McGinnis Part 5: Freedom’s Just Another Word

by Ray McGinnis

5) One can manipulate individual actions by creating circumstances that modify group customs

In his book Propaganda, Edward Bernays discusses how clever propaganda will seek to shift citizen behaviour to change customs.

a) right to peaceful assembly

A long established custom enshrined in the democratic traditions in Canada has been the right of peaceful assembly, of the right to protest. This is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. [59] Many protesters were familiar with key sections of the Charter, including

  • 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (including) c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and d) freedom of association.
  • 6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.
  • Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the righta) to move to and take up residence in any province; andb) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.
  • 7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived…

Former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford was among the First Ministers who drafted and signed the Charter in 1982. On February 12, Peckford told Freedom Convoy protesters in Ottawa that the vaccine mandates for truckers and travel mandates were in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without informed consent, and not allow the mRNA vaccine to be optional, the government was in violation rights protecting “security of the person.” [60]

Justin Trudeau’s many verbal attacks on convoy protesters sent a message that where citizens formerly had the right to peaceful assembly, this was now the case only as long as it didn’t upset the government.

Convoy leaders, including Brian Peckford, were asking to meet with Trudeau and key public health officials to hold them accountable. They wanted to discuss Trudeau’s claims that the vaccine mandates were in fact based on science. They wanted to discuss the vaccine mandates in the context of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Trudeau, Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Howard Njoo (Public Health Agency of Canada), and Dr. Shelley Deeks (chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization) refused to meet with convoy leaders. [61] Instead, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since its creation in 1988. [62] (His father had invoked its predecessor, the War Measures Act, in 1970 to deal with the FLQ Crisis).

Wall Street Journal headline asked “Will Canadian Democracy Survive Justin Trudeau?: His father invoked emergency powers in 1970—but that was against terrorists, not peaceful protesters.” WSJ wondered “will Canada return to its peaceful, democratic roots? Or will this episode transform into something more sinister and undemocratic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has certainly acted like a tinpot dictator. Mr. Trudeau refused to meet with Freedom Convoy organizers or protesters in Ottawa….the PM was nowhere to be seen. Instead of finding ways to diffuse this tense situation, Mr. Trudeau’s approach was to throw more gasoline on the fire. The absentee Prime Minister would infrequently grace the nation with his presence to mock and smear his opponents.” In another editorial, the paper concluded “Government’s job is to maintain public order while respecting civil liberties. Canada has failed on both scores.” [63]

On February 17 Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, decreed bank accounts and assets of all convoy protesters, and those who donated to their cause, would be frozen. [64] The message was clear: if Canadians wanted to protest government policies, they might not be able to have access to their bank accounts, to pay mortgages, the rent. This caused a run on the banks, according to Martha Durdin, CEO of the Canadian Credit Unions Association, who testified before a Parliamentary committee in early March. [65] There was also a run on precious metals, which largely were unavailable as an alternative place to store wealth.

Convoy lawyer, Keith Wilson, told Viva Frei, “I have it from a very high source, that a) the banks realized what had happened when they saw how their customers reacted. Having people who don’t trust your institution…is bad for your business model. There were some people withdrawing millions of dollars from their accounts. As well, big financial players in the investment community in the USA weighed in. They were asking if investing in Canada was now like investing in Venezuela or Cuba. “What just happened to Canada? I thought it had the rule of law. I thought  it had checks and balances.” There was a phone call to the PMO from Wall Street which cautioned, ‘We are going to publicly distance ourselves from your actions. We are going to criticize your actions. You have 24 hours to reverse them.’ So, Justin Trudeau held a press conference and said ‘circumstances have changed and now it’s time for Canada…’” [66]

The freezing of bank accounts sent a chill across the nation. Citizens were second guessing whether making a donation to this or that organization would be frowned upon by the government. Freezing bank accounts and sending police to violently break up a peaceful protest on Parliament Hill eroded trust in democracy. This created charitable donation hesitancy. Going forward, would more people worry more about ‘not saying the wrong thing’ and ‘not getting into trouble,’ rather than challenging the status quo?

Christine Van Geyn of the Canadian Constitution Foundation observed that even when the Emergencies Act was withdrawn on February 23, the chill remained. On the plain text of the regulations to freeze bank accounts, “even a $20 donation could result in accounts being frozen. At the House finance committee, Isabelle Jacques, an assistant deputy minister in the Department of Finance, was asked why the federal government felt the need to declare an emergency when existing laws could also be used to freeze illegal donations, as they were in Ontario under Sec. 490.8 of the Criminal Code. Her answer: to ‘make an impression upon those considering offering financial support.’” [67] All because Trudeau lacked the courage to talk to the truckers.

b) Freedom’s just another word

Before the trucker freedom convoy, freedom was a common Canadian value. It is foundational to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Truckers protested vaccine mandates as part of the Trudeau government’s attack on Charter rights and freedoms. This included restrictions on citizen rights of mobility: “to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” As well, truckers were protesting infringements on their right “to pursue the gaining of a livelihood.” Many trucks in the convoy had Canadian flags and the word “freedom.” Many placards on Wellington Street in Ottawa read “freedom.”

Tens of thousands of truck drivers were sidelined by the government’s measure. They drove from the west and east coast to Ottawa in minus thirty degree temperatures. They wanted to talk to their politicians. They wanted the validity of these pandemic measures put under scrutiny.

But, many in establishment circles didn’t want pandemic measures debated. There could be no scrutinizing the basis was for the oft repeated “trust the science” mantra. Instead, the protesters claims their Charter rights had been violated was characterized as exaggerated.

In an opinion piece to the Globe and Mail, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin wrote “The Ottawa truck convoy has revealed the ugly side of freedom.” McLachlin wondered “what does this vaunted ‘freedom’ mean? The answer is, everything and nothing. Everything: the right not to wear masks in public places; the right not to be vaccinated; the right to hold Ottawa’s downtown residents and businesses hostage; the right to malign public officials and call for the Prime Minister’s death; the right to shout epithets at people of colour. And nothing. Because freedom is an empty word unless you ask further questions: Freedom from what? Freedom to do what? And beyond that, ‘Where do my freedoms end and the freedoms of others begin?’….The bottom line is that you can’t use your freedoms in a way that unreasonably conflicts with or affects the freedoms of other people. The freedoms guaranteed by the Charter stop where they harm others. With freedom comes responsibility.” [68]

McLachlin continued, “The heady notion of freedom, defined as the unconstrained right to do what you want free of government limits, serves as a cloak for actions that harm women, men and children…. people who don’t look like you or talk like you. Sadly, the Ottawa truckers’ convoy has revealed this ugly side of freedom.” [69]

McLachlin is no doubt a victim of slanted government propaganda. She’d been treated to a mono-message repeated by media that has piled claim after claim, and allegation upon allegation, with reckless abandon. McLachlin, and most members of the Canadian establishment trust the news they follow to provide fairness and accuracy in reporting.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms signatory Brian Peckford commented on his own inclination to initially trust what those in charge were saying. On June 8, 2022, in an interview Peckford said “The first inclination as a former first minister, first inclination – especially as a Canadian – is to trust what people are saying to you. The Public Health Agency of Canada, the various departments of health in all the provinces, and the Provincial Health Officers – and so your first inclination as Canadians – how nice we all are – you say to the government ‘they’re doing the right thing.’” [70] But, in time, Peckford began to question the vaccine mandates. Especially once it was clear the vaccines didn’t prevent infection or transmission.

Like Brian Peckford, one can safely assume that Beverly McLachlin is inclined to trust what people in charge are saying, and trust mainstream media reports. She likely hadn’t read reports by Indo-Canadian reporter Rupa Subramanya. Nearly two weeks into the protest, Subramanya had interviewed over 100 protesters. From Day 1 she went into the convoy crowd multiple times daily to ask people why they’d come to Ottawa. She noted “not one of them sounded like an insurrectionist, white supremacist, racist or misogynist.” Subramanya spoke to “Kamal Pannu, 33, is a Sikh immigrant and trucker from Montreal” who believed natural immunity is better than the vaccines as a strategy to move the nation forward. She spoke to “Matt Sim, 43, who immigrated to Canada from South Korea…and came to Ottawa with his wife to join the protests. He’d had Covid, and then he’d recovered, and he was skeptical of all the hysteria surrounding the vaccines.” [71]

The multi-ethnic convoy protesters were respectful of the evident diversity on Wellington Street – of people who didn’t look like or talk like them. The crowd was receptive when Asian-Canadian Doctor Daniel Nagase spoke from the stage and received nothing but applause. The same was the case for longtime Global TV news writer Indo-Canadian journalist Anita Krishna. [72] Dr. Julie Ponesse was another woman providing leadership, and speaking to a receptive crowd. [73]

On the weekend of February 18-20, when police aggressively moved in on peaceful convoy protesters, numbers of incidents were reported online. A muslim protester complained that police took his prayer mat, stomped on it and laughed at him. [74] On February 18, an elderly Mohawk woman, Candy Sero, was trampled by mounted police as she stood with her wheeled walker. She fell to the ground. A horse stepped on her shoulder. A man in the crowd started yelling with growing desperation, “Oh my gosh. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Look what you did. Look what you did to her. Look what you did to her. Look what you did to her. You trampled on the lady… Shame on you. Shame on everyone of you. Shame on you…” [75] Sero lived, but suffered a broken clavicle.

Other scenes from February 18 included police beating a protester with the butt of a rifle. [76] Trucker Csaba Vizi was violently beaten and repeatedly kneed in the belly by at least three police on top of him. [77] These were not scenes of an ugly side of freedom. These were scenes of an ugly side of government overreach and police violence.

In an interview, the former host for 21 years of CBC’s Cross Country Check-up, Rex Murphy, spoke after police mobilized against convoy protesters. He wondered where were others in the Liberal cabinet who would say to the Prime Minister “You have overreached vastly. You have insulted the nature of this country, which is always the middle course, always the willingness to at least try to compromise and talk. And you’ve introduced false drama…the melodramatic idea of a great national emergency…” [78]

Former chief justice McLachlin contended persons involved with the convoy were calling “for the Prime Minister’s death.” Yet, late June 2022, searches on both Google and Qwant.comfound no news stories of anyone charged or arrested for issuing death threats against Justin Trudeau related to the convoy. Instead, searches produced news stories of people charged with issuing death threats against Trudeau in August 2021 [79], 2018, [80] 2017, [81] and by actor Alum Ryan Grantham. [82] Both Brian Peckford, and a convoy leader named Daniel Bulford, have confirmed in separate emails to me that they haven’t heard of any convoy protester who’s been charged or arrested for uttering death threats against Trudeau. [83]

An inquiry is now investigating the convoy protests in Ottawa and at several crossings along the Canada-U.S. border. The mandate is to focus not on government actions or whether there was just cause to invoke the Emergencies Act. [84] The inquiry is to look into disinformation, misinformation, crowdsourcing, foreign funding, and goals of the convoy. A fully accountable and transparent inquiry into the justification for invoking the Emergencies Act is required and nothing less. [85] Yet, it has so far devolved into a circus. [86] The Prime Minister’s Office will wait until February 13, 2023, to decide whether to release records related to the convoy. This is a week prior to the date the inquiry is set to release its report to Parliament. [87]

Canadians lined the Trans-Canada Highway and its overpasses all across Canada, in the frigid January weather, to cheer the truckers on. [88] This was not reported by the media Trudeau bought. At this moment, they are still infuriated [89] every day on Twitter. [90] Canadian Liberalism has collapsed. [91] Meanwhile, the legacy media will continue to spin and spin, so that those who trust their reports view 2022 as the Year of the Insurrection.

The travel mandates have been suspended for the moment, with one exception. Convoy lawyer Keith Wilson revealed the one exception to lifting vaccine mandates. Truckers are still not allowed to cross the Canada-U.S. border without being vaccinated. [92]

Two years of pandemic restrictions, social isolation from lockdowns, and suppression of dissenting viewpoints have deformed freedom of speech and its potential to flourish. In this context, propaganda is ever more dangerous. Politicians and the media had a bullhorn to use that went unchallenged until the freedom convoy went to Ottawa. For the first time in Canadian history, a protest in front of the Parliament Buildings was met with a Prime Minister refusing to meet with protesters. Even in the 1935 On-to-Ottawa Trek by farmers, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett listened to their grievances. Instead, convoy protesters were called Nazis, a smear Jewish protesters – like Benjamin Dichter who has family members buried in mass graves in Europe during WWII – rejected. [93]

Time-tested propaganda strategies for framing a discussion, and weaponizing it against a group, are alive and well in Canada in 2022. Democratic responsibility to uphold freedom of speech comes with inconveniences at times. There needs to be a sober reassessment of the Trudeau government’s conduct, and recognition of the battery of false allegations against convoy protesters for what they were: propaganda. The government needs to be held accountable. Its failure to safeguard democratic cornerstones in the face of the overwhelmingly peaceful convoy protest must be referred to the National Apology Advisory Committee. [94]

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