The highway connecting Kingston and Toronto typically promises an uneventful drive. Fortunately, this time the occasional overpass brought enough entertainment to carry me over—groups of passionate citizens waved Canadian flags to the cars speeding by below. While they bore no other symbols, I was pretty damn certain they weren’t praising Justin Trudeau’s recently shaved beard.
The Canadian flag has always represented freedom: freedom of expression, religion, peaceful assembly, and so on. But since trucks rolled into Ottawa just over a month ago, freedom—and consequently the red-and-white—have adopted a new connotation.
On CBC’s Cross-Country Checkup, a call-in show I was half-listening to on the same drive, a caller felt apprehensive about flying Canadian flags from her car to support the Canadian Olympic team. She feared the flags would be misinterpreted as symbols of overt partisanship to the anti-vaccine movement, or worse.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy”—a movement initially protesting the vaccination requirement for truckers crossing the American-Canadian border—proved attractive not only to pandemic-fatigued citizens, but also to disruptors of peace and even to a minority of far-right extremist groups.
After the incessant honking, disruption of supply chains, harassment of a homeless shelter, and the appearance of unchecked Confederate and Nazi symbolism, the Canadian flag is now charged with noncompliance, belligerence, and a sprinkle of racism and conspiracy.
These louder voices drowned out the peaceful protestors and led to the bastardization of the word “freedom” in Canada. The newly distorted definition may go something like this: “freedom to act how one wants without owing anything to anyone,” or perhaps “freedom to live without being told what one can and cannot do.”
This new symbolism was already associated with the American flag for some time. The trucker convoy was more reminiscent of some American protests than domestic ones. At the beginning, I even feared a Jan. 6-style insurrection in our own capital.
An individual’s freedoms shouldn’t strip others of their own. We witnessed commuters being harassed—and threatened with sexual assault—for wearing masks, locals being terrorized by truck horns in the wee hours of the morning, and citizens being prevented from crossing the United States border.
The Canadian flag still represents freedom, but this word is now inseparable from the hostilities committed against fellow citizens by an organized disturbance in the name of “freedom.”
But the flag will be reclaimed.
Unless bolstered by another similar future movement, the association between freedom and contrariness will gradually subside. As the pandemic eases along with vaccine requirements, Canadians will feel refreshed. Let’s hope recent events won’t give rise to a new paradigm of revolt.
In the meantime, we should continue flying the flag like before. Just as the abundance of red-and-white around the trucker convoy was able to alter its signification, a profusion of Canadian flags for virtually any other purpose can overturn this new meaning.
Join in—let’s wave impudence goodbye.
Curtis is a second-year Computing student and The Journal’s Assistant Photo Editor.
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