My Time at the Peterborough #NoMoreLockdowns Protest

“May Freedom Forever Fly” flag

Through a busy seven days of writing term papers, grading undergraduate work, and writing blog posts, I had the fortune of attending the #NoMoreLockdowns protest at Confederation Square in Peterborough where I’m currently living (for at least the next four months). The protest began at noon on Saturday. It was only about 11:40 when my girlfriend asked me if I knew that Maxime Bernier was attending a protest in Peterborough that day. I did not! But I jumped at the chance to go and got there less than twenty-five minutes later.

The Atmosphere
It was great to be back out with people around me in a setting other than a grocery store. I spotted more than one Gadsden flag, a F🍁ck Trudeau flag, and a beautiful (I believe) handmade flag which read “May Freedom Forever Fly” (pictured). There were a few people handing out “literature” about the dangers of vaccines and masks. I decided it was best for my own health that I not read any. In terms of masks, there were very few people wearing them. There were a few camera crews who were wearing them, some counter-protestors (just a couple of angry old folks) who wore them, and all of the cops wore them. Of anti-lockdowners, I think I only spotted about three others of the twelve-hundred protestors wearing one. I personally sported a lovely fabric mask with a yellow floral pattern (pictured along with my clearly deteriorating hairline). I know we were outside, but it was a large group and it can’t hurt you to wear a mask (despite what Jeffrey Tucker might tell you) so I wore one to the dismayed reactions of others.

Me, my mask, and my hairline

The Speeches: Good and Bad

The first speech of the day came from a woman who appeared to be the primary organizer of the event. Her view was that people who opposed the lockdowns were the ones truly following the science since the media was silencing doctors and other experts who spoke up against the lockdowns and mask mandates. I’m sure there has been a great deal of censorship of experts with dissenting opinions. But why are those the right experts to trust? How do we decide which experts are good experts and which ones are bad? Does being censored by media make you more likely to be correct? I’m not sure I have the medical acumen to distinguish between correct and incorrect scientists myself, so I’ll heed some precautionary advice when it’s of little cost to myself. The problem that I think this sort of talk about the “true” science causes is for anti-lockdowners to get bogged down in discussing sciences which none of us are all-too-familiar. The truth of it is that it doesn’t matter what the science says. There are other reasons to oppose lockdowns such as political objections to the clear expansion of government power, moral objections to the coercive restrictions on use of property, and economic objections to the obstructions that lockdowns create for production. I do not need to be an expert in epidemiology to ask, “Shouldn’t I be free to invite whomever I please onto my property?”

The next speech was from a Christian gentleman who began by asking us what the greatest expression of love is. If you didn’t know, Jesus’ answer was “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The gentleman said that he was not at this protest for himself as he was largely unaffected by the lockdowns. But it was for others; others who had had their businesses closed, who had lost their jobs, who could not see family when they needed to, that he attended the protest. He risked tickets, arrest, and humiliation from others for the sake of his friends. So well said! I also fall into a similar category. My life has not been too shaken by lockdowns. I am still paid handsomely by the provincial government, I was able to move to Calgary and then to Peterborough while remaining at student at the University of Waterloo, and I now get to attend conferences and reading groups virtually which would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive for me. I think this way of thinking might be useful for some pro-lockdown people I know who have called for more and more restrictions while their income has been virtually unhindered by lockdowns: Not everyone is affected by these lockdowns the way you are. Just because you can “suck it up” and avoid a haircut for a few months, you may want to remember that others are now without job and without hope because of these lockdowns.

A blurry Maxime Bernier

The third speech of the day was by far the most anticipated. Mr. Maxime Bernier (blurrily pictured) – who I happily voted for in the 2019 federal election – gave an excellent speech full of great “rights talk”. What was Bernier worried about? Our freedom is under attack. And surely it is! How free is someone if they cannot see their own mother for Mother’s day without fear of being arrested and ticketed? He went on to say that “every business is essential”. Again, wonderful. If you are the owner of a business or one of its employees, that income is likely damn essential for you. Bernier made clear that there were genuine medical concerns that we faced and that we ought to protect the vulnerable. Of course! As I have tried to emphasize. There is no need to be a COVID-denier to oppose lockdowns. Saying that, he interjected, “But, we need to reopen our economy”. Right again! Aren’t these restrictive lockdown a massive burden on productive actions? I would like to produce such and such good in such and such way, but I cannot because I fear being arrested. Or, I hope to exchange this good for some other good which I get greater satisfaction from, but I cannot because Ford will arrest the seller for selling it to me (while I thought that rugs and laptops might be essential during lockdowns, the Ford administration apparently disagrees to the great distress of my girlfriend and I who have needed both in the last two weeks). Finally, Bernier ends with a call to avoid a “show me your papers” society. On all fronts, great. We want freedom, the ability to work, a productive economy, and to stop government overreach. We do not need some heterodox “true” science to tell us that.

The next “speech” (if you can call it that) was a slam poem whose exact details escape me but had the repeated line of “we are the grass in the cracks of mankind”. I am not much of a poetry buff but I couldn’t quite make out what that meant.

The next speech was from a veteran who brought up other veterans and told us that “this is what they fought for”. If there are veterans who support lockdowns is that what they were fighting for? Not sure I need vets on my side to tell me that I’m correct, but I’ll take the encouragement.

Then, we had a speech from a gentleman who was trying to tell me what my constitutional rights were but wasn’t so sure himself. He mentioned the seven “Fundamental Freedoms” which our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us. He asked if we could name them. I couldn’t, could you? (answer here). He then went on to let us know that the notwithstanding clause meant that there were some instances where governments could legally infringe upon those freedoms. Was the COVID-19 pandemic such an instance? He wasn’t really sure. But he didn’t want it to be. Great. I’m glad I got a real legal expert’s analysis on that. He went on to say that we, the anti-lockdowners, were the “true majority”. My response? Who cares!? First of all, the claim is empirically dubious. Second, would it make a difference if we weren’t? Suppose that he’s right and that 60% of Canadians oppose lockdowns. Now, suppose that by some piece of government propaganda, 20% “defect” to the pro-lockdown side. Does our position cease to be correct? Are we now bumbling idiots who have no sense of right and wrong, and should really be on the side of the pro-lockdowners? Of course not! Who cares whether or not we are in the majority, we are in the right!

An even blurrier Randy Hillier

Finally, we had the speech of Randy Hillier (also blurrily pictured). Hillier had two great points. The first was that he didn’t want to live in a police state. Well fair enough! What else do you call a place where police are legally allowed to pull you over and ask you where you’re going with no other evidence that you’ve broken the law except that you’re going somewhere? He also mentioned that the Peterborough Police tried to give him a ticket before the event. Imagine having broken no law but getting a ticket because the police anticipate that you will break the law. The second was that there is a clear division between the government bureaucrats and the “productive” class of people who pay taxes (truly Calhounian). It is easy for those bureaucrats to tell the productive folks (off of whom they live parasitically) that they need to give up their income while you sit comfortably, working from home, making your full salary. Another great speech.

Peterborough Police: Friend or Foe?

Finally, I want to turn to the question of how the protest viewed the Peterborough police. When the veteran came up to speak, he asked us to thank the Peterborough police. Thus far, no one was given a ticket and just a week earlier they had agreed not to follow Ford’s orders to randomly stop people to ask where they were going. Fair enough, all things considered, the Peterborough police could be much worse.

But things changed quite quickly once Hillier stepped up. First, he immediately denounced them and said that they were there to “intimidate us”. They seemed pretty friendly to me. They just stood there and waved hello to passers by. But people who had previously applauded the Peterborough police were now booing them.

Bernier getting a ticket while Hillier shouts in the back

The real trouble came when Bernier tried to leave the stage and he was approached by a police officer who wrote him a ticket (pictured). People surrounded the cop and when he moved away after giving Bernier his ticket, people followed. It was at this point that I spotted my chance to go talk to Bernier. Everyone was following the cop, not Bernier. So I ran in the opposite direction and grabbed his arm and he grabbed mine back (butterflies I tell you, I was like those women at a Beatles concert) and I said, “Thank you Mr. Bernier, I love what you’re doing”. He gave me a head nod and what I think was a “oui”. The man had to leave before things got ugly, he didn’t have time to talk to the one weird kid in a mask! Fair enough Mr. Bernier, I still love (most of) what you’re doing!

While just one minute ago Hillier was yelling “Shame! Shame! Shame!” over the microphone, it was at this point that he said to the crowd, “We’re not here to be violent” and urged people to leave the cop alone. Well done Hillier, I don’t know that I would have had the collectedness to have done the same. After that, I left. I didn’t want to be part of a mass exodus in case police officers decided that then would be their time to give out tickets to everyone.

Takeaways

This was fun and a great event. It can be lonely thinking that there is no one around you who thinks similarly about lockdowns. It is also unfortunate that there is so much likely false medical and scientific information being spread around at these protests. There is no need to deny that COVID is real or even deny that lockdowns might mitigate the spread of COVID in order to oppose lockdowns. While I recognize that a speed limit on the 401 of five kilometers-per-hour would likely reduce highway traffic deaths, I don’t think that we ought to reduce the speed limit. I accept, like almost everyone does, that there will be some increased number of deaths in exchange for other things we value such as getting to work, seeing family, and getting to your place of worship. I dream that history will see the anti-lockdowners as sort of anti-authoritarian protestors (although given what we’re taught about the October Crisis, I’m not so hopeful). But if the message is mixed in with anti-science rhetoric, I don’t know that history will look on these protestors as such. More than anything, I hope that lockdowns will end and I pray that events like these do something to further that cause. While things are getting worse and feeling hopeless, an event like this has given me hope.

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