Cross-Country Protests Politicizing Health and Safety as Retail Industry Impacted: Op-Ed

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Protests and demonstrations. They are a powerful and effective means by which to get a message heard en masse, often acting as useful sociopolitical tools that can be leveraged to shed light on important matters, giving voice to causes that have either been marginalized by government and other forces of influence or ignored by them altogether. In short, they are necessary, serving as critical cogs in the wheel of democracy. And our right to do so is secured under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing our freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly. It’s exactly what organizers of the current ‘Freedom Convoy 2022’ are exercising in provinces across the country – a movement which began as a protest in opposition to the Canadian Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements for truckers. However, in politicizing a health and safety issue that impacts everyone in every community across the country, they may find that their views are not simply in opposition to the Canadian government, but that they are also starkly contrasted by the views held among the general Canadian public.

Strong opposition

Downtown Ottawa (Image: ThatWalkingGuy/Facebook)

In fact, according to a recent Ipsos poll, a vast majority of Canadians support vaccine mandates and are open to further measures that will help curb the ongoing spread of the coronavirus and its variants, with an overwhelming 80 percent in support of the announcement made in 2021 requiring mandatory vaccinations for all federal public servants. That support increases to 82 percent when it comes to views concerning the requirement for proof of vaccination for air and train travel, either internationally or interprovincially. With respect to vaccinations within specific sectors and forms of employment, 84 percent are in favour of mandating healthcare workers to do so, followed closely by teachers at 81 percent. A further 72 percent of Canadians believe that vaccine passports should be required in order to enter restaurants, gyms and other indoor spaces.

Within the retail environment, the numbers bear out in a very similar fashion. and retail staffing expert and President of Luxury Careers Canada, Suzanne Sears, teamed up to conduct a survey in 2021, finding that 68 percent of Canadians believe that vaccinations should be mandatory for retail store staff. A further 65 percent of retail employees stated that they were not willing to work with other unvaccinated team members. And, it might be suggested that these numbers have likely increased since the time the responses were generated, falling more in line with sentiment concerning mandatory vaccinations in other sectors and industries.

When considering the needs and wants of the ‘Freedom’ protestors against the backdrop of these statistics, which reflect the sentiment of Canadians across the country, their message and objective seem to lose a significant amount of gravitas. Afterall, their views and opinions on ‘freedom’ represent those held by just two out of every ten people that you’ll meet today. And although a percentage balance or measurement is not often what defines a meaningful protest, view or opinion (most bright ideas and insights are often outnumbered by the masses), the fact that people gathering in cities across the country are not voicing concerns regarding gender inequality or racial injustice, or fighting for greater diversity and inclusion within society, tends to diminish the value of their efforts further. In fact, it could easily be argued that their penchant to be heard on the issue of vaccinations is impeding the freedom of everyone around them.

Disruption and ignorance

The ‘Freedom Convoy 2022’ protests, which have been causing disruptions in cities across the country, have risen to their crescendo in Ottawa where its Mayor, Jim Watson, says that the city’s downtown core is “out of control” where somewhere in the region of 1,000 parked transport trailers and thousands more protestors on foot have essentially commandeered the area. City residents are being urged to avoid the downtown core and warned about the likelihood of certain road and interprovincial bridge closures in an attempt by city officials to stem the momentum that the so-called ‘Freedom’ protests are gaining. In addition, the CF Rideau Centre – one of Canada’s most successful malls, and located in downtown Ottawa – remains closed for an eighth consecutive day after a mob of unmasked protestors filled its corridors a little more than a week ago. It’s an occupation that seems to have unfortunately become emblematic of the movement’s lack of foresight and direction and, according to Retail Council of Canada, could cost the Centre and its tenants an estimated $19.7 million in lost revenue.

In addition, many of the Main Street retailers in disrupted cities and towns across the country have been forced to temporarily shutter their store operations, adding to the cost of the ‘Freedom’ demonstrations – costs that are being incurred by their neighbours and fellow Canadian citizens. These are, of course, costs that are added to the fallout of a strained Canadian supply chain, resulting in further delays, increased food prices and a general sense of aggravation among much of the country’s population. And, as Ottawa’s Watson declares a state of emergency, preparing to boost police enforcement to quell the disturbances occurring within his city, it’s safe to say that the kind of action required to remove the protestors from the area, and other areas across the country, will be supported by the majority of Canadians.

Getting back to ‘normal’

Rideau Centre (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It’s not often that a protest or demonstration of this size and magnitude, when its mandate and objective is broken down, resonates so poorly with onlookers and passersby. But, then again, the onlookers and passersby of this situation, generally speaking, are the majority whose rights and freedoms are being most dramatically impacted by so few. In fact, it’s rather poetic, perhaps pathetically so, when realizing that the fraction of Canadian society that supports the ‘Freedom Convoy’ are more than likely the fraction of unvaccinated citizens responsible for the exacerbation and perpetuation of the global pandemic that we find ourselves, collectively, wading through. And, it seems as though the longer these protests drag on, the longer people refuse to get vaccinated and contribute meaningfully toward returning society back to some kind of ‘normal’, the less effective the dissenting voices will become, rendering them eventually as pointless as the blast of a truck horn into an abyss.

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Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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  1. Well said. The original point of the “trucker” protest is weak, considering that only around 10% of actual truckers are unvaccinated, and yet those workers are still able to transit domestically. With blockades in downtown Ottawa, a border crossing in Alberta and now the major Windsor-Detroit crossing (where $400 million passes through daily), these protestors are likely to impact store shelves far more than a handful of unvaccinated workers they purport to represent. Then again this wasn’t really about the truckers, was it?


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