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Some thoughts on the winter of our discontent
It’s Saturday, I’ve had far too much coffee (again), and the mood here in Toronto is tense. Or perhaps it’s me that’s tense.
This morning there was police presence on the icy, eerily quiet streets, and lots of chatter from residents about what that signified. Now the sun has come out, and so have the crowds. People are streaming down Bloor street on foot, with signs and Canadian flags in tow. I just visited Queen’s Park, where what looks like several hundred people have gathered, as a helicopter circles overhead. A sound system has been set up, blaring Rage Against the Machine, and then Michael Jackson. The vibe is festive, but with an edge of anxiety.
With a state of emergency declared in the province, and grim warnings from the Prime Minister to protestors in Ottawa, advising them to take their children home, there’s also a lot of attention focused on the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, where police have moved in.
As we watch events unfold, here’s some questions:
What does this moment mean for the Canadian left? I happened to notice that the Communist Party of Canada has come out against the truckers. Which seems pretty remarkable. What are we to make of that? You can read the statement here. And, for balance, here’s another way of looking at it, from writer Malcolm Kyeyune.
What does this video showing the Ontario Provincial Police, making a house call based on online activity, say about the state of free speech? I reached out to the OPP to verify the video; they confirmed it happened and sent me this statement:
The OPP is aware of the video made and distributed of an encounter with a member of our Provincial Liaison Team (PLT) with a citizen on February 10, 2022 that has caused concern.
The OPP’s role is to ensure public safety, enforce the law and keep the peace. The PLT exists as part of the OPP response to demonstrations and major events.
PLT members use proactive relationship-building and communication to facilitate safe and lawful environments for everyone wanting to exercise the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly afforded by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Publicly available information is used at times by PLT to identify event organizers for outreach. Proactive contact is one way to help facilitate events that are safe and lawful.
What else is happening while we’re focused on the protests? At a press conference on Thursday, Ontario’s medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said that when mask mandates end for the population, they will likely remain on in schools. I’m looking for a scientist to walk me through the data on masking in schools, for next week. In the meantime, here’s the WHO recommendations, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Here’s a piece from the excellent David Zweig over at the Atlantic and another one from Dr. Vinay Prasad, professor of epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco, whose work I admire and respect.
What’s at the root of the frustrations Canadians are expressing? Of all the topics I’ve found to be hard sells in newsrooms, the hardest sell of all is the wealth gap. There’s very little appetite for such stories. Almost nobody wants to talk about things like CEO compensation, or billionaire wealth gains, or what the average person in your city or mine makes every year at their job. I found it telling that many of the truckers that Rupa Subramanya interviewed on the ground highlighted economic considerations.
Who gets to decide what the facts are? I know you all know this: What’s misinformation today is often fact tomorrow. Let’s all bring a healthy dose of skepticism to everything we hear and read this weekend. Critical thinking at moments like this is crucial.
Fantastic to see Jamil Jivani publish a column in Newsweek yesterday. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Newsweek is one of the most exciting and dynamic platforms in North America for open debate (along with Common Sense with Bari Weiss). Kudos to Batya Ungar-Sargon.
And, lastly, some new books out:
I’m currently digging in to Adolph Reed’s poignant, penetrating The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives. You can read an excerpt here, but I highly recommend ordering the book so you can read it in its entirety.
I’m also reading Jonathan Malesic’s relatable The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives. You can read an interview with Malesic on the Great Resignation here.