Pondering the Media During the 2022 Ottawa Trucker Convoy

The various media systems of the world are overworked, and in the case of many of them, underpaid. This is exposed by the request, below most online news stories, to report any errors. With editors in short supply, the news services are increasingly reliant on the public to correct their grammar, supply them with video evidence, and report news when they see it. That means our media take short cuts, repeat news segments, and rely on wire services to supply the same footage they have sold to a dozen different services.

In countries like the United States, whose only publically funded services are what is widely regarded to be US propaganda, Voice of America, a relatively free National Public Radio, and the questionable autonomy of PBS (Public Broadcasting System) the situation is even more dire. Their principal news services are dictated by the salacious public eye rather than a sense of what should be reported to inform their citizenry. Therefore, their different networks increasing produce infotainment. This more prurient news is a more profound problem than merely poorly-informed reporting. The consumer also needs to watch for slick production of tired news spots intended to divert the eye rather than inform.

In Canada, the cuts to funding under both Liberal and Conservative regimes means that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation experiences the same constraints. A recent test case of that reporting is that of the so-called Trucker Convoy, which is a rag tag collection of malcontents who mostly want to end the pandemic. They demand an end to all public health mandates, which includes mandatory vaccination for air travel, crossing the border, or the necessity of a vaccine as a condition for federal government employment. They are also angry, as far as I can make out, about the mask mandates, which they—having spent months steeping themselves in American Facebook—believe undermines their human rights. Most of the “rights” talk has more to do with their annoyance at the pandemic than the efficacy of masks or vaccines, but they find it difficult to understand that the Canadian government can do as little about American vaccine requirements for crossing the border as they can the pandemic itself. Their disgust at the length of time we have been subject to the pandemic is shared by everyone, but most people have come to terms with the relatively minor inconvenience in their lives.

A friend of mine was doing a workshop through the catholic church which attempted to discuss the reconciliation of Indigenous people and colonial Canadians when one of the Indigenous women, trying to understand how white people could suffer trauma even while they were dishing it out, said, wonderingly, “I guess they could have trauma too, although I don’t know what it could be. Like what? I lost my pony.” My friend, a woman of colour, was the only one who laughed. The white people in the room didn’t find it funny.

Such a comparison occurs to me when I think about the largely white protestors. They look like the same anti-maskers who broke into schools and harassed medical people going into hospitals. They stage rallies at malls and force shops and restaurants to shut down

Protesters at Queen’s Park on Saturday, April 25 demand an end to public health rules put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

while they holler about their rights and cite a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that they have never read. The extreme privilege of their lives becomes apparent when their triggering issue is having to wear a mask at the grocery store or be vaccinated to work in some professions. The truckers who lost their jobs because they needed to cross the border and refused the required vaccination—if that even affects more than an angry few—forget they could merely work elsewhere, for different companies. Likewise, they could also set their fears and conspiracy theories aside and join a few billion people worldwide who have had the vaccine. They would rather be unemployed and angry than bow to such a mandate, however, which makes me wonder why they don’t have more sympathy for Indigenous activists protesting their land being destroyed, or their children dying from drugs and suicide. Surely someone who has real concerns should strike a sympathetic cord with a group of people whose skin if so thin that even a simple medical treatment is too much to bear.

The validity of their concerns—such as the woman interviewed on CBC radio this morning who complained that she wasn’t allowed to enter the stadium because of the vaccine mandate despite having season tickets—is at least questionable, although their white tears certainly inspire as much curiosity as their different standard of treatment by the police. As many have noted, these white protestors are met with a considerably different greeting than that of proponents of the Black Lives Matter

movement or the Wet’suwet’en protesting a pipeline going through their land. The Black Lives Matter movement was calling upon a policing review and the Wet’suwet’en were asking that the pipeline company spend a little more to avoid their watersheds, but both were met by force. They were beaten, approached with assault rifles and attack dogs, found their names on terrorist lists, and arrested.

The collection of groups which have choked Ottawa streets and blocked the border at Coutts, Alberta, are being negotiated with. I am reminded of an exercise I have used with my students when the topic was on everyone’s mind. I asked them to guess the ethnicity of the perpetrator when I described the situation and the police action.

I would tell them the case of Sammy Yatim, who was shot while acting erratically on a Toronto trolley car. He was brandishing both his penis and a twelve cm knife and passengers were understandably terrified as they fled the car. When James Forcillo, from the Toronto Police Service, ordered Yatim to put down the knife, Yatim disobeyed and walked toward the aptly named Forcillo. Forcillo shot him three times, which the autopsy later determined killed him instantly, and then shot him six more times. While Yatim was immobile on the floor of the car, Forcillo’s Sergeant, Dan Pravica tasered Yatim’s body. The name betrays Yatim’s ethnicity, but I left the names out of it when I told the story.

The contrasting story involves Corey Hurren, who loaded several guns in his pickup and drove from Manitoba, where he was a military reservist, to Ottawa. There he rammed his truck through the wrought iron fence of Rideau Hall, crawled through the bushes in an attempt to attack the Prime Minister because he was angry about Covid restrictions. His mind swayed by American Facebook—such as those who attacked the American electoral process in Washington in 2021—Hurren thought he had the right to overturn the government.

The telling part of that story, for me, was that the police—even with an armed terrorist who had already torn through the fence and was waving guns near the Prime Minister’s residence—spent an hour and a half talking him down. Rather than employ the same force they’d used when confronted by an eighteen years old Yatim armed with a knife, they decided to use a lengthy exercise of diplomacy on the white man.

My students have no difficulty discerning the ethnicity of the perpetrators in the two scenarios. Such incidents play out on our streets and highways all the time, and even while the truckers block the downtown of Ottawa, honk their horns all night and spread garbage through the street, as well as desecrate war memorials and the Terry Fox statue, the police feel they cannot act.

In Nova Scotia, in eastern Canada, the police similarly stood aside while a mob of a few hundred white lobster fishermen burned an Indigenous fisher’s van as well as the warehouse where his catch was kept. If a group of Indigenous protestors—well we need look no farther than the protest against fracking in Rexton, New Brunswick which excited a huge and violent police presence.

Although much of this use of kid gloves when white people are protesting has little to do with the media, it may go a long way toward explaining why the coverage of this latest event in Ottawa has been repetitive and lukewarm. The police threatening Indigenous protestors on Wet’suwet’en wasn’t covered either, but that was not really the media’s fault. The police prevented reports from getting out. No reporters were allowed to report from the protest, and those amateur reporters were arrested. The police were later found to have overstepped their bounds and acted unlawfully, according to federal Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC), although there have been no consequences for their actions.

In the case of the Ottawa and Coutts, Alberta, protests, however, the media are allowed to investigate. With such a highly trafficked region as the capitol, with so many eyes on the ground, I would have expected better coverage. For instance, there have been many complaints that white nationalists are flying swastika flags and harassing non-white citizens, but the media doesn’t approach either victim or perpetrator.

The organizers of the rally claim to be concerned about a mandate that cross-border truckers need to be vaccinated, but no one is asking a non-vaccinated trucker why he or she cannot simple find work elsewhere, or how their plan would force the United States to open their borders to the unvaccinated.

Many Ottawa streets are blocked, but I have seen no map of the blockages listing the amount and types of vehicles involved. Nor has a newsperson merely strolled along the blockages, engaging people in the crowd as well as recording the size of the protest. They could easily edit the footage back at the office in a few hours and then show the rest of Canada what type of people, how many trucks, and how many Nazi sympathizers, were milling around in the crowd.

I am not advocating that we show “both sides” as the media is fond of doing, but I think that we need to be as informed as the house owners who are subject to the noise, and that footage of the white supremacist, anti-mandate, anti-vaccine, and generally conservative Canadians—as well as instigators from outside the country—should find a place on the National Library shelves.

Instead, we are treated to the same soundbite from the same disgruntled Canadian who wants the mandates to end. There are no follow-up questions about their exact concerns, and only a few pictures and blurry footage of a few trucks. Although many are recording the event for their Nazi pages, or their anti-government blogs, and are therefore doing us the favour the media won’t, their cameras avoid the more depraved actions of their fellows, the racist confrontations and vandalism, but without their records, we have nothing. Like the rioters in the January 6th insurrection in the United States who filmed their crimes, we are again reliant on those weeping white protestors who have lost their pony. Only they can expose the weakness in their reasoning and the hatred in their political stance.

About Barry Pomeroy

I had an English teacher in high school many years ago who talked about writing as something that people do, rather than something that died with Shakespeare. I began writing soon after, maudlin poetry followed by short prose pieces, but finally, after years of academic training, I learned something about the magic of the manipulated word.
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