for failing to submit? Heaven forbid that the vaccinated should still be getting sick and filling up the hospitals. What then? Who will be left to blame? 

It shouldn’t be difficult to detect how much of our freedom has been ravaged in such a short amount of time. Every November 11th, we gather and say, “Lest we forget”, but have we so easily forgotten that our grandparents were willing to fight, suffer, and even perish to overcome these sorts of ideologies and ensure the freedom we currently enjoy? Unless you’re in prison, freedom is not something to be earned for good behaviour. Nor should liberty be something that can be indiscriminately snatched away only to be earned back by compliance to government diktat.

We have lost our humanity when we begin to decide who deserves the right to freely participate in society. Blaming our current condition on one segment of the population is both simplistic, ridiculous, and cruel. When we assign sole responsibility to the “other” for a virus that must run its natural course, when we blame a minority for the failings of our government, for an already strained healthcare system, for a vaccine that has failed to adequately provide immunity, or for the woes of human life, we have surely lost our way.

As Canadians, are we comfortable linking hands with such hatred? Should we not apply reason and overcome our own biases, stereotypes, and fears rather than be lured into agreement by hate speech—no matter who delivers it? Will we unwittingly give permission to leaders to opportunistically dismantle individual freedom and shape us into a society that must do as their told for the collective good, or else?

Government exists to represent and serve the people, not the other way around. If it no longer behaves in such a way, we cease to live in a democracy.

We should think long and hard about which words we will use as justification to our children and grandchildren for allowing a portion of humanity’s freedom to be stripped away. Then, we should think hard about how easily it can be our own. It may be about a vaccine today, but with such overreaches, the sky is the limit. After two years of lockdowns and loss of freedom and livelihoods—and now a vaccine passport—our collective freedom is at stake. 

I believe most Canadians, and our government representatives, value freedom. That, although weary, we would still choose to uphold the sanctity of human life and our collective and individual freedom. That even if we can’t always agree, and despite all we’ve been through these past two years, we are still capable of love and compassion. That we can exercise wisdom, kindness, courageousness, and stand on guard for freedom for allnot just a selected few. We must band together, despite our differences, and care for one another.

Will we be remembered as the Canadians who joined the ranks of people using their positions of power to harm and alienate their fellow citizens, or those who banded together to hold our government officials accountable to our Charter and uphold our national freedom? We are indeed “in this together”, but instead of modeling our behaviour after those who would stoke the fires of segregation, or keep us paralyzed by fear, we would do well to dig deep and remember our country’s roots of diversity, compassion, and freedom. 

This week, our truckers are undertaking a nationwide Freedom Convoy to Ottawa as a demonstration against the vaccine mandates. Truckers from the US are even joining the peaceful protest. Worldwide, millions of citizens are banding together and marching in peaceful protests for freedom against the vaccine mandates and passports. Doctors and nurses are speaking out, despite censorship and threats of losing their license, as are scientists and professors who continue to study, access, and share real-time information regarding the vaccine’s efficacy and effectiveness, and alternative treatment protocols despite personal threats and loss of position.

If we take courage and join hands, broaden the narrative, make room for continued growth and learning, and if we don’t succumb to hatred, we will find better ways to move out of this pandemic and fear, while, most importantly, preserving our freedom and the freedom of our children.

I’ll leave you with this final quote delivered by John Stuart Mill, in 1867, at an inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews, who stated: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

Godspeed Canada. Let’s not remain quiet but instead remain free.

Fireworks, Fears, and Finding Freedom

photo-1521478413868-1bbd982fa4a5It’s the May long weekend in Canada, and for many that means frenzied gardening and fireworks. Last night, after a gruelling day of gardening—and a decently grueling 8 AM workout—once happily tucked into bed I could still hear fireworks firing at 11:30 PM. My dog, Angel, is frightened of fireworks, so when she heard the explosions she crawled and hid under the side table next to our bed.

When faced with something fearful, I’ve been known to behave like Angel. Instead of bravely facing it, I hide. Like the fireworks for my dog, often the thing I’m afraid of isn’t really that scary and won’t hurt me at all. It just sounds scary, or I build it up in my mind to be larger than it is, put roadblocks where none exist, and delay facing it altogether.

Facing fears is hard. They come in the form of a conversation you know you need to have but are putting off for fear it will cause conflict or remain unresolved. It may be that task at work you’ve been given but are avoiding because you don’t know where to start or exactly how to do it. It may be the goal you’ve been holding close to your heart but are afraid to start for fear you’ll fail. It may be that you’re afraid of what people think of you so you avoid social situations. Or it could be a life change that would benefit you, but you’re afraid of the unknowns. Fear often makes us hide from the very thing we need to face to move forward.

To counter this, we need to give our fears a good stare down. They’re what stand between our goals and dreams and even our freedom. Like anything, you can’t get good at something you don’t work at. Every fear we fight and conquer makes the next fearful challenge easier, and brings us closer to the person God made us to be and the things we’re called to be doing. Facing fears gives us confidence to move forward and reach further. Soon you’ll develop a kind of fear-confidence where you find you’re no longer hiding from your fears but boldly and regularly facing them.

Start small. Tackle one small fear at a time. If it doesn’t go well, instead of giving up, assess what went wrong and try again. As much as depends on you, don’t quit. Every failure is growth, and the more you grow the stronger you become. With enough practice, you’ll find the thing that was formerly fearful has become a lot easier and maybe even a strength.

Pick one thing you know you’ve been putting off or hiding from then write down one concrete thing you can try to tackle it. For instance, you’re terrified of public speaking but the job you really want involves speaking to audiences on occasion, so you muster courage and sign up for a public speaking course. Whatever it is, choose one thing and start. Then choose the next, and don’t give up. Facing fears is hard, but so worth it. You never know what you can do until you try. Write down your achievements. When you look back in just a few months you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

No matter what age, it’s never too late to learn and grow, and it’s never too late to face your fears. Freedom awaits!

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” ~ Isaiah 41:13-14