It’s a tough truth to swallow.
In an election speech on August 17, Justin Trudeau warned that for the unvaccinated “there will be consequences.” In a press conference on January 5, he said, without evidence, that “Canadians are angry and frustrated with the unvaccinated.” Famously, on December 29, Trudeau stated on a public television broadcast in Quebec that those who have not been vaccinated are very often “misogynists and racists.” He then stated that “They don’t believe in science/progress”. Trudeau went on: “This leads us, as a leader and as a country, to make a choice: Do we tolerate these people?”
Last week he called us “a fringe minority with unacceptable opinions.” Pretty dark stuff.
But then there’s hockey—shinny hockey in Canada. Down the road is the local lake, a huge body of water, and a central part of the town. The hardware store manager has his own Zamboni and keeps a rink clear for local kids as soon as the ice thickens up. Last week was prime. Even with temps between minus 10° and 15°C, our kids got bundled up and headed out.
In mid-January it’s the place to be. As a dad, after being the last to lace up your skates in the van, you gingerly make your way down the boat launch to the rink. You’re already right chuffed with the progress and skill of your kids who just throw themselves headlong into hockey… while you’re hoping your own knees will hold up.
Today at the other end of the rink is another group of kids: the big kids. Scary. But, they’re good guys. They agree to a game, and it turns out to be a blast: 15 or so local kids of all shapes and sizes, trash talking, encouraging the young ones with a pass and a high five, and sticking to the rules without being nitpicky. My kids grow a little taller with every pass and the odd “you’re such a goon!”
For two hours you forget everything.
As I skate back to my end after another goal by my wild redhead son, I look up at the clear blue sky: now this is Canada.
While we’re playing hockey, today, a convoy of thousands of truckers is rolling towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They are on their way to protest mandates and government overreach. My wife and some women in town have got together to make up some bagged lunches that they will hand out tomorrow in town as the first group stops in overnight.
Fast forward a couple days. It’s 9AM and I’m standing on an overpass waving a tattered red scarf while my cheerleader wife and two of our kids are waving little flags and shouting for the truckers who honk as they pass underneath. Truck after truck after truck. And cars, too. Pickups and Mercedes-Benz and everything in between. Standing beside us are two older women who are a couple. They have peace sign hats on, poofy jackets, and yoga pants. They hold out a tiny little banner about three feet long with little flags on it that say peace, hope, and love. I want desperately to give these two a great big bearhug. We talk about how great it is to see people coming together and connecting with each other, at last.
And, honestly, again, I look up at the clear January sky: now this is Canada. I mean, it’s cold, the sky is clear, I’m freezing my butt off with my wife and kids, and standing beside a gay couple who politically are probably different from me, but we’re smiling and laughing and connecting, without the presence of masks and everything that goes with them—including the government’s presence to tell us how to be with each other.
I grew up in suburban Ottawa. My dad was a school teacher and my mom a manager at a local bank. Across the street was a huge park and hockey rink. Living in the bungalows beside us were the Bartollis, then the Deschamps, then the Barretts, then the Lorenzos, and then Coochies family who I think were Greek. One of my best friends was a guy named Markus Cosmos, a black kid whose dad was a player in the CFL.
It was the 70s. We had parades down our street every year. There were huge turnouts for civic events like the Tulip Festival and The Exhibition. People drove rust buckets plastered with bumper stickers. The local CJOH news station was privately owned and widely watched. Every week they taped before a live studio audience The Family Brown country music show. On Saturday they broadcast a great comedy show (that couldn’t be shown today) called You Can’t Do That on Television. You could call the radio station before school, tell a joke to General Ken Grant, and wish your parents a happy birthday.
I was a kid in a jumbled up, eclectic, brown corduroy, macaroni-and-decoupage-tissue-box-holder world where everyone wore gaudy buttons for the latest cause, had messier houses, and where I still hadn’t heard of the words multiculturalism or diversity or inclusion. I just knew what was: Mrs. Bartolli made the best pizza, her husband sang Arias at night out the back porch, and that the Lorenzo girls’ dad would probably never let me near them.
That’s the Canada I grew up in.
Yesterday, I left the Byward Market and stepped onto Rideau Street in Ottawa, heading up to Parliament Hill, with my two eldest kids. I was shocked and soon in almost tears as our ears were blasted with the sound of truck horns vibrating the ground, and immersed in a sea of Canada flags and Canadians smiling and high-fiving and hugging one another, wishing “God Bless” to truckers and shouting things like “We’re getting our country back!” For a few minutes I was disoriented, wondering where I’d landed, but as we went on to listen to an Indigenous woman sing a song of grief dedicated to her father whom she had to say farewell to from the other side of plexiglass, community leaders from various parts of the country shared stories and talked about their kids’ pandemic challenges, a black preacher from Montreal—Brother Solomon—who got us all to shout “Jesus” and “Canada will be saved” and even the grassroots politicians angling for our votes—through the stories, the grit, even the smell of cigarette and marijuana smoke around me, I recognized something I thought was gone.
And not a mask in sight—literally and figuratively.
Then, today I watched in dismay as my Prime Minister continued his never ending crusade to divide our country, alleging that Canadians were disgusted by what they saw on the news coverage of the convoy protest, that he wouldn’t be intimidated by the truckers, and that, essentially, we—the unvaccinated or those opposed to government mandates—aren’t Canadian and don’t belong here.
There had been a couple swastikas and “at least one” confederate flag at the trucker protest. The state media, CBC, honed in on these images as symbolizing the attitudes of the tens of thousands of people gathered there: black and white, Indigenous, vaxxed and unvaxxed, rich and poor, attractive and on the gruffer side—a shockingly eclectic crowd taken up in a festival spirit. All the people that I recognized from the Canada I had once known, before we got VIP sections serving champagne at NHL hockey games, by-law officers ticketing kids for selling homemade lemonade, crown commission after crown commission consulting on how to regulate our behavior and make us all nicer; long before we had an ever-changing guidebook on acceptable words and the due deference owed to “the experts”; and especially long before we had a Prime Minister like this one: a man who has forgotten that he was once forgiven, by common Canadians, for appearing repeatedly in blackface.
My Prime Minister hates me. But I’m trusting that Canada is still better.