OTTAWA – If you were Canada’s prime minister, what would you be prepared to do to enforce Covid restrictions on large swaths of your population? No one need ask that question any longer. Now we know the answer.
For the first time in the country’s history, Justin Trudeau has invested his office with sweeping and undemocratic powers under the 1988 Emergencies Act in a bid to stop the so-called “Truckers’ Protests” against Canada’s pandemic restrictions. But, as one might expect, Trudeau has promised to use those powers briefly and sparingly – at least, until he decides otherwise.
His government can ban protests, seize protesters’ income and property without court oversight, and effectively appropriate many millions of dollars raised by supporters on crowdfunding sites to finance the protests. That isn’t a theoretical danger. Even before the current emergency powers were invoked, the Canadian government did just that. Almost certainly under federal pressure earlier in the month, GoFundMe withheld some 10 million Canadian Dollars donated by protest supporters.
Trudeau has brought Canada as close to martial law as he dares without drafting platoons of soldiers onto the streets of Ottawa and Toronto and having the army seize control of the TV stations.
And paradoxically, he has responded to protesters, whose rallying cry is that the Canadian government is using the pretext of Covid to accrete more powers and behave undemocratically, by actually accreting more powers and behaving undemocratically. Trudeau behaves as though this will dampen down tensions. Or maybe he is simply pandering to his electoral base.
A wiser approach has been taken by Ontario’s premier, who started lifting some of the largely redundant restrictions in his province this week as a way to take the wind out of the protesters’ sails.
But let us stand back from Canada’s drama for a moment and consider both the purported and actual reason for the declaration of a state of emergency – a peacetime equivalent of Canada’s earlier War Measures Act.
The truckers’ protests have been largely peaceful – at least in the sense that there have been very few arrests and relatively minor criminal damage. The protesters have caused inconvenience but only of the kind that is inevitable in any civil disobedience campaign.
Emergency powers have been invoked because the protesters have refused to disperse and because officials warn of some future scenario of potential violence – exactly the sort of accusation leveled against any unwelcome mass
However, the more pressing reason is that the truckers’ actions have impeded cross-border deliveries from Canada to U.S. factories, such as car plants. That has started to have a damaging impact on the U.S. economy, and President Joe Biden has been making his view on the matter only too clear to Trudeau.
It is worth considering a comparison to see how draconian and dangerously unreasonable Trudeau is being. Over several years, protests in the U.K. by the environmental action group Extinction Rebellion have repeatedly caused similar levels of disruption – and similar levels of antipathy from sections of the British public. Protesters have blocked highways, railway lines, and airports. Some have been arrested and fined.
But despite all of this, even the right-wing government of Boris Johnson has not suggested going as far as Canada’s current state of emergency.
Pull the rug
To put the gravity of Trudeau’s decision – and the flimsiness of the justification for it – in proper perspective, consider what the Canadian prime minister needs to do to put an end to the truckers’ protests compared to what would be required of Johnson for Extinction Rebellion’s climate emergency protests to be brought to a halt.
Johnson would have to radically overhaul the entire British economy, quickly ending its reliance on fossil fuels, while abandoning his entire political ideology of individualist, dog-eat-dog capitalism and replacing it with the far more collectivist approach inherent in a Green New Deal. That is a tall order indeed. Should they spread, Extinction Rebellion’s protests really could become an emergency for Johnson.
Trudeau, on the other hand, could easily pull the rug from under the truckers’ protests – as Ontario officials are trying to do – with nothing more than a decision to relent on many of the most grating restrictions, especially mandated vaccines for some professions and the requirement on unvaccinated truckers to quarantine for 14 days on their return from the U.S.
That would not touch Trudeau’s political program. It would not cost the Canadian taxpayer a penny. It would not require a reorganization of Canadian society.
So why has he chosen this particular hill to make his stand?
Those who are still singularly focused on the dangers of Covid presumably think that Trudeau is right. But with the highly infectious and much milder omicron variant, hospitalization and death rates are plummeting worldwide, as the virus, after spreading like wildlife, starts to burn itself out.
Even if vaccine mandates are enforced, few of the unvaccinated will manage to get both doses before they are exposed to the virus and develop natural immunity anyway. Omicron has made the already dubious need for vaccine mandates and quarantines largely moot. The evidence suggests natural infection provides – for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – stronger and longer-term immunity of the kind the vaccines have so far failed to deliver.
Even the argument that vaccines should still be insisted upon in case omicron mutates into another nastier variant is looking decidedly weak. Infection with omicron will provide a much closer immunity match to any future variant derived from omicron than vaccines based on the now-distant original variant of Covid.
Veil of democracy
In other words, Trudeau has ostensibly chosen to grab for himself autocratic powers, undermining Canadian democracy, for the sake of a pig-headed commitment to mandate and quarantine rules that no longer fit the science or help with the pandemic. Rather than back down in the face of changing circumstances, he has invoked extreme powers to enforce those rules.
Remember, Trudeau considered, but did not invoke, the Emergencies Act when the pandemic – a genuine emergency – hit Canada at a time when the country had no tools, such as vaccines, to deal with it. Is the need to impose vaccine mandates now really more of an emergency than the need to deal with the outbreak of Covid was two years ago?
For that reason, we all ought to be deeply troubled by what Trudeau has done. He has shown how power works and whom it benefits by stripping off the veil of democracy. As a result, Canada is in a state of emergency entirely of Trudeau and Biden’s making.
Those sympathetic to Trudeau’s action, or ready to turn a blind eye to it, especially on the left, have failed to absorb the lessons of Naomi Klein’s book “Shock Doctrine.”
Klein explained back in 2007 that in the post-war period, the United States military, political and economic elites had effectively carried out a series of full-spectrum “shock” experiments on developing countries, especially in Latin America. First, Washington began encouraging, financing, and arming violent coups and sponsoring military regimes like Augusto Pinochet’s in Chile, and then exploited the resulting psychological trauma and sense of dislocation among the general population.
The goal was to dissolve social solidarity and traditional ideas of fairness and graft on to a weakened, more pliable society the most predatory kind of free-market capitalism. That paved the way for newly emerging transnational corporations to commit economic rape and pillage, backed by what were already becoming neoliberalism’s global agencies, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s, the U.S. was able to extend this approach to the former eastern bloc countries through a series of “color revolutions.” And since the early 2000s, U.S., British and Gulf-backed invasions and proxy wars – and an extinguished Arab Spring – have brought the “shock doctrine” in full force to those parts of the Middle East that have not previously submitted to U.S. hegemony.
Crisis of legitimacy
Now the danger is that the “shock doctrine” wheel may be coming full circle. Global capitalism is facing global crises. A planet with finite resources is testing the limits of capitalism’s ingenuity both to extract yet more wealth and to prey on new markets. Meanwhile, the consequences of the historic and continuing over-extraction of resources are being felt in the form of a planet-wide shock, from toxic overload (pollution) to a rapidly changing climate.
Capitalism and its technicians – the West’s political, business, media, and technocratic elites – are facing their own crisis of legitimacy, as the system they oversee and for which they serve as propagandists begins its gradual collapse. There is only so long capitalism’s demise can be blamed on supply-chain problems and “bounceback” from the pandemic.
Western elites understand all of this only too keenly. They know far more than they, or the corporate media, let on. Knowledge is power, and they are in power. Their task is to stay in power. And that can only happen so long as they remain ahead of us, so long as they manipulate us, so long as they control us, so long they turn us against each other.
Gain of function
Here a Covid analogy may be helpful.
For many years the United States has been investing large sums of money in medical research called “gain of function.” Anthony Fauci, the U.S. president’s chief medical adviser, is one of the main proponents of gain of function. Its supposed aim is to experiment on cold and flu viruses to see how they might evolve into more lethal strains so that cures can be found ahead of time, in the form of vaccines and drug treatments. (One plausible theory of how we ended up with Covid-19 is that one of these Frankenstein viruses leaked from the lab in Wuhan, where the U.S. was funding gain-of-function research to avoid a U.S. embargo. For more on that, see here.)
The ostensible purpose of gain of function is to pre-empt the emergence of a more deadly virus, or at least to devise ways to treat it more efficiently. (Another possible purpose, of course, is to create bio-weapons against an enemy.)
The question is: Have our elites been carrying out similar “gain of function” research on us, treating us as the equivalent of a virus that may over time become more lethal to their narrow interests of maintaining wealth and power for themselves in a system facing imminent collapse? Have they been learning from their experiments in Latin America, the former eastern bloc, and the Middle East to understand how better to control us, to curb our protest and dissent, to prevent revolution?
The answer is simple: they would be incredibly foolish or naïve, and astoundingly relaxed about their own self-preservation as a class, had they failed to do precisely this. We have had brief glimpses via the Snowden revelations of how they have been preparing for the endgame of capitalism. Western intelligence agencies have been systematically spying on their own populations.
In a sense, there is nothing especially sinister or conspiratorial about any of this. As new technologies have given Western elites new tools for surveillance and monitoring of our conversations, our thoughts and moods (welcome to the Metaverse), our movements, our financial dealings, and now our bodily autonomy and health, it was inevitable that elites would turn these tools against us in preparation for the moment when their own privileges were in danger.
In fact, the conspiracy paradigm misses the point entirely. Structures of power are organized to maintain power. Those power systems simply have been responding, as they are designed to respond, to opportunities for protecting or accreting power, like a leaf initiates photosynthesis when it is exposed to light. It is an instinctive reaction more than strategy or plot.
The elites’ social – as opposed to medical – gain-of-function research has highlighted to them an age-old lesson: that divide and rule, the cultivation of tribalism, is an insurance policy against successful dissent and the threat of revolution.
Which is why every time ordinary people take to the street in protest at the accretion of more power by the technocrats, or to oppose more propaganda and mind manipulation from the corporate media, the left fractures and splinters further.
Large sections of the left always find a reason to object to those taking to the streets. The Occupy Movement, the Yellow Vests in France, the Black Lives Matter Protests, the January 6th Rally, the Extinction Rebellion Blockades, the Trucker Protests. None of them are worthy. Their motives are not pure enough. The messages are too vague. The chants are too noisy. The anger is too alienating and the populism too discomfiting. And the participants are from the wrong tribe.
The longer this disdain for protest lasts, the more the protesters’ alienation from the corrupt power-elites evokes fear rather than solidarity, the more the left itself is paralyzed into inaction, then the more certain it is that these protests will be captured by the right, by the Donald Trumps and the Tucker Carlsons. The more we insult the protesters by calling them rightwing, Nazis, anti-worker, dangerous, Trumpists, the more we ensure they become what we accuse them of being.
And in the meantime, by default, we have given our support to the technocrats who are destroying the planet, who are issuing a death sentence to our children – all in the name of civilization, progress and science.
Before we know it, we have become Justin Trudeau.
Feature photo | A man wearing an American flag walks by police guarding the Canadian parliament building from demonstrators protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, Feb. 16, 2022, in Ottawa, Ontario. Robert Bumsted | AP
Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.