Over the weekend, thousands of people from across Canada descended on Ottawa, ostensibly to protest vaccine passport requirements for truckers travelling across the border with the United States.
This group has been widely and justifiably denounced for a variety of actions: they held up Nazi and Confederate flags, flooded a mall unmasked, were cited as the reason for the cancellation of a vigil marking the fifth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque mass shooting, and took food from a shelter meant for the homeless. But their worst infraction, judging solely by the significant backlash to it, was when a protester stood on the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” monument and shouted, “Freedom!”
Politicians and army officials were quick to condemn the protester’s action on Twitter, to widespread applause.
Chief of the Defence Staff, Wayne Eyre, wrote, “I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this.”
The Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand, wrote, “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and National War Memorial are sacred sites for our country. I urge all Canadians to treat them with solemnity, out of respect for those who have fought and died for Canada.”
The Minister of Justice, David Lametti, wrote, “The National War Memorial honours the men & women who fought & died for our country – and importantly, for our freedom. This behaviour is beyond shameful.”
One MP, Melissa Lantsman, went so far as to say, “If on Monday morning the Government of Canada introduced legislation to make the desecration of all monuments in our country a criminal offence with a mandatory prison sentence – it would have my full support.”
But this disgust is misplaced, because anything the protesters have been accused of doing, the troops have done too, though on a broader and deadlier scale.
The protesters came from within Canada to Ottawa; the troops have gone from Canada and descended upon countries across the Global South. The protesters harassed civilians; the troops have injured, raped, tortured and killed civilians. The protesters shut down some malls and businesses; troops have helped destroy entire countries, doing irreparable damage to the lives of millions of people. The protesters had some neo-Nazis among them; the army also counts neo-Nazis in its ranks, but has given them weapons and training. The protesters justified their actions by claiming they’re fighting for freedom from communist tyranny; the rationale for many Canadian military ventures, repeated and endorsed by the media, was to contain communism, and free people.
Why are people rightfully decrying what the protesters are doing, and mocking their “freedom” chants, but then uncritically repeating the line that Canada sending troops to terrorize the Global South has somehow led to “freedom” here?
I strongly doubt the actions of the people accused this weekend of disrespecting the Tomb or the War Memorial were motivated by opposition to the army. In fact, on many days, they’re probably the ones most likely to spout jingoistic garbage, and I share nothing in common with them politically. However, principled protests of Canada’s army have absolutely happened in the past.
Take, for example, two Afghan Canadian women who in 2012 attended a Remembrance Day ceremony at Toronto City Hall and held up a banner opposing the military’s involvement in Afghanistan. These women were attacked by police, targeted by a defamatory media smear-campaign and inundated with threats of violence, by people who felt they had disrespected the troops that supposedly fought for our freedom.
These women later wrote, “In 2001 we watched the invasion of our home country, Afghanistan. Fast forward 11 years later: Afghanistan is still occupied, and every year on Remembrance Day we are reminded of it. It has become painfully obvious that Remembrance Day is used as a war propaganda tool.” They added, “This war has created a platform where foreign military forces perform terrifying acts against the civilian population. The Canadian military is responsible for the detainment, torture and murder of Afghans.”
Why is solemnly kneeling around a memorial to troops that have caused death and destruction abroad, as people are expected to, considered to be less offensive than standing on it and shouting for freedom?
Protests against Canada’s military shouldn’t be made illegal, and people decrying the protesters in Ottawa shouldn’t give knee-jerk support to worship of the troops. Those that do sound just as unhinged as the Ottawa protesters, repeating bullshit mantras about freedom that mask something far more nefarious.
With everything awful that happened in Ottawa over the weekend, “disrespecting the troops” should be at the bottom of the list of concerns.