Now, for me it was a little bit of pain; for others, it was a world of anguish to submit to something they didn’t believe in (um, science).

Shauna taking a selfie with her mobile phone
Shauna Dobbie

I’ve been kind of surprised since returning to Winnipeg (we moved back here after about 32 years away) to hear a few people speak to me about freedom. Or, more precisely, how our freedom is in peril. One friend (well, friend of a friend) worries about Canada’s “communist government” and what they are doing to freedom. I’ll ponder that question if we should ever find ourselves led by a communist government.

First, let’s define freedom in a 21st-century Canadian way. Freedom is the license to do what you will without affecting other people much. The second part of that statement is important; it’s why you can’t just shoot off guns at will: you might hurt or kill someone, which would definitely affect them. In fact, in terms of gun control, freedom would be the right to own a gun but could include the necessity of showing that you have the sensibility to own it without killing anyone.

In general, Canadians have an amount of freedom that I consider just about right, and I’m not alone. According to the Fraser Institute, Canada comes in at 13th in the world for our levels of economic and personal freedom. Their most recent study that is available is from 2020 (there is a 2023 report using 2020 numbers) and it measured 83 distinct areas ranging from security and safety to expression and information to size of government. Being ranked 13th out of 165 countries on the list is not too shabby.

Who was ahead of us? Which countries do you think offer more freedom than Canada?

The US? Nope. They are ranked 23rd. The UK is 20th. The five freest countries in the world are: Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark and Ireland. The others that come between Canada and the top place are Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Australia, and Norway. I’d say we’re in pretty good company. The highest-ranking countries are a mix of liberal and conservative democratic entities.

The Fraser Institute is a conservative-leaning, libertarian think tank based in Vancouver. To give you an idea of their values, they’ve given their Founders’ Award to the likes of Peter Munk and Frank Stronach. Their studies are pretty rigorous and transparent and their Freedom Index is world renowned, regardless of your politics. I say this as a non-conservative.

Complaints about freedom seem to centre on the “Freedom Convoy”, as it is known among the more right-wing ilk; my set call it the truckers’ convoy (although it wasn’t all truckers; I’m honestly not sure if my lefty friends recognize that).

Let’s say that the protest convoy was about freedom from COVID restrictions. (There were differing opinions from amongst the protesters, but I think they’d all agree with disagreeing with restrictions.) Requiring proof of vaccination to enter indoor public spaces, for instance, and wearing a proper mask while in public were two points of contention.

Of course, we all bickered about restrictions while they were happening; I would expect nothing less in a free society. Some people got pretty darn mad about having our freedoms curtailed, about wearing face masks in public, about needing a vaccination to be allowed into a place. The way I saw it and the way I see it is, I had to go through a little pain (a needle, a face mask) to enjoy the freedoms I had before the pandemic. To forgo that pain isn’t actual freedom, not in a universal sense; it may be absolute liberty for the maskless unvaccinated but it’s quite the opposite for others if they get very sick and may die. (Yes, the virus could be transmitted through a mask to others even after vaccination; it’s about the numbers.)

Now, for me it was a little bit of pain; for others, it was a world of anguish to submit to something they didn’t believe in (um, science).

You can disbelieve in the scientific consensus, which is just a consensus and could be disproven. You can also believe that covering your skin with clothing is bad for your health and refuse to do it, but you can’t go around naked, not in our society. If you have beliefs that most people disagree with, you will have to stay in your own home to follow them!

But these folks decided to get together from across the country and raise a ruckus in Ottawa. Well, nothing else was happening owing to COVID, so why not? And I have no problem with people protesting something I don’t agree with. Go ahead and protest for a few hours. People will be inconvenienced, and that is how you know your protest raised awareness.

The convoy protesters, though, did it for over three weeks, from January 29 to February 21, though most of them were gone by February 1. They occupied a big swath of downtown Ottawa, intimidating people who lived there. They demanded that the Prime Minister come and talk to them. (Like all the other times in history when a leader has gone for a chat with people calling for his or her overthrow. Can’t think of any? Me neither.)

Was the Prime Minister heavy-handed in quashing the protesters? Maybe. Were the protesters total pains in the butts to people of Ottawa? For sure. But the fact that these protesters were so obnoxious and managed to continue to be obnoxious for three full weeks says something about our freedom in this country: we will bend over backward to allow a protest. In other words, to protect freedom.

That’s Canada, the true north strong and free (but only for up to three weeks if you’re a real jerk about it).


Related Reading

Dorothy Dobbie: What's freedom?

@ 2024 Pegasus Publications Inc.
@ 2024 Pegasus Publications Inc.