It’s been a few months since I have felt the urge to write on my blog but the events of the last couple weeks in Canada have motivated me to write a few thoughts. As is usually the case for my blogs, the words below represent my own thoughts about current events and should in no way be interpreted as news, despite my training as a photojournalist.
I have had the chance to witness the initial “freedom convoy” as they went through Kingston on their way to Ottawa on January 28. Then I had a chance to walk downtown Ottawa on February 8, and finally I was in the thick of a protest and counter-protest downtown Kingston on February 12. In all cases, I was carrying my camera and had a chance to meet and chat with a few people on both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, I was also the target of some verbal attacks in Kingston, just because I was wearing a mask and carrying a camera, so much for freedom. I am now trying to make some sense about all these ongoing events.
Like many Canadians I’m sure, I watched the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington DC with amazement while thinking that something like that would never happen in Canada. Unfortunately, I am being proven wrong, although it has certainly been less violent here so far. Watching news around the world, I should not be surprised as populist governments/policies are on the rise in western democracies. Naively, I thought we were better and smarter than that in Canada but I should have realized that the events that are happening south of our border continue to influence us significantly.
There are no doubts that people are tired of the uncertainty and the restrictions imposed on us due to the pandemic. This is new for all of us as the last comparable pandemic was over a century ago. But one only has to be aware of what’s going on elsewhere to realize that Canada is actually one of the most free and open society. But freedom has a limit, especially as it relates to how it’s affecting the rest of our society.
As I reflect on this, I cannot help but think of what John F. Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech in 1961; “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” With this simple sentence, JFK challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good. When one lives in a group/society and takes advantage of the benefits associated with this group, such as universal health care for Canada but also so much more, there are some responsibilities that come with that.
Applying this principle to this COVID-19 health crisis means that we may have to live with some inconveniences, such as wearing masks and limiting our contacts, in order to protect what we unfortunately sometimes take for granted, like our healthcare system. Most Canadians can agree about the difficult situation in our hospitals due to the COVID-19 crisis. This pressure on our healthcare system is not only affecting individuals that are infected with COVID-19 but also so many whose care and treatments have been postponed due to the enormous pressure on our healthcare network. I believe that the small inconveniences we are asked to “suffer” are a very small price to pay to protect what we hold so dear and precious. As most living Canadians have never lived through difficult times like a depression or a war, they take what we have for granted and get very upset with any small setback in their “freedom”.
Our capitalist society tends to promote the value of individual freedom and success over the value of our community at large. This unfortunately leads to a more selfish attitude of “what’s in it for me”. So people are not willing to make even the smallest sacrifice if they do not see what is in it for them as individuals rather than society at large. This explains the rise in popularity of populist parties across western democracies, which promise more individual freedoms at the expense of societal responsibilities.
I hope that the silver lining of this pandemic will be for all of us (yes I do include myself as well) to learn that sometimes we have to make some sacrifices for the benefit of our society at large. I know I will not be able to convince everyone who reads this, but even if I can convince just a few, it will have been worth it.