By Aymen Sherwani, March 15 2022—
Freedom. One word, two syllables, seven letters — but what does it mean? What does it mean to fight for freedom? As a Muslim woman, I was only four years old when United States President George W. Bush compared freedom to apple pie, asking if anyone “…could disagree with the idea that the people of the Middle East deserve democracy…[because] freedom is worth fighting for, dying for and standing for, and the advance of freedom leads to peace.”
Obviously, that was not the case and it turned out to be neocolonialism in disguise all along, but what this highlights about the concept of fighting for freedom is that it is very different for those who possess it and those who — due to no choice of their own — are born without it.
Freedom for innocent civilians in the Middle East, Black men walking down the street and Indigenous protestors defending their unceded land implies freedom from being targets of political war games, systemic racism and unchecked capitalism. Here, freedom is the desire to be free from threats to their lives and livelihoods.
On the other hand, those who are born with the privilege of retaining such basic freedoms can live their lives without thinking of such horrors occurring in them. The lack of acknowledgement of such privilege is what results in entitlement — specifically towards the idea that the pursuit of your desires should not stop, even when they are at the expense of others.
This is what we have seen with the Freedom Convoy — a protest that started with a desire to boycott vaccine mandates for truckers but grew to a nationwide protest that ultimately led to the physical and racial harassment of public bystanders and emergency workers alongside the forced closures of surrounding schools and businesses.
At the end of the day, what this communicates is that these protestors inherently do not see a problem with harming others at the expense of getting what they want — to not put a piece of cloth over their mouths and not receive the groundbreaking medicine that remains inaccessible to others still suffering around the world. This is not a violation of your freedoms, but rather, evidence of a severe victim complex that is holding the entire nation hostage at the expense of individual desires.
So, when supporters of the convoy make claims comparing the plight of mask mandates to living in an authoritarian state because someone has forced them to do something they don’t want to do — it’s comical, but in a bad way.
People of colour and marginalized communities in Canada already live in the reality that these overwhelmingly white protestors fear. Black and Indigenous protests in Canada continue to be met with disproportionate levels of police violence — despite being peaceful — yet the Freedom Convoy lasted an entire month and cost the Canadian economy over $6 billion. The right to protest in Canada is definitely a privilege that is not only one that marginalized populations are not afforded, but something that is routinely abused by those who understand that the system of justice does not discriminate against them on the basis of their identity.
For example, the people of Wet’suwet’en protesting against the Coastal GasLink pipeline are doing so because it is a threat to their inherent survival and therefore their freedom. The construction of such a pipeline seeks to devastate the land and water quality which the community relies on. Compared to this, protesting mask mandates and proof of vaccinations is whiny, toddler behaviour.
It is proof that white privilege is alive and well in Canada when those at the Freedom Convoy proclaim they are oppressed due to the consequences of their own actions but Indigenous communities protesting the unlawful construction of pipelines through their lands are met with disproportionate police violence.
On the topic of the mayhem arising out of the Freedom Convoy, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said that, “if your freedom is built on the denial of freedom to others, then you didn’t actually have freedom at all, you had privilege, and somewhere [along the line] that privilege turned into entitlement.
“Unabashed entitlement is the ‘getting back to normal’ that a great number of people are aspiring for, unabashed entitlement does not care about the health of their neighbor or their community to the same extent that it cares about maintaining or restoring entitlement and privilege,” says Nepinak. “Privilege in this context is an economic consideration, most notably expressed as an ability to act on privilege…Canada’s privilege or economy has been built on the oppression of Indigenous people — that has not changed and those truths continue to build around this knowledge.”
Further questioning how he can “put energy into supporting a freedom convoy when we’re still trying to find our lost children,” Nepinak’s words are a glaring wake up call to those protesting for their “freedoms” by opposing vaccine mandates, and in doing so are violating the freedoms of others.
This article is a part of our Voices section.