Canada, Eh? (Or, Why You Can Care About Two Things At The Same Time)
I wrote a post about Ukraine over on the Substack (hey, you should subscribe!), so I'll try not to tangent too much into that here, but I felt like this was also a post worth writing, because apparently, our national culture war has unhinged people's brains. In an internet full of takes, you're always going to have a consistently high percentage of bad takes on a spectrum ranging from "I disagree with you" but including "Hey, you're wrong" and ending up somewhere in the territory of "This is a batshit insane thing to say." But I think what we have to do, as a nation is to try and move away from the idea that all takes and opinions have to be zero-sum games.
You don't have to reflexively disagree with someone else. You can walk and chew gum and the same time. And on the Right, some of the more unhinged takes would have you believe that we shouldn't care about what's happening in Ukraine because what's happening (or, as of this writing, happened) in Canada is a lot worse.
Guess what? It's not worse. Canada isn't bombing cities or trying to wipe their neighbor off the map and it's worth noting that the last time they tried, they did pretty well.
But, I'm here to deliver an astonishing insight to people whose brains have been unhinged by too much time on Twitter and the culture war in general: You can condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine AND be gravely concerned at Justin Trudeau's little nine-day tap dance all over Canadian civil liberties.
(Do I think we should risk a direct confrontation between nuclear powers and send American forces to defend Ukraine? No. Do I think any inferences China and Russia might draw from what they're seeing could be fatally flawed and lead to worse things? Yes. We're on the hook for NATO allies and Taiwan in varying degrees in ways we're not for Ukraine. Do I think we should give Ukraine weapons, money, and whatever they want to make sure Russia's war is as costly as humanly possible? Yes. If history is anything to judge by, if you don't make European dictators pay for it now, American troops usually end up doing it later.)
All that being said: let's talk about what happened in Canada, eh?
So, from what I understand: in mid-January, a Freedom Convoy organized in various parts of Canada began to pick up steam, in protest of COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Both the US and Canadian governments had given cross-border truckers exemptions against vaccine mandates, but those exemptions expired in mid-January. By that point, about 85% of Canadian truckers were vaccinated, but once this convoy thing got going it, apparently, it couldn't be stopped and eventually it rolled across the country and into downtown Ottawa where it occupied the areas in and around Parliament Hill.
(Wikipedia has a pretty good page on all of this.)
Look, it was an anti-COVID protest, so given what we've seen of those in this country, it shouldn't take a large leap to imagine what the Canadian version was like. You can agree or disagree with the truckers- that's entirely up to you. It's not the content of the protests that I care about- it's the response.
On February 14th, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act:
The Act gave police extraordinary powers to "end border blockades and the occupation of downtown Ottawa by so-called “Freedom Convoy” protesters." Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that under the Act, protesters' "trucks can be seized, their corporate accounts frozen and vehicle insurance suspended". While Trudeau insisted that the military would not be deployed, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair did not rule out deployment, and called the lack of enforcement by Ottawa Police "inexplicable". The Emergencies Act replaced the former War Measures Act, which was famously invoked by Trudeau's father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to deploy the Canadian Forces against a violent separatist group during the 1970 October Crisis. This was the first time the act had been invoked since its 1988 inception
But wait, there's more!
After the invocation of the Act, Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance announced that the purview of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada was expanded to include the monitoring of funds sent through crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe, where protestors had raised millions that were ultimately refunded, as well as payment providers formerly outside its scope. Freeland specifically cited cryptocurrency transactions, which the protestors turned to after GoFundMe, as a type of digital transaction that the new measures were meant to cover. Canadian banks were also temporarily given the authority to freeze accounts suspected of being used to support the protests without the need to obtain court orders, were granted legal immunity if they chose to do so, and were allowed to more freely share information with law enforcement and government agencies.
(Yes, I did just lift both of those directly from Wikipedia, because that's a lot of words and I don't want to type them all out.)
So, okay... a bunch of truckers cause chaos in your capital and block the Ambassador Bridge linking Ontario with the US, and suddenly, you declare the State of Emergency? Essentially suspend due process, open the door to deploying the military against your own citizens- engage in some frankly creepy quasi-fascistic planning to freeze bank accounts and generally ruin the lives of the people who dared to participate in this protest.
You do not have to agree with this protest to think that the response of the Canadian government to it was profoundly fucked up.
GoFundMe initially said that they were going to donate all the money raised for the Convoy on their platform to a charity of their choice? Also, profoundly fucked up- though eventually, I think they were forced into refunding everyone's money.
My knowledge of Canadian politics is a bit limited, but I can do Parliamentary math pretty well and this was a ballsy move for a man sitting on top of a Liberal minority government. Had the NDP or Bloc Quebecois wished to, they could have stopped this little nine-day flirtation with martial law dead in its tracks. Trudeau, for his part, made the Commons vote on the Emergencies Act a confidence vote, and apparently, neither the NDP nor BQ wanted to trigger an election.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, unlike its American counterpart, doesn't seem to have been infected by a tendency to stick its head up its own ass now and again and loudly and vociferously denounced the move by the government and immediately took it to court- pointing out quite rightly that normalizing the invocation of the Emergencies Act without a clear national emergency is a really bad idea. (I don't think counted, given the fact that since the Act has been lifted, police have made it clear they have all they need to handle any subsequent protests-which begs the question: did they not have the ability before?)
While the debate in the Commons went Trudeau's way, apparently debate in the Senate was not as kind and I saw some speculation here and there on Twitter the Senate debates are what lead to Trudeau lifting the Emergencies Act so precipitously- whether that's true or not, I don't know.
But what is true is that a thousand conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum and China's social credit system erupted everywhere-- and I honestly don't want to go down the rabbit hole of The Great Reset, but to a lot of people out there on the interwebs, it's a real thing and they worry about it.
Again, I have no idea if that's true or not- so take it with a grain of salt. But given the fears on the right about 'debanking', it shows that there are limits to have far you can take it. If people cannot trust banks to safeguard their money, well, then, they'll take their money out.
While I don't doubt that there are some elites that would love to have something similar to China's social credit system implemented in their respective countries, I think there are limits to how far they can go. In a capitalist society, consumers can and will vote with their feet. Assuming the story about the mess in Canadian banking is true, then people, when confronted with banks who were unable or unwilling to protect their money, moved it. Now, the counterargument to this is that we'll end up in a cashless society with programmable digital money or something like that, but even then: how many people get physical money for their paychecks even today? There are limits to that as well.
I thought, and to a certain degree, I still do think that there are parallel societies emerging in many countries. If you want to get ahead and rise to positions of power in politics or business, then undoubtedly, you will have to mouth the pieties and play the virtue-signaling game that the Elites play. It'll essentially be how you get an all-access pass to the exclusive country club. But, I also think for many, many people, who just want to live their lives in relative peace they won't give a shit about any of that and will absolutely reject any attempts by people to make them give a shit about it.
At a certain point, banks and other corporations are going to have to choose. They can face the wrath of consumers or they can do as their respective governments ask. Capitalism says they should come down on the side of making money and consumers, but the growing enmeshment of government and business might make that choice harder than they anticipate.
I don't know what, if any political ramifications Trudeau is going to face for this. Canada's next election is due by 2025. They just had one last year. The Conservatives seem to be in a bit of a mess- though if Candice Bergen ends up as Prime Minister, I look forward to many, many Murphy Brown references during her premiership. Attention spans are short and he might, just maybe, get away with this. But it should cheer people immensely that when it did happen, principled voices were raised against the move. Not out of love for the Truckers and their protest, but out of genuine concern that treading on their civil liberties would eventually allow the government to tread on everyone's civil liberties.
And that's what Cultural War Brain Worms will do to you. You'll cheer as someone's life gets fucked up because you disagree with their politics. You don't realize that those same tools used against someone you dislike, will inevitably be used against someone you like.
So the principled move is to oppose creepy-quasi-fascistic overreactions by governments both foreign and domestic wherever you see them.