As the world woke up to breaking reports of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, Canada’s short-lived Emergencies Act has evoked memories of Eastern European dictatorships among some communities and ignited reflections about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ among ethnic media commentators.
A number of ethnic media outlets have pointed to what they see as hypocrisy and double standards from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for supporting disruptive protests around the world but cracking down on similar ones at home.
“For many of the ethnic communities, part of the conversation was always about the nature of democratic freedom in Canada in contrast to the regimes in their homelands,” says Silke Reichrath, editor in chief of MIREMS Ltd. – Multilingual Research and Ethnic Media Services.
The observations come amid a flurry of activity over the last week, including the invocation and revocation of the Emergencies Act, the parliamentary debate, and steps taken by law enforcement to clear the protests in Ottawa and the border blockades elsewhere.
Given the distinct ethno-linguistic perspectives that ethnic media offer, several reports therefore tried to educate audiences about the meaning of the Emergencies Act and the powers it does and does not grant the government.
The spotlight has also been placed on concerns about right-wing influence in the Italian community, opposition to emergency powers among various diasporas, and the increasing racism experienced by Punjabi truckers as a fallout from the “Freedom Convoy.”
‘Another form of dictatorship’
MIREMS’ analysts have observed that most criticism of the Emergencies Act invocation and the crack-down comes from members of Eastern European communities.
In Montreal, the Romanian website Pagini Romanesti reported that despite a lot of sympathy coming from Facebook groups of Romanian-Canadians towards the Freedom Convoy protests, “Romanians did not rush to financially support” them.
According to the publication, Romanians see the truckers as “fighting to free themselves, and implicitly the rest of Canadians, from tyranny.”
“I lived under the dictatorship of Ceausescu,” commented one donor. “Now I am fighting against another form of dictatorship.”
Over in Vaughn, the Russian website Netolko News reported that Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski was imprisoned, kept in solitary confinement, and denied bail for a peaceful speech he made in front of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ by Coutts, Alberta.
Pawlowski had reportedly preached non-violent resistance but encouraged truckers to ‘hold the line.’ The pastor compared the protest to the Solidarity Movement in Poland during the Cold War.
It should be noted that Pawlowski has been arrested repeatedly over the pandemic for failing to comply with public health measures at his church and violation of bail conditions.
Former Alberta deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk observed in an interview with the Polish Gazeta in Toronto that some of the Polish community has strongly supported the truckers.
But to him, “it’s surprising that people who lived through communism compare the Canadian government to a communist regime (as) Canada is one of the world’s most free countries.”
He says he also fears that Canadians seeing the Polish flag in the protests might hurt the Polish community in Canada.
Subverting the government
For its part, the Italian community got an earful from federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who explained the negative impacts of the protests on the health, safety and livelihood of Ottawa residents.
“Freedom of expression refers to quiet and peaceful expression, while this protest created a hell for those who live and work in the area,” he said during an in-depth interview on Omni Italian, where he is frequently featured because of his command of the Italian language.
He also argued the protests had nothing to do with vaccine mandates and agreed with the interviewer that they were more about subverting the government.
Similarly, Red FM radio in Calgary hosted Alberta Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney, who said they were glad the blockade in Coutts was dissolved. Some community members interviewed also expressed relief the protests are over.
In Toronto, the Portuguese weekly Milenio Statium considers that “the protests have now become a political movement of dissent against law and order” that are “enslaving a large portion of Canadian society.”
The ‘homeland factor’
Some outlets dubbed Trudeau’s apparent double standards when it comes to supporting disruptive protests abroad as the ‘homeland factor.’
The Chinese website Van People in Vancouver contrasted Trudeau’s condemnation of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” with his support for Hong Kong rioters blocking the streets when he said: “We will vocally and clearly support human rights around the world.”
The Russian Nash Vancouver pointed out that Trudeau stood by farmers in India who shut down major highways to New Delhi for a year in 2021 and actively supported the freedom protesters in Ukraine (2013-2014) and the rallies in Belarus (2020).
The Polish CJMR radio program Zycie noted that “Global Affairs Canada was supporting protests in Cuba while heavily armed police were cracking down on peaceful protesters in Ottawa.”
The Khabarnama Punjabi Weekly in Brampton also noted that Trudeau often advises other world leaders to engage in dialogue and protect human rights, even when protesters have blocked roads, rail tracks and toll plazas, attacked police, caused property damage and committed crimes. They say Canada even supports such protests with tool kits and by allowing fundraisers.
Yet, with the convoy, Trudeau never attempted to dialogue but “resorted to the dictatorial path,” the online publication reported.
Truckers leaving the industry
For their part, South Asian truckers took to CINA radio and Red FM radio in Vancouver to disassociate themselves from the convoy protests, which they say has caused them financial losses.
During the protests, South Asian truck drivers also reported facing racist and discriminatory remarks. As a result, many of them are leaving the industry and looking for other jobs.
One of the results of the protests was NDP House Leader Peter Julian tabling a private member’s bill that would prevent anyone from selling and displaying symbols that promote hatred, including the swastika, Klu Klux Klan symbols and the Confederate flag.
Surprisingly, a challenge to the bill has emerged in the South Asian media, both from India and in Canada, as the swastika is a sacred symbol to Hindus.
India’s Zee TV, for example, reported that MP Chandra Arya was going to address the matter in the House of Commons.
And the Tamil website Marumoli stated that the bill had “infuriated the Indo-Canadian community over the ‘demonization’ of a sacred symbol.”
According to Marumoli’s report, Indian Consul General in Toronto, Apoorva Srivastava, has said India has “formally flagged this issue to the government of Canada and shared with them the petitions received from Canadian groups in this regard.”
This article has been produced in collaboration with MIREMS Ltd. – Multilingual Research and Ethnic Media Services. MIREMS Ltd. provides English summaries, translations and analysis from print, web and broadcast platforms in over 30 languages.