The fog of the right side of history

Now that the convoy protest has largely ended and my street is clear of vehicles, I am filled with a confusing mix of sadness, relief, and disappointment.

This protest has centered almost exclusively on the Covid vaccine mandates. The media and some politicians have ascribed all kinds of other goals to the protesters, including overthrowing the government, but over the three weeks in my conversations with the protesters, reading hundreds of signs on their trucks and their handheld placards, nothing suggested a goal other than the end of the vaccine mandates. I am sure some people in the protest had zany demands, apparently even some of the higher profile figures, but I didn’t meet any myself. This protest was grassroots. No manifesto bound them; their opposition to the mandates forged their solidarity.

Polite society spilled a lot of ink (flipped bits?) telling Canadians that an unruly seditious mob inhabited my street and that nothing short of invoking the most extraordinary powers in the country could contain it. They told us the convoy represented an unprecedented threat to our nation. Whatever polite society has become, they are not students of Canadian history and it would serve us all well if we better understood the origins of modern Canada. What happened this month in Ottawa echoes two major disruptions from Canadian history: The Winnipeg General Strike, and the On-to-Ottawa Trek. While the parallels only go so far, they are worth exploring. Both involved working class people and both had a profound influence on the shape of our society.

In 1919, veterans returning from the front and working class people suffered from high unemployment and poor working conditions across Canada. Many workers demanded collective bargaining rights and better wages. The spring of 1919 saw Canada’s third largest city, Winnipeg, erupt into a full scale general strike triggered by failed labour negotiations in the metal and building trades. Virtually the entire city stopped working with 30,000 workers taking to the streets. As the strike continued to build, acting Minister of Justice Arthur Meighen and the Minister of Labour Gideon Robertson travelled to Winnipeg in an attempt to learn the facts on the ground. Both men refused to meet with the Strike Committee, and instead issued inflammatory statements portraying the strike as “a cloak for something far deeper—an effort to overturn the proper authority”, and “the motive behind this strike undoubtedly was the overthrow of Constitutional Government”. The conflict lasted six weeks, reaching its climax with violence on Bloody Saturday (June 21, 1919) in which government forces fired into the crowd. Strike leaders were brought up on seditious conspiracy charges, others were blacklisted, and some were even deported as foreign agitators. While the strike failed to achieve its immediate goals, it had a lasting influence on the labour movement in Canada. Some the strike leaders went on to form the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the progenitor of Canada’s New Democratic Party. Today, we celebrate the Winnipeg strikers and their “seditious” leaders in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The Winnipeg General Strike (1919).

During the height of the Depression, the Canadian government built a system of nationwide camps to provide work for single unemployed and often homeless men. Suffering under poor working conditions and low wages, resentment boiled over in 1935 when over a thousand men from camps in British Columbia went on strike and started the On-to-Ottawa Trek in the hopes of confronting the government. Hopping the rails – even commandeering freight trains – while adding to their ranks as they went, the men made it as far as Regina where they halted for initial negotiations. With the strikers moored at the Regina Exhibition Grounds, eight leaders continued on to Ottawa for further negotiations with Prime Minister Bennett. Nothing came of the talks, which quickly broke down, and upon the return of the strike leaders to Regina, Bennett decided to arrest them, even as the Trekkers were dispersing. A riot ensued and two people were killed. The ugliness of the incidence led in part to Bennett’s decline and a recognition that our approach to the Depression needed better efforts. Today, the location of the Regina Riot is a National Historic Site.

The On-to-Ottawa Trek – riding the rails (1935).

While these incidents from Canadian history have some similarities and stark differences from the events in Ottawa over the last three weeks, they share the common root of marginalization. The vaccine mandates cut people off from their livelihoods and prevent them from full participation in society, putting them on the fringes and making them desperate. These tactics have limited public health benefits – even UN vaccination initiatives in the developing world avoid them. If vaccinating the last 10% of Canada is of such paramount importance, culturally sensitive outreach is the only way to proceed with a recognition that no matter what we do, there will always be vaccine refusals. Insults and mandates not only fail to achieve public health goals, but they serve to divide us and erode trust.

A popular trope in the media today is “being on the right side of history”. If being on the right side of history was so easy, we wouldn’t have witnessed the near 40-year parade of Canadian prime ministers apologizing for historical state action which was propelled at the time by popular support. Reflecting on our history, I would not be surprised if the men and women on my street these last three weeks eventually end up in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. History is not obvious as it’s being made.

On Saturday I watched from my living room as the convoy slowly collected themselves for departure, piling leftover supplies for donation at the local church, and all of them moving with a deliberate intent that suggested a quiet resignation to the fate that awaits them. As the last truck exited from view with a low winter sun hanging over an empty Kent Street, I felt the whisper of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail.

15 thoughts on “The fog of the right side of history”

  1. David, it was so wonderful to meet you and your wife the other day as you were preparing to leave back for Canada. I read your article a night with the Untouchables and it was totally amazing! Your work here is very good. I am forwarding your article that I mentioned above on Gab, Facebook, Instagram and Telegram with my accounts because I feel it’s so important for people to read your poignant words

  2. Dear Sir, I discovered your blog in January and have been catching up with your other articles. If only we were led by philosopher kings, I would follow you. I appreciate your thoughtful and circumspect insights. It is so difficult to meet hyperbole and distorted narrative with balance, calm and perspective, yet you manage to do that in your writings. Being from Ottawa myself and also a CS developer turning to data science, perhaps one day I can introduce myself in person.
    Thank you.

  3. Having read your first article I was uplifted! A supporter of the convoy I was so delighted for those who had chosen to gather and to speak. Watching carefully their time in Ottawa I wondered if I had fallen down the rabbit hole when the media described events that they witnessed. Each video I watched had my heart sing ..this was surely a success…residents and truckers sharing food, police kindly chatting and sharing with the truckers . Garbage and Snow removal Tears of joy everyday! So grateful for those that did go to Ottawa. Some had their opinion on how it could have been more or less of this and that. .. However their intention had been fulfilled and in doing so they inspired many to have faith again. Faith that Solidarity can exist and erase divisiveness what a wonderful world it appeared for a few days Thank you all. your influence is carried over mountains and seas…. and Reformed physicist so good to read I will await the next blog

    1. Gloria, just like you I feel uplifted by the logic and clarity of this man, The Reformed Physicist, and I would like to write down my views too, but being an old foggy, and having just discovered this blog, I don’t see where, at the end of his article, to click to send my comments.
      I apologize for my imposition, but I would much appreciate it if you lend me a hand.
      Luis J. Gómez

  4. Having read your first article I was uplifted! A supporter of the convoy I was so delighted for those who had chosen to gather and to speak. Watching carefully their time in Ottawa I wondered if I had fallen down the rabbit hole when the media described events that they witnessed. Each video I watched had my heart sing ..this was surely a success…residents and truckers sharing food, police kindly chatting and sharing with the truckers . Garbage and Snow removal Tears of joy everyday! So grateful for those that did go to Ottawa. Some had their opinion on how it could have been more or less of this and that. .. However their intention had been fulfilled and in doing so they inspired many to have faith again. Faith that Solidarity can exist and erase divisiveness what a wonderful world it appeared for a few days Thank you all. your influence is carried over mountains and seas…. and Reformed physicist so good to read I will await the next blog

  5. Thank you. Yours is the best writing I’ve seen on pandemic politics, science and decision making. We need more logic, compassion and insight instead of divisive finger-pointing. Please continue!

  6. This is another great piece you have written. It is sad that so many people do not seem to have an interest in history, let alone, learning from it. It is so nice to read truthful articles. It’s absolutely shameful that MSM has the Gaul to advertise what they do with no proof.
    I admire you’re honesty David.

  7. I cried reading the first account of you actually taking the time to meet with these “untouchables” who are also echoing our sentiments from our hearts. The hearts of hard working moms, dads, grandparents, children eho walk at banks, daycare centers, grocery stores, tech companies, health centers etc. We joined our voices with theirs. Because when you went to talk to them, you didn’t realize that you were also talking to millions of others who couldn’t travel with them. My parents were forced to give up everything in a fascist country and brought their 3 young daughters to judeo christian based Canada. They would be appalled to know that their great grand children are living the life they paid dearly to escape. I also cried reading the “after” story. But there is hope that people like yourself will stand up too and know that something needs to be done to save OUR Canada. Thank you and keep writing as it captures our sentiments for a free and democratic society.

  8. Thanks for getting out there to meet and be with the courageous Canadian truckers and supportive people David! Your interactions with the people and reflections are very helpful in better understanding what is going on in their lives and hearts. Thank you all the citizens of Canada that showed up or hold a passion for freedom in your hearts. I’m very proud to share a border with you! David while you’re the reformed physicist, Canada has shown that police too can reform. Police officers that align with truth as a priority are real Hero’s and have the support of the real majority.

  9. Thank you David for another insightful and informative piece. I have your page bookmarked and am looking forward to reading the past articles you have written and the ones you have yet to publish.
    This sentence from your second last paragraph is right on point: “Reflecting on our history, I would not be surprised if the men and women on my street these last three weeks eventually end up in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”
    Those are my sentiments as well.

  10. Thank You so much for your views, your analytics, your well written articles. If only sane and reasonable people as yourself could be infect PM Trudeau with a serious does of reason. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply to John Steele Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.