All the people who work on The Red Review live and work on stolen Indigenous lands across Turtle Island. There can be no reconciliation without restitution, which includes Land Back, RCMP off Indigenous land, and seizing the assets of the major resource corporations and returning them to the commons.
In this episode of The Red Review, brought to you by Socialist Action, Emily and Daniel take you on a deep dive into the anti-mandate convoy? Is this a working-class movement or a eugenecist and reactionary movement led by the petit-bourgoiesie? What fueled the anti-mandate convoy, and what role did mainstream coverage of China’s zero-covid strategy play? We end with a discussion about who ought to respond to the convoy — the police or labour?
You can find Socialist Action on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, or visit our website for more information. Socialist Action also plays a leading role in the Worker’s Action Movement, which ran the Labour Forward slate at the most recent Ontario Federation of Labour convention, and the NDP Socialist Caucus.
Twitter: Naujawan Support Network
GoFundMe: Naujawan Support Network: Legal Defence Fund
Website: Community Solidarity Ottawa
Article: The Battle of Billings Bridge
Article: Coverage of China’s Covid-Zero Strategy and Manufacturing Consent
Article: Deliberate sabotage of Ottawa ‘Freedom Convoy’ counter-demo by aristocracy of labour
Article: Some immunocompromised Canadians face anxious future with lifting of COVID-19 restrictions
Emily Steers 0:11
Hello everyone, and welcome to The Red Review, a Socialist Action podcast. My name is Emily steers, and I use she/her pronouns, and I’m coming to you from the unceded territory of the Anishinabeg, Haudenosaunne, and Attawandaron peoples also known as Guelph, Ontario.
Daniel Tarade 0:29
And hello, my name is Daniel. I use he/him pronouns. And I’m coming to you from a new location today, my childhood home in Windsor, Ontario, which is the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy, which includes the Ojibwa, the Odawa, and Potawatomi. All the people that work on The Red Review podcast live and work on stolen Indigenous land from across Turtle Island. All members of Socialist Action live and work on stolen Indigenous land from across Turtle Island. So we say land back. We say that there can be no reconciliation without restitution and that includes seizing the assets of the major resource corporations and returning them to the commons. Today, we’re talking about the convoy. The Red Review is not your source for breaking news. But we want to be your source for the deep dives, the history, the material factors, and the forces on the ground that you might not see in the news normally, the people that are really leading the struggle for justice and liberation in our communities. The anti-mandate convoy might not be the breaking news anymore, but in terms of the struggles happening on Canadian soil, this is one of the arenas that we all need to pay attention to.
Emily Steers 1:43
I would also like to add, you know, we are amateur journalists. We do our best, but we are not professional journalists. But what we do here is we seek to bring perspectives to issues that you’re not going to hear the mainstream media talking about. And what we’re hoping to do today is bring a perspective to what’s been going on with the convoy that just hasn’t gotten the kind of national media attention we think it deserves. And we also want to call out a lot of political and leadership failures that led to this that don’t get discussed very often and aren’t really acknowledged.
Daniel Tarade 2:17
Also, tune in next week, for a bonus episode where I sit down with Yvonne, one of our comrades on the West Coast, to talk about the anti-mandate convoy in Vancouver, what it looked and felt like from street level, and how the community responded. And I’ll be sharing my own experiences more in depth with the anti-mandate convoy in Toronto, what that looked and felt like, and what the community response was. And in doing so, Yvonne is a amateur photo journalist, we’ll be sharing some of those photos. On my end, I was doing audio recordings, and you’ll be able to hear the chants, you’ll be able to hear the conversations that were going on in Toronto when the anti-mandate convoy came. So where do we start? Well, we get some rumblings that maybe socialists ought to support this anti-mandate convoy because it is a working class uprising. Let’s first address that. We need to make sure that our analysis of the class factors here, of the relationship of forces is clear before we can even talk about responding to the convoy because the nature of this occupation is super important for us to be able to discuss how we move forward. So Emily, what do you think, anti-mandate convoy, is this a working class uprising?
Emily Steers 3:32
Well, yeah, it’s a really, really interesting idea. Because as we’ve seen, there’s a lot of people who want to kind of ignore this or discredit it and say, Oh, it’s all like truck owners and operators and small business people, it’s people who can afford to take three weeks off from work at a time to go occupy the capital city. But a lot of the membership and massive amount of the support is working class. And I think that’s really important to keep in mind: the difference between a working-class membership and having working-class interests. A lot of the people who’ve been participating in the convoy have been saying things like I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t support us. You know, we are fighting for the interests of working people. We’re fighting for the interests of Canadians everywhere. Why don’t they see how important this is? And there is a lot of genuine concern. Something that a lot of particularly establishment politicians are really quick to discredit is the genuine concerns of people that have gone into this. There’s been a catastrophic failure to respond meaningfully to people’s concerns. In pretty much every single way, working people’s lives in Canada over the last two years has gotten immensely worse. People have lost their jobs, people have lost their livelihoods. People have been evicted. The cost of food, of gas, of housing, everything is skyrocketing. Is it really that much of a shock that so many people are desperate to return to life before the pandemic? The problem is we’ve failed to make human connections through the mandates and through the messaging. And so people are blaming all of these massive changes in their lives on the thing that they can pinpoint, which is the mandates.
Daniel Tarade 5:26
Emily Steers 5:27
This isn’t a movement with working-class interests in mind. A real working-class movement would be demanding a $20 minimum wage, would be demanding employment security for everyone, would be demanding that the people get the benefits, not the corporations that have reaped all of these rewards and all of these subsidies in the pandemic after making record profits. Looking at you, Bell and Rogers. But it’s very clear that this convoy has not and did not and continues to not have working-class people’s interests in mind. They are against the mandates, which are becoming a stand in for all of the other class struggle issues that are present that are not being meaningfully addressed. Then that’s my big frustration is that this movement has been so co-opted by the right wing, by anti-vaxxers, and by misinformation because as I say, so many people have genuine concerns. So many people have been genuinely failed. And the fact that there’s been just this vacuum of leadership, this vacuum of support from the political establishment, and especially from labour, which we’re going to get into a bit later.
Daniel Tarade 6:39
Oh, we will.
Emily Steers 6:39
Oh, yes. But the fact that there has been this incredible vacuum in leadership and the left hasn’t been able to reach out and connect to these people has meant that all of their frustrations and their legitimate anger has been co opted by the right wing.
Daniel Tarade 6:55
Let’s get into that a bit more. So the anti-mandate convoy, the masses of this movement are not the petty-bourgeoisie. It’s not. But these wealthier individuals, who have some interesting financial connections with other nebulous forces, are the leaders because they’re well situated to be the leaders. Think about who can go to Ottawa for three weeks and set up a control room in a four star hotel. It’s clear that the leadership that has filled this vacuum that’s emerged following the pandemic and the failures of the political establishment to respond meaningfully to the pandemic, it’s been filled by this middle crust in society, the petty bourgeoisie: the owner operators of trucks, we saw earlier in the pandemic, at different moments, restaurant owners, gym owners, other small business owners opening in defiance of lockdowns, opening in defiance of capacity restrictions, because their bottom line has been hurt. And we need to recognize that during the pandemic, really the only people that benefited were the corporate elites, the bosses, the CEOs, the shareholders. They’re the only people that benefited so even though the small business owner is privileged relative to the working class, and even the oppressed people below the working class, they suffered during the pandemic relative to where they were before. So they are reacting and leading some sort of insurrection against their diminished privileged in capitalist society.
Emily Steers 8:23
Daniel Tarade 8:24
Now, that is why it’s not a working-class movement. They’re not pushing for what’s going to be best for the masses. They’re fighting to regain their own freedoms and liberties to run their businesses how they see fit, to maximize their own income, their own profit as an individual, as an individual, middle-class petty bourgeoisie person. So while we can sympathize with the small-business owners, and we do — we see in Toronto, how many of the small businesses have closed down, rents have been going up, they get very little support from the government, they can’t open all the time. Often, the pandemic restrictions are just dumped on them last minute, they don’t really get to be consulted in this stuff. So they are struggling and who is it benefiting? The corporations because they’re the ones that are filling in all that space that’s left behind when the local shops closed down.
Emily Steers 9:17
I do want to really highlight that corporatized pandemic response is absolutely what is fueling the convoy. The prioritization of corporations over people is absolutely at the root of this. You know, people are asking legitimate questions. Why can’t I go see my grandmother who’s dying in the hospital, but I’m being forced to go to work on a factory floor with 300 other people? Why can’t I see my family for Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m working in a restaurant serving hundreds of other people. These are legitimate questions, and people are genuinely confused. People are genuinely angry. Another big failure I want to point to is the suspension of EI for people who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, particularly as here in Ontario, today’s the first day that the mandate has been rescinded, you are no longer legally required to ask for a vaccine. Individual businesses can still, of course, ask to see your proof of vaccination. But now a lot of people who’ve lost their jobs and not been able to access EI, some of whom have been working in their industries for decades, are suddenly locked out of the unemployment benefits that they have been paying into for their entire careers. So you’re taking people who are already confused and upset and maybe misinformed, maybe already a little bit distrustworthy of the government and instead of reaching out to them, making meaningful connections, providing incentives to get the vaccine, you’re instead making them furious because they’ve lost their jobs and desperate because they have no more income. What, what do you think is going to be the result of that? You’re taking a bunch of confused and upset people, making them super angry, super desperate. Of course, there’s going to be a massive reactionary movement to that.
Daniel Tarade 11:08
That’s exactly it.
Emily Steers 11:09
If you’re going to take the carrot-and-the-stick approach to vaccination, there needs to be a carrot. And so far, there’s just been no carrot.
Daniel Tarade 11:16
It’s just been a stick, it’s just been punishment.
Emily Steers 11:18
It’s just been a stick. There’s been very, very little effort to reach out to vulnerable communities, to reach out to people who maybe are vaccine hesitant for whatever reason. We know from studies that people who are vaccine hesitant, most of them aren’t anti-vaxxers. Most of them are people who have genuine questions, genuine concerns, maybe they don’t have a great scientific knowledge, but even those who do, like there are a lot of people who have legitimate concerns. And those need to be met, those need to be addressed. They need to be treated with compassion. And the only people I’ve seen doing that are small-scale public health initiatives run by communities for communities, which work on a very localized level. And that does not translate to a broader response. And yeah, it’s difficult. It’s absolutely very challenging. And it’s so much easier as a government who’s trying to get things done quickly and look good to just punish people for making the unpopular decision not to get vaccinated. But that’s not how you build relationships. That’s not how you build trust. That is how you get massive reactionary movements of angry people.
Daniel Tarade 12:27
And so when we talk about reactionary, and we use this a lot, we literally mean, it’s a reaction against something. It’s short sighted, it’s immediate, it’s visceral. The way I see the pandemic, I divided it up into three phases. The first phase is when actually our capitalist governments reverted to a earlier form of capitalism, this Keynesian model, where public supports were prioritized to keep the economy going. Rather than corporate bailouts, you bail out the workers directly. And that’s what we saw to an extent — it was limited — during the first wave, during the uncertainty and the terror that we all kind of felt when COVID first came into our communities, and we saw that exponential spread. What happened? People were paid to stay home. You were paid to not do work. Why? Going to work was dangerous, going to work would spread the virus, going to work will kill people. And we recognized in that moment, most of the work that we do in society is not essential. It really only exists to increase productivity and make some people very wealthy. So people were paid to stay at home for the first half year really, is how long the CERB program lasted. Now, people were left out of this response. You had houseless people living in encampments, who were still being brutalized. They were not getting support, not to the extent that they needed. You had disabled people that were left out in the dark or worse, out in the cold because their disability benefits were not increased. And actually, it’s been a very strong rhetorical device because CERB was set at $2,000 a month, which was defined as what is needed to live in this country. And yet people with disability, in Ontario for example, get less than $1,200 a month in terms of monetary support, and they cannot work while receiving that either. So you’re capped, which then leads to the question, okay, if $2,000 is enough to live on, or is what’s required to live on, why do disabled people have to live on $1,200 a month. And while some Canadians were eligible for this Keynesian support, there was an entirely different demographic that was excluded from it, — so-called Essential workers. And I say “so-called” not because they weren’t essential. The people working in grocery stores, people working in health care, including long term care, people working in meatpacking plants, they did play an essential role in producing and providing services that are necessary, related to food, related to health. Yet while office workers were sent home and were immediately made more safe and supported by the government, essential workers were still forced to go out into the world, into workplaces that were crowded, that didn’t have PPE, that didn’t have adequate safety protections. And they suffered. From Nora Loreto ‘s newest book “Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the Covic-19 pandemic,” there’s this really important trend to highlight. For example, in Toronto, quote, Canada imposed lockdowns forcing people who could work from home to stay shut in while those who couldn’t work from home. who are more likely to be deemed essential, were forced to work. This had a sinister impact that barely got attention in national media. Toronto Star journalist Jennifer Yang tweeted about a data visualization project that the Toronto Star did with Toronto Public Health Data. Lockdown instantly flattened the curve for Toronto’s richest, whitest areas: for poorest, most racialized, it kept rising. The graph is stark. All cases rose until the moment of the most stringent measures. Then the two poorest quartiles kept rising sharply while the two richest quartiles fell. As of October 30, 2020, black people had been hit hardest, representing 23% of all infections while making up only 9% of Toronto’s population. White people, who make up 48% of Toronto’s population, only made up 18% of those who got sick from COVID-19. And still, this didn’t change how journalists and politicians talked about the pandemic. While indigenous communities managed to keep Covid-19 at bay during the first wave, the second wave and beyond was devastating. End quote. So that’s from one of the chapters in Nora Loreto’s newest book. Highly recommend it because it spotlights exactly who was left behind in the pandemic response. Some people benefited from support during the first wave. But a lot of workers, a lot of minimum-wage earners, who are most likely racialized, most likely to be migrants or immigrants, or otherwise have a precarious employment status, they did all the most important work to keep our economy and society functioning while receiving the fewest supports and suffering the most risk, suffering the most illness, suffering the most deaths, meat packers at Cargill, racialized women in long term care. And we also saw in our shelter system and in prisons, there was no coverage because these people who again, most likely to be racialized, most likely to have a mental illness, most likely to be disabled, these people were deemed unworthy of news coverage, and Covid absolutely tore through these carceral institutions that at their most fundamental, packed as many people as closely together as possible with no consideration for humane living conditions. So there were limits to this Neo-Keynesian economic model during the beginning of the pandemic, but a lot of people received a adequate amount of support. And really think about that first summer. You know, once the first wave crested, we actually came down to zero new cases in Toronto. It worked. It’s amazing. Public health protections worked. And yet people had some security, they had some solid foundation in their life and people then connected with community, people took up hobbies, people were spending more time in parks than ever before.
Emily Steers 18:20
People were connecting with their neighbors, they were building community solidarity networks. We saw such an amazing groundswell of support and of mutual aid all across the country.
Daniel Tarade 18:30
Rather than that being the status quo going forward, no one seized that to make that the status quo going forward, what the corporations were looking at, what the politicians were looking at is, how soon can we roll back all of these supports to start increasing profit once again. And they did it pretty quickly. Once they thought they had a feel for the virus and exactly how much spread they can allow, they rolled it back, they let cases ramp up, they let people die. And then they would reinstate the bare minimum number of supports and the supports they chose to reinstate during the second period of the pandemic was really where the thread was lost. And that is the moment I think this reaction was inevitable. And that was the first Thanksgiving, that first Christmas, like you mentioned, when people were told you cannot go see your families, you need to sacrifice all of those important moments in your life for the good of everybody. And yet corporations not only were not expected to make that sacrifice, they were bailed out. They were basically told, yeah, get your workers back in. That’s why you have the joke. If you want to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family, well, you got to all go to the restaurant where one of your kids is working, you know. And that was it. And that deep contradiction upset a lot of people. Obviously. It upset me because we know that just telling people to not see people, that abstinence-only approach, not only isn’t as effective, it’s destructive.
Emily Steers 19:54
Absolutely. There is nothing that destroys public trust quite as effectively as double standards and hypocrisy.
Daniel Tarade 20:01
Exactly. And then they kept piling on. As we went through second and third waves, there was still this visceral reminder of what we stand to lose with the pandemic, but people were left out in the lurch. We never had a true lockdown after that first wave. People were still going to work. PPE was not being provided in any centralized way. Testing was still a nightmare. And then as the vaccines came, much more quickly than anybody ever thought, that’s when the government’s found their scapegoat. We are just going to push this technological solution as a panacea for everything. And if people don’t get vaccinated, we’re going to scapegoat those people.
Emily Steers 20:38
which we saw really, really transparently in the United States. You know, we had Democrat press release saying, if you’re vaccinated, great good for you. If you’re unvaccinated, you are the cause of like untold misery and suffering, and you are condemning your families and your communities to death and despair. Like this really extreme language. That’s not exactly the language they used, but it was very explicitly blaming unvaccinated people and entirely letting vaccinated people off the hook and saying that they did not need to take on any responsibility for the reduction in prevention of transmission.
Daniel Tarade 21:17
Exactly. And even more than that, it let the corporations off the hook.
Emily Steers 21:20
Daniel Tarade 21:21
Corporations were no longer the focus of creating safe work environments. Corporations were no longer really even thinking about enforcing the public health protections that were technically the law. And people really just went along with this personalized response to the pandemic. If you’re vaccinated, you did your part, you’re safe, who cares about the unvaccinated, they can die for all we care, which again, not a great way to build any sort of collective response.
Emily Steers 21:49
Daniel Tarade 21:49
We’ve mentioned it before, there are a lot of reasons why someone might refuse or hesitate about getting the vaccine. We have had communities, mostly black and Indigenous communities, that — I don’t even want to use the term historically here as if it doesn’t still happen — but in the racial caste of our imperialist world, they’re the ones that get tested on and have the least amount of access to the innovations of science. And now you’re telling them, you need to get this vaccine. Trust us! Well, that trust was never built. But beyond the people that are explicitly hesitant, how many people in this country don’t speak English or French as their first language and don’t know how to navigate our complicated vaccine booking procedure? We called it The Hunger Games for a reason. And yet not everybody is equally equipped to fight in the vaccine Hunger Games. You have people that did not get time off to get vaccinated, their employers, were not letting them do that. You have people that were working two, three jobs. You had people that had no clinics in their area, especially rural communities. So there are a lot of things that the government could have done to incentivize and make it easier, which if we recognize the vaccine as a useful tool to fight the pandemic, we should have been doing. Instead, they took a spiteful approach and that continued with the vaccine mandates. I support the vaccine mandates because every worker deserves a safe work place. Meaning if you have a co-worker who doesn’t get vaccinated during a pandemic, that person is putting all the other co-workers at risk. That being said, like you mentioned earlier, when people that were not vaccinated got terminated with cause for not getting vaccinated, not only does that undermine the idea of informed consent, it’s again, accelerating this punishment, this spiteful insistence that the pandemic falls on the shoulder of individuals making moral choices rather than any sort of collective top-down pandemic response, like we saw during the first wave. So people are being told, get vaccinated or lose your livelihood. That’s not informed consent. What I would have preferred to have seen is a situation where you can get vaccinated and keep working or otherwise, you get paid to stay home, you get your unemployment insurance. We saw in Quebec that they toyed with the idea of charging an extra health tax for people that are unvaccinated to access healthcare, this slope towards increased privatization.
Emily Steers 21:56
Well, and this idea, the very dangerous idea in health care that if you have done something to make yourself sick, you deserve less quality care than someone who quote unquote, didn’t deserve to get sick or didn’t do anything to get sick.
Daniel Tarade 24:32
So what’s the third distinct phase of the pandemic? Well as Omicron came, the corporations and powers that be decided that the pandemic is over, it’s gone on too long, restrictions are too onerous.
Emily Steers 24:47
We’re all too tired of this.
Daniel Tarade 24:48
Well, they say we’re all too tired, but really, they were too tired and honestly, working people were tired too because as the pandemic continued, the contradictions piled up. But it reached a fever pitch as the Omicron wave was hitting. All of a sudden a new, more transmissible variant emerged, something that really threatened profiteering even more because if you’re going to respond to an even more transmissible virus, well, you got to up the public health protections. You got to start paying people to stay at home to get a handle on this. They did not want to do that again. So they started lying about how severe Omicron is, they ignored long Covid, and they stopped testing. As cases in Ontario shattered records, we were seeing 10, 000s of cases a day, they basically said, you can’t get tested anymore. They started saying you only have to isolate for five days instead of 10 days if you were exposed or if you even tested positive. That was not a scientific decision. That was a corporate decision. They started talking about people being sick with Covid as being absent from work. They talked about absenteeism rather than people being ill with a new variant of a virus that we hardly understand the long term impacts that it will bring to society. People were being told that if you’re positive but asymptomatic, you can go to work. All of these things being fed to us by the corporate media and by our neoliberal hack politicians came after the vaccine mandates, came after all those punishments for some people and the decisions that they made. And now all of a sudden, we had this weird scenario where if you were a trucker and you weren’t vaccinated, you would get fired. But if you were a nurse who got vaccinated but tested positive, you were expected to go to work. That is a contradiction. That is not a consistent public health strategy. Instead, we saw the downplaying of the pandemic and the manufacturing of consent for a quote unquote, return to normal.
Emily Steers 26:50
And also, as we can see, now, these contradictions have not stopped. They have continued to pile up. As we see in Ontario, as I mentioned, the vaccine mandate is ending today. There is very likely, given that Ontario often follows the CDC in the States, likely in the near future, there is going to be the repeal of mask mandates.
Daniel Tarade 27:09
Emily Steers 27:10
And the inherent contradictions of this, even just where we were a few months ago, just baffles me, because just in December and January, we were seeing this massive, massive push for everyone to get boosted. And we were getting the information that oh, cloth masks and surgical masks are no longer sufficient, you need to try and get N95, KN95 masks, which were skyrocketing in price, many of them weren’t even legitimate manufacturer, many of them were fakes being sold through online retailers for exorbitant prices, people were being told you need N95s to work safely, but also they were completely inaccessible, and workplaces were under no guarantee to provide them. All of these contradictions were inherent and explicit. And now suddenly, we’re seeing this massive pivot to alright, whatever, we don’t care anymore, the pandemics over, vaccines are no longer mandatory, et cetera. It makes my head spin. I am so grateful that I have a socialist framework analysis of the reason that governments are doing this is for the sake of capital and for the sake of profit. But if I didn’t have that framework, I would be at a complete loss. And the thing I do want to really emphasize is that the death toll during this Omicon wave that we have been told is less severe, less consequential has been among the highest rates of death throughout the entire pandemic. So in the second wave, we saw really high death rates as we saw the emergence of some of the variants. And this was prior to people having access to vaccination. And now we have all of these public health protections, we all have access to masks, we all have access to vaccines, but we are seeing death tolls of over 100 people in Ontario during this past couple of months. That’s not being talked about as though it’s of any consequence, which is just so explicitly eugenicist.
Daniel Tarade 29:07
Yes. And we’re going to talk about eugenics. But I want to, I want to touch on on something before we return to Ontario. It’s a deep irony that at the same time the corporate media and the politicians were all denouncing the anti-mandate convoy, they basically painted themselves into a corner because they can no longer criticize them explicitly on the pandemic because the politicians themselves were already giving up this fight on the pandemic. And so they had to find other ways of criticizing them. They criticized their tactics, they criticized the white supremacists, correctly, but at the same time, the anti-mandate convoy was setting up occupation in Ottawa, the same media that just destroyed and criticized them, the same media was pushing an anti-mandate reaction in other countries. What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re going to tell everybody that it’s inevitable that Omicron, that COVID becomes endemic, that we’ll never get rid of it, that’ll be a seasonal scourge for years to come that just amplifies our yearly flu season, and it’s just going to be killing hundreds or thousands of people every year, if you want people to believe that, you need to basically make sure that there’s no other alternative that people can look to. And there’s been one major type of response that our country’s, that our leaders have been very eager to criticize and that is of China. China is the epicenter of this pandemic. We all saw what happened in Wuhan. During the first wave, we saw the big lockdown they did to bring the pandemic to heel, and they succeeded. Just like we did in the West. We brought cases down to zero in Toronto during that first wave. We did it using somewhat similar strategies to what China did. But whereas we gave up here because the corporations here wanted to eagerly get back into this competitive free-market profit above all costs, in China, a lot of the key industries are owned by the state, the state bureaucracy, sometimes we call the state capitalist, and as a result, that gives them a longer-term vision. Because sacrificing long-term for short-term doesn’t make so much sense when you own most of the economy. In the West, if you’re one company in a sea of a bunch of other companies, well you’re just fighting for your profit.
Emily Steers 31:22
You’re fighting to survive quarter to quarter.
Daniel Tarade 31:25
Fighting to survive, and you can’t coordinate with your competitors in the same way that in China, everything was regulated from the top down. So after they brought that first wave down to zero, they instituted physical distancing, masking, they did very good contact tracing — something that we never succeeded out here — and anytime there was an outbreak, anytime there’s a local outbreak, they did targeted but very swift lockdowns at the neighborhood level to make sure that the virus doesn’t spread into the broader population. And they succeeded. China has 50 times more people than Canada, yet they’ve had a 1/10th of the total number of Covicd deaths.
Emily Steers 32:01
Daniel Tarade 32:01
At the beginning, you know, their success was mostly brushed aside because, you know, we can’t trust Beijing, you know, they’re just, they’re lying about numbers. But as the months went on, it was clear that that wasn’t the case. Like China was actually open to people. You can travel to China, but you’d have to quarantine before you go out into the public. And we’ve even heard stories from comrades in our party that are Chinese, who traveled to Wuhan, where they’re from, during the pandemic, and they would get put up into a hotel, they wouldn’t have to pay anything, you know, the food would be provided for them. And after two weeks, they can go into the city knowing that they’re not going to get other people sick. So mostly people ignored China, while we here suffered second, third, fourth and fifth waves. This all changed in December because for the first time since April 2020, Chinese officials placed the entire city under lockdown the city of Xi’an, and you had headlines like this, China locks down 13 million people in Xi’an after detecting 127 COVID cases. They always had to specify how many people lived in the city of Xi’an because I doubt many people knew about this city. 13 million people in one city, the province of Ontario is 15 million. And they wanted to make this seem like a draconian decision. The number of times you read articles, and they specifically used “draconian” to describe what they did. What they did is they locked everything down, people were staying in their apartments, and food was being brought to them. And so you can’t criticize China on either their ability to contain the virus, it’s unparalleled. And you can’t even criticize their lockdown measures as impacting their economy because their economy was the only major economy in the world to grow in 2020. Because amazingly, when you keep your citizens healthy and you control the spread of the pandemic, they actually had fewer lockdowns than we did. A person living in China spent fewer weeks under any sort of restrictions compared to what we’ve been through here.
Emily Steers 33:50
And as a contrast, we have countries like Australia, which I believe has set the world record for citizens spending the longest amount of time under a strict lockdown. But of course, there were massive, massive reactionary protests to these because while they were under this incredibly long arduous lockdown, people were not being paid to stay home. People were not given access to rapid testing in effective or equitable manners. And vaccine rollout was mired by all kinds of other problems. There was really no end in sight. And so of course, this is going to fuel a massive reactionary movement of people not understanding why they can’t see their friends and family and people can’t come in from abroad. And all of these lack of access to services without any kind of support or compensation is just absolutely abhorrent.
Daniel Tarade 34:53
So returning to China then, this reporting was happening as the Omicron wave was beginning to peak In Canada, in Ontario, and so they first tried to pivot like, look, it’s happening in China as well. It’s inevitable. Now, do you want to guess Emily, what the peak number of cases was in Xi’an per day because of these lockdowns?
Emily Steers 35:15
Oh, I genuinely don’t know. So I’m going to say 400.
Daniel Tarade 35:20
It peaked at less than 200, total of 2000 cases. They were in a strict lockdown for about three weeks. Three weeks!
Emily Steers 35:27
Oh, that hurts.
Daniel Tarade 35:29
Yeah. And nobody actually died of Covid during this, because again, in China, they actually prioritized then, you know, elderly, disabled people. So generally, the people that were getting sick were people that were going to work and were exposed, but were also people that were less vulnerable. So those 2000 cases were not happening in long-term care centers like what we saw here. First, they want to argue it’s inevitable look, even China’s failing. When it became clear that China was not going to fail, then they switch to a different tactic. And I gotta say, I don’t see what the difference is between this rhetoric and the anti-mandate convoy. You got headlines like this, Xi’an lockdown brings heartbreak and dysfunction as political pressure to contain outbreak grows. You have headlines like this, Beijing Olympics Covid measures worked but at a massive cost. You have this headline from Wired, The end game of China’s zero Covid policy nightmare; describing a world where Covid is not exponentially dividing as a nightmare. Why? Because they talked about the impact on individual liberties. Just like the anti-mandate convoy here. They talked about people not being free to go out into the streets for three weeks. And this was all being fueled by a few anecdotes that circulated on Chinese social media, like Weibo. You had two anecdotes. One of a pregnant woman who has delayed access to a hospital for two hours because she did not have a valid negative Covid test. During those two hours that she was waiting outside the hospital, there was an image taken, she was bleeding quite a bit, and she ultimately miscarried despite getting access to care two hours later. And there was another story of a man who was having a heart attack. He was from a higher risk neighborhood where the virus was actually found, and he was delayed for two hours. Even though he got an emergency surgery later, he did die.
Emily Steers 37:17
Which are admittedly tragic.
Daniel Tarade 37:20
Emily Steers 37:20
We don’t want to downplay that at all.
Daniel Tarade 37:22
No, absolutely not. It’s hard to know, because literally, there is no reporting on the ground. These are all unconfirmed anecdotes from essentially anonymous people on Weibo. But these were being amplified to highlight just the misery. You had literal quotes of, Harrowing tales of loss and despair, highlighting the immense human cost of China’s zero-Covid policy. Yet, literally, as these articles were being written, in Toronto, we had Code Black after Code Black where no ambulances were available. The same time. And yet in China, these people didn’t have access to health care because they were trying to shut things down and prevent the pandemic. In Toronto, people didn’t have access to health care because the pandemic was out of control, because paramedics were sick, because so many people in the community were sick and needed an ambulance. You know, which one is really the untold amount of despair. In Ontario, we had to cancel 10, 000s of surgeries a week, including cancer surgeries, and they’re going to talk about two instances in China as being just unimaginable, untolerable, just let the pandemic rip. We cannot tolerate this impact on individual liberties. Yet, literally in Toronto at the same time, you have stories from the unions that represent paramedics. Mike Merriman, he is the paramedic unit chair for CUPE local 416, and he talked about one anecdote where a call that was deemed to be life-threatening came in, and there are no units available to attend. So that’s one anecdote that’s equivalent, in my opinion, to what happened in Xi’an, and yet instead of it being one or two stories, he says this happens all the time. It’s frequent. You don’t have cancer surgeries, people cannot have access to hospitals, ambulances aren’t available. Those two stories in China, they had a two hour delay. In Ontario, you had over 1000 deaths due to Omicron in January, 2022, which exceeded the first wave. But they needed to write this stuff because if you ever admit that the zero Covid policy is not only possible but better for the economy and fewer people die, then what argument is there left to make for what we’re doing here, which is essentially giving up.
These are all like really, really excellent points. And it’s it’s a really, really transparent contrast. You know, you hear the convoy protesters you know, asking each other questions of what are you most excited for when the mandates are repealed, and people are saying things like, you know, I want to spend time with my grandparents who are in palliative care. I want to go to my child’s grade eight graduation. I want to take my kids to sports games, you know. These are not unreasonable things.
Emily Steers 40:01
But they’ve been demonized for wanting this and for being mired in this hypocrisy. I do want to point out though, we don’t bring up this example of China because we are massive supporters of the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese state.
Daniel Tarade 40:19
No, absolutely not.
Emily Steers 40:20
Far from it. But we just want to bring this up as a highlight, as a contrast, and also to point out the hypocrisy of a lot of the media coverage surrounding anti-mandate measures.
Daniel Tarade 40:33
Yeah, so let me share last three quotes from three articles I found regarding the zero Covid approach in China once it became clear, again and again, that it works. This one is from a person that was in Beijing for the Olympics. He was a reporter, and he talked about China’s closed loop system designed to keep 10, 000s of athletes, officials, journalists and volunteers preserved in a Covid-free bubble. It worked. It’s joyless, it’s agonizing. It’s numbing, but it worked. And that was an article arguing against these protections because it’s joyless, and it makes me think, well, what’s so joyful about people being sick and dying and the community of Beijing then having to have a outbreak because of a sporting competition? Here’s another one, and this one I think is the funniest. Not everyone agrees a large-scale outbreak would be as disastrous as China makes it out to be. Arguing again, that the cure or the response to the pandemic is even worse than what would happen if they didn’t respond. And the last one I’m going to share, from the Associated Press news wire, quote, most experts say the Coronavirus around the world isn’t going away and believe it could eventually become like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat if enough people gain immunity through infections and vaccines. The herd immunity idea that we all made fun of at the beginning because it was very blatantly a plan of letting the virus infect everybody and then just get it over with even though kill millions and millions of people, it never left. Workers fought back, during the beginning of the pandemic in particular, and we pushed back the idea of herd immunity because we realized no, our lives matter. We shouldn’t die working at Walmart, or Amazon or Starbucks so that they can make more money. That’s not the priority here. And now again, it’s this full on push. What do you expect? You’re going to die of a virus or you’re going to die of something else? Just get over it. And that, that is why the anti-mandate push, whether from the press or from the convoy, is a eugenicist message.
Emily Steers 42:36
Exactly. I want to shout out all of the amazing disability activists who’ve been highlighting the eugenecist nature of Covid coverage from the beginning, and we’ll link to some of them in the description of this podcast. Having people say things like acceptable losses or only the immunocompromised or the people with pre-existing conditions and the elderly are dying or suffering because of this disease is an explicitly eugenicist policy because it structures things around this idea of people being expendable, and a certain amount of deaths being admissible for society to function. And when we have a novel disease, expecting vulnerable people to be sacrificed for the sake of profit, for the sake of corporate success is violent. It is absolutely violent. And furthermore, we know that people are not immunocompromised, people are not vulnerable on an individual level. People are vulnerable on the level of communities. For example, racialized communities who are victims of environmental racism, who live near coal-burning power plants or waste sites who have higher rates of asthma and chronic bronchitis and pulmonary issues because of where they live, because of the industries that surround them, they are at higher risk and they are considered acceptable losses because of their conditions. We see this in the failure regarding elder care and this idea of if you are no longer productive, you are no longer useful to society, then you are then a drain on society. No matter what you’ve contributed to society during your lifetime, as soon as you are no longer useful to capital, you are expendable to capital.
Daniel Tarade 44:23
When we think of eugenics, our mind first goes to the Nazis, and we think of the extermination of undesirables. Yet what is often forgotten, even from the legacy of eugenics in Nazi Germany, is that the first people that they killed on mass were the disabled. Those were the original undesirables. They were going to cleanse their genetic pool of anybody that cannot contribute to the accumulation of profit in society. And that’s what we did also in Canada. We have a very, quote unquote, rich legacy of eugenics that is both racist and targeted towards Indigenous populations, immigrant populations, but also against the disabled, against people that are considered unintelligent. And yet that’s exactly what the anti-mandate push is also targeting. In Ontario, you have very clean data that for every wave of this pandemic, that the poorest neighborhoods had the most cases, and the most racialized, i.e. least white neighborhoods had the most cases of Covid. And those are also connected because racialized communities are also the poorest communities. We know exactly who’s going to be more likely to get sick and die as we roll back all these protections, and they don’t want to explicitly talk about it, but we know who it is. And we need to shout that from the rooftops. There are more people in this country now that are immunocompromised than are unvaccinated. Yet the mainstream rhetoric is, as we roll back all these mandates, it becomes a personal choice. Either you’re vaccinated and protected or you made the choice not to get vaccinated, and you have to live with the consequences. And this ignores all the people that can’t get vaccinated. If you’re immunocompromised, your ability to mount an immune response, even one that’s fueled by vaccine against the virus, is limited. And yet they are just seen as, well, what can you do we got to get the economy going again. How disgusting.
Emily Steers 46:14
it’s deeply disappointing. And you know, from my connections to disability justice activism, I knew that we live in a deeply eugenicist society. But it really is something to have it smack you in the face on a day-to-day basis, just how much society hates people who are not productive, or who are not deemed valuable in this culture and in this society.
Daniel Tarade 46:36
And we mentioned before, disability support was not increased during the pandemic. And even when it became clear that $2,000 is the minimum a person needs per month, people that are disabled still have to live with 1200, despite the fact that disability is often very expensive on top of the fact that it increases vulnerability. We need to make this clear that what the convoy is demanding is a return to their privileges at the expense of the disabled, at the expense of the elderly, at the expense of impoverished communities and Indigenous communities that will be more impacted by the uncontrolled spread of this virus. It’s a eugenicist message. So while at the beginning, we tried to understand why people are reacting in this way, we have to make it clear that we can’t support it.
Emily Steers 47:20
Daniel Tarade 47:20
Understanding is necessary to then respond. And that’s the next thing we want to tackle. Who should respond to the anti-mandate convoy then because it shouldn’t be the eugenicist Justin Trudeau, it shouldn’t be the Liberal government. It should be us. But what did we see instead?
Emily Steers 47:35
It’s been very interesting watching the response because initially, of course, a lot of people assumed that the convoy would only be in town for the weekend. You know, that last weekend in January when everyone rolled in, and we saw just a completely hands-off approach from the police, which they wrongly assumed that the protest was going to be in town for a few days, and then like many other protests, they would clear up and move away. And in doing that, they foolishly allowed people to become entrenched. They rolled out the welcome mat, they said, Yep, exercise your democratic right to free protest, which I do want to emphasize, we are not opposed to and we’ll talk about this a little bit more later. We are not in opposition to the tactics of protest. We are not in opposition to blockades, to rallies, to big disruptive actions. Those are not the things we have a problem with. And I think it’s really important that people in their criticism of the convoy make this distinction. Our problem is not with the tactics. It’s about the goal. The goal of this protest is explicitly anti-worker, it is pro business, it is pro-capital, it is very racist. It does not take into account vulnerable people. It is selfish, individualistic. That is the issue we have with this convoy. But as I say, so the police allowed this demonstration to roll in, was not anticipating them to become entrenched in the way they were, but they very quickly set up camp and they very quickly entrenched themselves and made life difficult for a lot of people living in centre town.
Daniel Tarade 49:15
They openly were harassing people. And again, it’s telling who was being harassed. Healthcare workers are being harassed, the elderly, the people living in the streets were the targets of this because it fits that dichotomy that they’re fighting for their privileges. And they came in with this very privileged mindset. As it was clear that the occupation would wear on, as it was clear that the occupation was a threat to the community, people tried to start initiating counter protests. They tried to work and show that the community does not support this. That this is a loud minority but that the community that opposes them, outnumbers them. And so I want to highlight a very early story. On February 3, so really early days, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and their Ottawa local, their executives they initiated a town hall to discuss the potential for a counter protest. And there was clear evidence that the community of Ottawa wanted to protect their community from this occupation, particularly the violent white supremacist factions that were present overtly. You had people flying flags of white supremacy. Few days before this town hall, a Reddit post was made by a person living in Ottawa calling for an anti-hate counter protest that had massive support. 1000s of upvotes, 1000s of comments. People were ready to fight back. But this townhall organized by PSAC, instead of supporting this call for self-defense, actually focused on sabotaging any mass response, arguing that labor should have nothing to do with counter protests. And the main argument that they made was that any counter protest, any demonstration in the streets would be unsafe for any black, Indigenous, or racialized people participating. And that as a result because of how unsafe it is, it should be up to the police or even the military to be the ones to deal with this. Which is — is it ironic that they’re calling on the police because that will somehow be safer for black and Indigenous people? Is that the right word? Is that irony? I don’t know.
Emily Steers 51:12
Particularly given the history of corruption and violence and white supremacist sympathy within the Ottawa police, which we will link to sources for that in the description, given the history of the Ottawa police and also the transparently supportive actions of a lot of police. You know, many of the convoy protesters said police officers were you know, smiling at them, giving them a thumbs up, waving, being very friendly. We saw a lot of amicable interactions between protesters and police, which God I don’t need to point out the hypocrisy in the police response. I think we all know this. But my goodness, was it ever weird to see. But clearly, the police response was inadequate. And we saw a complete breakdown of the ability of police, who were standing there with their equipment saying, oh, we can’t do anything. We need more money. We need more resources. There’s nothing we can do when we’ve seen them take action against demonstrators on much more harsh scales. Not that I’m advocating for police violence against this group. Of course not. But my goodness, would it ever be nice to get this kid glove treatment.
Daniel Tarade 52:18
Exactly. The argument isn’t that the police should have been cracking down on this anti-mandate convoy, it’s that the police shouldn’t be doing that same thing against Indigenous land defenders, the police should not be exercising brutality against encampments, or Black Lives Matter protesters. That is the hypocrisy, that is the contradiction.
Emily Steers 52:38
Exactly. And so what was really interesting is as we see this kind of flailing from the Ottawa police, this just like unabashed failure on all levels of government to respond to the convoy in any kind of adequate, meaningful way, the first time we actually saw people being prevented from getting to the downtown core, the first time we saw any kind of defense of the community was community driven. So we saw the young woman who petitioned for an injunction against the horns. That was the first successful injunction against the convoy protesters. There’s the example in Vancouver when there was an attempted convoy to downtown Vancouver that was blocked by a bunch of people on bikes and pedestrians. Like a community organization stepped up and blockaded. And then we saw in Ottawa what’s now known as the Battle of Billings Bridge, which was the first blockade set up that actually prevented anyone from getting to the downtown core. And they set up a small blockade at an intersection near Billings Bridge. It was meant to be a few dozen people, they weren’t expecting a huge response, but people were so ready to stand up to defend their communities, to push back against this, that 1000s of people turned up and the energy was phenomenal. And they managed to block the entire group of people trying to get downtown and they only let them go, they only let them through if they agreed to give up their supplies; their jerry cans full of gas and diesel, their food supplies, all of this. They were made to give that up before they could get through.
Daniel Tarade 54:19
And also take down their flags and signs.
Emily Steers 54:21
And so it was this massive community-driven response, which put the police to shame.
Daniel Tarade 54:27
I want to highlight, so James Hutt wrote a great article on this in The Breach. And I want to read a quick passage because the way he frames this community response I think is very consistent with what we’re talking about. “While not everyone I met in downtown Ottawa is right-wing, what they all are is angry, pissed off at government policies and furious at Justin Trudeau and they’re not wrong to be. Life has gotten worse in almost every way since the pandemic started. Housing and rental prices have skyrocketed. Food prices are up. 1000s have lost their jobs and government supports like CERB ended over a year ago. If workers get sick from COVID, they are left on their own. At every step of the way, provincial and federal governments have pushed all the costs and risks of the pandemic onto individuals while ensuring that corporate profits soared. With the broad left missing in action, and the NDP and unions falling down on the job in particular, there have been no bold and compelling vision on offer and the right has seized on this vacuum to misdirect all that legitimate anger. It was this dynamic that our action sought to shake up.” End quote. So the people leading this action were actually elected officers or staff with the public service of Alliance Canada, the same union that actually shut down organizing efforts earlier. But a few of them realized there was a need for this. Maybe at the beginning, they thought it would go away. Maybe they thought that the police would actually respond to this. Well, as the weeks went on, that was not the case. So these people and I’m gonna name them here — Hassan Husseini, Alex Silas, and Chelsea Flook — they called a cross-union meeting and that gave rise to the group Community Solidarity Ottawa, which called for genuine solutions for working people. It was not merely defensive. They were putting out offensive demands; they wanted 14 paid sick days, they wanted $20 an hour minimum wage, increase job security for truckers, nationalizing long-term care, better health care, manufacturing and freely distributing n 95 masks and rapid test kits in Canada. And these were the people that did the work.
Emily Steers 56:32
Yeah. And so it’s like, this is what working-class demands can look like, this is what people could have been demanding. And what was really interesting is later in that article, again, we’ll link it below, highly recommend, is that you actually managed to make some personal connections with the convoy, and I think that’s a wider conversation that’s starting to happen. This idea of how do we respond, how do we mend our communities. Because there are quite a lot of people in Canada who say, you know, while I don’t agree with their methods, or while I don’t agree with everything they’re doing, or all of their membership, people have some valid frustrations and people have some valid concerns. Like there is a lot of sympathy that a lot of people don’t really want to acknowledge. If we’re going to build a working-class movement, if we’re going to build a truly working-class organization and build solidarity, we need to build understanding. And I think what happened at Billings Bridge provides a really wonderful roadmap of that because people approached the truckers, people approached the folks there. He tells the story of one man who when being approached, broke down in tears and said he never wanted this. He never wanted this much aggression and confrontation. He was just fed up and angry and scared. He says later on in the article that that man was the first man to take down the flags and symbols off of his truck and drive away. And so we have so many opportunities. We know that the police aren’t going to provide community connections and space for listening and healing and hearing people’s concerns. We know the Liberal Party is completely uninterested in that and to my eternal shame and disappointment, so seems the NDP.
Daniel Tarade 58:11
That first weekend in February, when it was clear that this was an occupation, we were both at the Ontario NDP convention.
Emily Steers 58:18
Daniel Tarade 58:18
The first one in three years
Emily Steers 58:19
Tune into our next podcast where we’ll be debriefing that in a little bit more detail.
Daniel Tarade 58:24
But an emergency resolution came to the floor to condemn the convoy. Okay, what did it call for. It called for some good things. It called for, you know, supporting mutual aid, it called for, you know, condemnation of the hate symbols. But what it stopped short of calling for is an actual organized labor response to confront the convoy, to denounce the eugenicist message. Often people only focused on condemning the overt hate, the white supremacy,
Emily Steers 58:51
Daniel Tarade 58:52
while ignoring the structural chasms in our society that gave rise to this and the counter demands that could actually remedy these structural reasons.
Emily Steers 59:02
Which we saw on full display, thanks to the folks at Billings Bridge actually presenting counter demands that would make everyone’s lives better.
Daniel Tarade 59:11
So as part of the NDP Socialist Caucus, we did speak against the emergency resolution for not going far enough, for not including an actual labor response. And then the last one I want to talk about then is the Canadian Labour Congress, the biggest labor organization in the country. And I gotta say, what a shameful, shameful response they put out. Here’s a few quotes. Canadian unions have fought for generations for the right to protest. This is a cornerstone of our democratic system. But what we have witnessed on the streets of Canada’s capital over the past 13 days — this was released on February ninth — is something different altogether. This is not a protest. It is an occupation by an angry mob trying to disguise itself as a peaceful protest. So they take umbrage with the tactics. They denounce the tactics and then they continue. Quote, this occupation has also raised serious questions about an uneven application of policing. Authorities spent the first week taking a hands off approach to the occupation of city streets and parks not even handing out parking tickets as big rigs blocked busy intersections and local businesses were forced to shutter. This is a far cry from the kind of crackdowns we have seen in the past towards Indigenous land protests, Black Lives Matter and other equity-seeking activists or striking workers. End quote. I agree with all of that, but this is how they end. This is how they end their call. Canadian unions call on the federal and provincial governments to work together and quickly deliver urgently needed direct supports to the workers and businesses affected. It is time for all levels of government to work together to help the people affected and put an end to this occupation of our nation’s capital. End quote. That’s how the end their statement: with an implicit demand for the police and the military to do whatever they need to do to act on this rather than taking this as an opportunity for labor to lead the way out.
Emily Steers 1:01:05
Exactly. Tying into that and tying into this kind of hands off approach from labor, which I think marks a lot of the failure in addressing the concerns of this convoy is so many of these concerns are labor based, right. Access to EI, access to stable employment and income during lockdowns, all of these are labor issues. Access to paid sick days, access to time off to care for loved ones, adequate insurance and medical care. All of these things are labor issues that labor has just not meaningfully addressed. Well, they’ve addressed. They’ve called for throughout the pandemic. But has there been any action? Has there been a general strike? Have there been any demonstrations? Has the union leadership led the way in asking, demanding this? No, they’ve been posing for photo ops with Doug Ford when he raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Daniel Tarade 1:01:57
Shout out to Smokey Thomas, President of OPSEU and Jerry Dias, president of Unifor. You will go down in history as traitors, class one.
Emily Steers 1:02:06
It’s so disappointing. And then, of course, all of this systemic failure on part of policing, and all of the failures of any kind of meaningful response, aside from the amazing community-led initiatives which can be scaled, but were met with some resistance.
Daniel Tarade 1:02:24
Well, that’s the thing those community responses dealt not only with the convoy but with the police. At the Battle of Billings Bridge, they negotiated with both sides as separate from the community because the police wanted these 30 trucks or so that were blocked by protesters to be allowed to retreat back to their supply center. And the community said, No, we don’t just let them leave. And they ultimately negotiated, like you mentioned, that they can be let through one at a time only after giving up their jerry cans of fuel, taking down their signs and their flags. And this is what the police refuse to do. The police refuse to confiscate the jerry cans. Why? Why does labour ask for the police to step up? Why do they talk about, you know, this is too unsafe for us to do so the police have to do it. And then instead, you see the community do it anyway. Why? Because it’s riskier not to do anything. It’s riskier to leave it in the hands of the police. We’ve talked about the bias, the favorable bias that the police shows towards the anti-mandate convoy, and this is a favorable bias that they lack when dealing with encampments, Indigenous Land defenders or Black Lives Matter protesters. Why? The police in Ottawa take up 10% of the city budget. Toronto Police get over a billion dollars a year. Money is not the issue. They had enough resources. The money, resources and law all sided with the police against the convoy with one notable exception. The police themselves actually quite like the convoy. Why? The ideals of “law and order,” the ideals of “to serve and protect” has always prioritized white bodies over black bodies, white bodies over Indigenous bodies, rich bodies over poor bodies and the abled over the disabled. And so when the anti-mandate convoy clearly breaks the laws and the police do nothing, or they even provide open support, this is the contradiction and it’s because this convoy, led by the petit bourgeoisie with covert or at times overt white supremacist elements and fueled by angry mostly able-bodied, mostly white people, well, this is representative of the privileges that the police are designed to protect, regardless of what the law says. So calling for more police completely misunderstands, completely misrepresents what the police is meant to do.
Emily Steers 1:04:39
And then because of this catastrophic failure of governance on every level, we then see the introduction of the Emergencies Act, which if you can’t tell, we are very much opposed to. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is one of many groups who are taking the federal government to court over the implementation of the act, and they are absolutely right to do so because this sets a distressing precedent. As you said, Daniel, the law was on the side of police. And the Emergencies Act is meant to cover cases where there is no law, there are no structures in place that can meaningfully and rapidly respond to the situation. This was not a new situation. It had been in place for weeks at this point. It had been a known quantity. The police had all of the materials and all of the resources, the community had all of the materials and all of the resources it needed to meaningfully deal with the event. What the Emergencies Act enabled was police to coordinate with many different groups and bring in RCMP and OPP officers without swearing them in. So there was a certain expediting that happened. That shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. And it also enabled freezing the financial assets of convoy supporters, which like isn’t that already a law. Like your financial assets can be frozen if you’re involved in criminal activity.
Daniel Tarade 1:06:00
One of the only things that wasn’t already a law that this did was targeted GoFundMe. So in Canada, we have this institution, it’s the National Financial Intelligence Agency. It’s called the Financial Transactions and Peports Analysis Centre of Canada, which is a dumb name. And this act normally covers only banks, insurance companies, casinos, insurance companies, accounting firms, and basically means that all their documents are available to this intelligence agency to look for money laundering and financing of terrorism. This agency operates under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act to combat the laundering of proceeds of crimes and combating the financing of terrorist activities. And that latter part is well as being applied to the convoy, but why don’t we look into what the definition of terrorism is that this is operating under and really think about what this will do in the future. Okay, the definition of threats to the security of Canada is this: activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property — I want to highlight that “or property” — for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state. That’s not the full definition. That’s one of the clauses I want to highlight.
Emily Steers 1:07:19
This is a really scary precedent. And that’s what many people in the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are highlighting is that this use of the Emergencies Act to deal with a situation that is already covered by existing laws is completely unnecessary and sets a terrifying precedent for anyone who is involved in activism and protest. Because what happens if there’s a change in government and the people in power decide that the actions of people, let’s take the Fairy Creek blockade for example, you know, that is a significant disruption to infrastructure and industry. What happens if they declare the Emergencies Act to deal with this on the same grounds with which they’ve decided to deal with the convoy in Ottawa? I’m not trying to hyperbolize or fear monger here. We are trying to protect ourselves in the long run. And it is absolutely shameful that the NDP has decided to support the emergencies act even for the brief period within which it was enacted.
Daniel Tarade 1:08:28
So let’s compare the provisions of the Emergency Measures Act with what Trudeau himself said, quote, occupying streets, harassing people, breaking the law, this is not a peaceful protest, end quote. Occupying streets? Breaking the law? I mean, even harassing people, depending on who you ask, this is what people do when they fight for justice in this country as well, whether it is Indigenous land defenders blocking railroads, whether it is Indigenous land defenders blocking pipelines or blocking intersections. Black Lives Matter protesters occupying streets, breaking the law by splashing paint on statues of racists and slave owners. It’s clear that the response of our government is one that would be equally applied to the people fighting for justice and liberation. So we’re not here to announce the tactics. We are here to denounce the ideology of the convoy and that the labor movement ought to adopt those same strategies to go on the offensive and fight for a workers’ agenda. Labor acquiescing to the police, labor giving in to the Emergency Measures Act is short-sighted, and I believe borders almost on historical revisionism. The labor movement seems to forget that mass mobilization, illegal activities, occupation of infrastructure and streets is how we won things like the weekend and the 40-hour work week. People died, like my partner reminds me, to win the weekend, and labor today seems to think that any sort of mass mobilization is either unsafe or not necessary to win what we need to win. In supporting the Emergency Measures Act, the NDP, and even labor leaders, try to argue that this won’t erode the ability of Indigenous land defenders to defend their lands. And yet we already see examples of that happening. On February 18, GoFundMe removed a campaign to fund a Land Back mobile command center to be used by supporters of a rail blockade north of Wet’suwet’en. And it’s because this fell under the, quote, prohibited conduct section of GoFundMe. And so using the Emergency Measures Act to force GoFundMe to register with Canada’s Financial Intelligence Agency seems to have had the effect of also undermining the ability of Indigenous land defenders to crowdfund and that is a problem. So while organized labor waffled, the grassroots is what organized a response, despite their inadequate resources and despite the risks. In many cases, it was the most vulnerable who organized these acts of resistance because the risks were greater if they didn’t do anything. So while labour bureaucrats speak about the privilege that some people have to be able to organize, we instead saw that the least privileged amongst us couldn’t afford not to act. In Toronto, there was a small group of anarchists and antifascist organizers, who just like those activists in Ottawa at the Battle of Billings Bridge, blocked the main artery in Toronto that leads to the Provincial Parliament at Queen’s Park, which is where we knew the convoy was aiming to set up shop in Toronto. They had just enough bodies to block the road, and they entered into a standoff with truckers, which forced the police to fully block access to the intended destination. And that day, that first day of the convoy in Toronto, the Toronto Police publicly reported only one arrest that first step, and they intentionally left it ambiguous as to which side this person was on. So many people might not know that the person charged with assault with a weapon, administering a noxious substance from a smoke canister, and public mischief was not an anti-mandate protester but an antifascist organizer who walked into the gathering at Queen’s Park while dispensing a decidedly non-noxious, non-toxic smoke from a canister, very similar to the smoke often released at Palestine rallies if you ever see the red and green smoke. So again, it was the community, the antifascists and anarchists in Toronto, who were previously most active in defending encampments and land defense initiatives, they were the ones that actually stopped the convoy from setting up shop in Toronto, not the police. And that same day — this is February 5 — a small group of healthcare workers in Toronto called a march in defense of health care on only 24-hours notice. And the spark for this spontaneous act of community self-defense came as Toronto Police warned healthcare workers not to wear their scrubs into work on that Friday because anti-mandate protesters harassed and abused healthcare workers in Ottawa. And that was a step too far for these health care workers who after being called Heroes during the pandemic are now being told that their lives are under threat. And the police can’t do anything except advise them on what to wear, reminiscent of the narrative born out of rape culture, where the victim gets blamed depending on what they’re wearing rather than any sort of systemic response to the threat that people face. So we need a situation where labor goes on the offensive. We see the birth of this in Community Solidarity Ottawa, and we need more. Not only must we face down the anti-mandate convoy, not only must we face down the police, we must also face down the labor bureaucrats that obstruct any real grassroots push for workers agenda or justice and liberation of oppressed people. Our comrade Julius, who is a leader in the workers’ Action Movement, and an executive and OPSEU, a large union in Ontario, successfully brought forward a motion denouncing the use of the Emergency Measures Act for all the reasons we talked about. And in doing so, OPSEU became one of the only unions to actually take a stand against this. In every space possible, we must build connections, alliances and community around the principle of workers’ power, liberation and justice. Instead of taking inspiration from the anti-mandate convoy and their reactionary brand of politics, we take inspiration from the Naujawan Support Network in Brampton, where workers and international students fight in the streets and in the courts against wage theft, and they win. They wage war against the bosses that refuse to pay their workers, including truckers.or example, in early January, they won back the wages stolen from Gagandeep Sidhu, a trucker previously employed by Floy Boy haulage, and this is just one of their victories. Attar Sodhi, a member of the Naujawan Support Network, says that in the GTA trucker groups, there is less concern about vaccine mandates and more worries about the issues of wage theft, safer roads and community safety, end quote. And that is what we need. We need a push for worker safety, for community safety, and for public health that prioritizes workers and oppressed people over profits rather than the reverse that we see now. We are reminded that 90% of truckers are vaccinated, and that for those truckers, the problem of wage theft is a much bigger concern. And yet, they don’t get the same coverage. They don’t even get the same support, even from our labor unions. When they organize in front of their businesses where they’re employed and whose boss’s stole their wages, there’s community support, but there is not support from labour. And that is what we need. We need to make every struggle of workers the struggle of the mass labor movement and to actually galvanize the public around an alternative vision for what our society could be: a society where if you’re sick due to Covid-19, you do not have to decide between going into work or not being able to pay your bills, a society where people are supported first and foremost during the pandemic, and not corporations, a society where disabled people and the elderly count and their lives are valued and they’re not seen as an inconvenience or expendable, a society where we invest more in health care and less on police, a society based in community and in the collective interests of all. And it’s possible. We have all the tools we need to confront Covid-19 in a way that doesn’t leave workers behind. It’s not an issue of resources but resource allocation. And right now, our resources are primarily being stuffed into the over-flowing coffers of just a few 100 people in this country, who in reality, own the land, own the buildings, own the infrastructure, despite never having laid a brick, dug a trench, done a PCR test, or worked retail. Even though the news coverage has shifted to Ukraine and Russia, the anti-mandate movement has not disappeared. It’s been cleared from the streets, but the ideology still exists and is actually amplified by our media that uncritically parrots the idea that Covid is inevitable, that it will be here forever, and that we just need to live with it without ever considering what living with the pandemic means for people that are immunocompromised, disabled, elderly, or impoverished. We don’t denounce the tactics of the anti-mandate convoy. We denounce their ideology, which is something that our government cannot do. Because the ideology expressed by the anti-mandate convoy is entirely in line with capitalist thought that prioritizes individual liberties above all else. Trudeau and the police can’t respond to the convoy in any holistic sense. They can only respond with more brutality and scapegoating. Let’s take up that lesson from Community Solidarity Ottawa. Let’s all connect with our local anti-hate groups. Let’s push within our unions and workplaces for a worker response to the convoy and to corporate greed. A better world is possible, but it’s going to take a lot of work.
Emily Steers 1:18:14
Thank you so much everyone for listening. Once again, if you have any questions, comments, concerns or feedback, get in touch with us. All of our social media links are in our description, and we really look forward to hearing from you