Hard lessons from the siege of Ottawa

Posted on February 28, 2022 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion
Feb. 26, 2022.   Star Editorial Board

‘For all the harm it did, the siege of Ottawa did provide the singular benefit of shining a spotlight on where things lead when lies are seen as truth.’

Canadians have recently discovered what it’s like to be caught in the crosshairs of the extreme right’s venom and disinformation machine.

The lunacy spouted about Canada during the siege of Ottawa was a study in the complex derangement that plagues our times – the fury of people who understand little whipped up by a social-media complex profiting handsomely from their anger and ignorance.

For lack of a better term, let’s call it Trumpism, or Fox News falsity.

The allegations by that network and others of “tyranny” and “dictator,” the references to Naziism – even as a debate took place in Canada’s Parliament over the decisions of a democratically elected government – were as absurd as they were appalling.

A great friend of Canada, Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to this country, tweeted: “What alternative universe have I awakened in where Republicans and @FoxNews continue to use the words like tyrant and tyranny for our ally and friend the Prime Minister of Canada and not for Putin after an invasion of Ukraine?”

“Hey Canada,” he tweeted later. “The crazy voices you hear are a minority and they don’t represent the USA. We appreciate the fact you are our neighbour and friend. We appreciate you have our back and we have yours too. Thanks for being you.”

Sadly, the assault wasn’t all coming from south of the border.

On the streets, some Canadian protesters seemed like bullhorns for social-media extremists.

Their sheer ignorance of how governments and institutions work was breathtaking.

Occupiers seem to have thought they could take a city hostage, then sit down with the governor general and party leaders to discuss installation of a new government.

There was a suggestion by one that the case be taken directly to the Queen. Someone snickered that all charges would fail because the arrested hadn’t been read their Miranda rights. At a bail hearing, a man spoke of protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The combined effect of cluelessness about the differences between Canadian and American legal realities, and fanaticism about the belief a governor general could unilaterally oust an elected government, prompted Rideau Hall to issue a statement in the form of a Civics 101 memo.

“The office of the secretary to the governor general is aware that misinformation encouraging citizens to contact the governor general or our office to register votes of no confidence is circulating on social media. This information is not correct. No such registry or process exists.”

Not just were the protesters wildly ill-informed, they were alarmingly hostile to sources of information or views other than that to which they already subscribed.

Their attacks on journalists brought the Trumpian trope about reporters being “enemies of the people” to this country in real time and on national television.

The assaults, vile abuse and attempted intimidation of reporters doing their jobs on the streets of Ottawa constitutes a profound problem.

It was an attempt to demolish truth, delegitimize elected officials and destroy the credibility of a free press essential to a democratic country.

Most research shows Canada is less polarized than the United States. But there is no immunity in this country to what has played out there in recent years and no guarantee that the undeniable presence in Canada of disinformation-fuelled rage won’t grow.

Civil society must resolve to push back against the ugly forces that caused the chaos and criminality in our national capital.

There are worse places to start in any education campaign on what good citizenship is and isn’t than a tweet posted last week by Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“A truck is not a speech. A horn is not a voice. An occupation is not a protest. A blockade is not freedom, it blocks the liberty of all. A demand to overthrow a government is not dialogue. The expression of hatred is not a difference of opinion. A lie is not the truth.”

Still, there will be no easy fix.

Countering the tide of malevolent falsehood will require constant vigilance, engaged citizenship, critical thinking, support for news media, improved civics education, and the prompt challenging of political opportunists trading in the manipulation of malice.

It will require long overdue regulation of social media companies making obscene profits while failing to take responsibility for campaigns of hate and racism on their platforms.

For all the harm it did, the siege of Ottawa did provide the singular benefit of shining a spotlight on where things lead when lies are seen as truth, when ignorance is weaponized, and when intransigence and inaccessibility to reason become virtues.


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