I fear that Canadians are headed for the sort of volatile, drawn-out, intractable conflict that tears societies apart. (Above) People with opposing views square off as protests continue on February 17, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario.
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Tara Henley is a former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer, writer and podcaster.

The rainy streets of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, are eerily quiet, with police cruisers blocking intersections and helicopters circling overhead.

This does not feel like the safe and stable country I grew up in.

On Monday, the Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act, which became law in 1988 and has never been used – and it is not yet clear what he’ll do with these powers.

The mood is tense as we all watch events unfold more than 250 miles away in Ottawa, where the anti-vaccine mandate Freedom Convoy of truckers remains dug in.

The use of the Emergencies Act has poured gasoline on what was already a raging fire.

I fear that Canadians are headed for the sort of volatile, drawn-out, intractable conflict that tears societies apart.

The same type of ‘take no prisoners,’ merciless discourse that has transformed America into an endless political battlefield, where opponents can never agree and seemingly nothing is ever resolved.

The act replaces the War Measures Act, last invoked by Trudeau’s father, Prime Minster Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in 1970, and it is widely known as the nuclear option.

I fear that Canadians are headed for the sort of volatile, drawn-out, intractable conflict that tears societies apart. (Above) People with opposing views square off as protests continue on February 17, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario.

I fear that Canadians are headed for the sort of volatile, drawn-out, intractable conflict that tears societies apart. (Above) People with opposing views square off as protests continue on February 17, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario.

It gives the government sweeping powers, including the ability to freeze the bank accounts of those participating in the protest.

Trudeau’s Justice Minister David Lametti justified targeting the finances of supporters of the non-violent Freedom Convoy in Ottawa by equating them to terrorists and criminals.

There is debate on whether the Prime Minister has met the legal standard for invoking this act.

Yesterday, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told me that she believes he has not.

She argued that its use bypasses the democratic process and threatens civil liberties.

‘We should not be normalizing the use of emergency acts to deal with localized, specific challenges that can be addressed through law,’ she told me.

Mendelsohn Aviv has a point. And, indeed, this afternoon the CCLA announced it was launching legal action.

When Freedom Convoy protests blocked the Ambassador Bridge, linking Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Ontario’s premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency and police cleared the bridge without incident.

There was no need to call in extreme measures.

Trudeau has demonized non-violent protest and encouraged Canadians to turn against one another. (Above) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks about the implementation of the Emergencies Act on February 17, 2022 in Ottawa

Trudeau has demonized non-violent protest and encouraged Canadians to turn against one another. (Above) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks about the implementation of the Emergencies Act on February 17, 2022 in Ottawa

Members of Parliament will argue over the specific powers and scope of the act today, but until any amendments are made, the measure stands as is.

In the meantime, there is no escaping the fact that Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act has profoundly inflamed tensions.

He has demonized non-violent protest and encouraged Canadians to turn against one another.

These tensions will not be bottled up by simply dragging the protesters away. They will only fester if they are not addressed, and, so far, Trudeau has refused to listen.

I worry about what will become of my country if our citizens are not permitted to be heard.

As a journalist, I have never seen a news event this polarizing. And as a citizen, I have never seen my country this divided.

For the past two weeks, most conversations have revolved around the protests in the capital.

I have talked about it with family, friends, neighbors, strangers on the street, people I interview, and acquaintances in the park.

I have received messages from old friends, and from people I haven’t spoken to since high school, and from friends of the family, and from the general public.

It is painful and disorienting, most say, to find our society so deeply – and so nastily – divided.

In my immediate circle alone, one person told me they’ve had to stop talking about the truckers with loved ones in order to remain on speaking terms.

It is painful and disorienting, most say, to find our society so deeply ¿ and so nastily ¿ divided. (Above) Police are followed by yelling protesters as they attempt to hand out a notices to protesters in Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2022

It is painful and disorienting, most say, to find our society so deeply – and so nastily – divided. (Above) Police are followed by yelling protesters as they attempt to hand out a notices to protesters in Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2022

Families are being pulled apart, including the Premier of Ontario’s own.

Ford said Monday at a news conference that ‘all of this has polarized us in a way that we could never have imagined.’

One of his daughters has publicly supported the protests.

Our political class is also divided.

Several premiers have spoken out against the use of the Emergencies Act; political parties are sparring in Parliament.

And the Prime Minister recently saw a backbencher, Joël Lightbound, publicly break ranks with the Liberal party over its handling of health restrictions and the trucker convoy.

What triggered this eruption of explosive conflict in our society?

Starting some months back, Justin Trudeau began using divisive language to describe Canadians who had chosen not to get vaccinated.

He said that they were misogynists and racists and science-deniers; he warned that they take up space and wondered aloud if they should be tolerated.

In recent weeks, he’s dismissed the truckers as a ‘fringe minority’ who ‘hold unacceptable views,’ and as ‘a few people shouting and waving swastikas.’

He has also denounced the ‘antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and transphobia’ on display.

There is little evidence to back up such allegations. To characterize all of the many people supporting these protests, cheering them on from the sides of highways, and attending mass demonstrations across the country as extremists is inaccurate at best and offensive at worst.

In a heated exchange in Parliament during question period yesterday, the Prime Minister doubled down on such rhetoric, responding to criticism from a Jewish Conservative member, Melissa Lantsman, by accusing her and her party of standing with people who wave swastikas.

Lantsman and the Conservatives demanded an apology. Trudeau refused to take it back.

Some in the media have also adopted Trudeau’s tone.

This is not a protest, but an insurrection, a threat to democracy, sedition.

This hysterical rhetoric has surfaced on Twitter, too, of course, with breathtaking displays of scorn from members of the press.

This dynamic in our press is one I have been worried about for some time.

The inability to tolerate, let alone explore and reflect, diversity of viewpoint is deeply troubling.

This is a large part of why I left legacy media in January, working as a current affairs radio producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (In fact, it was our coverage of the vaccine mandates that proved a tipping point.)

I’m not the only one leaving mainstream media. Last week, a Vancouver radio host spoke out on-air in favor of the protests and is now unemployed.

In my twenty years as a journalist in this country, I have never seen a public conversation that’s so obviously toxic and destructive.

The U.S. example has already demonstrated how counterproductive it is to deem part of the population ‘deplorables,’ as Hillary Clinton once labeled half of the supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

It does nothing but enrage that part of the electorate, fuel political polarization, and energize the far-right.

Canada has imported a culture war from America, it’s true; but there’s an even more salient factor at play here.

The resentment has been building and building, and now it¿s hit a breaking point. (Above) A protester in Ottawa, Ontario on February 17, 2022

The resentment has been building and building, and now it’s hit a breaking point. (Above) A protester in Ottawa, Ontario on February 17, 2022

During the pandemic, Canada has become a less equal country.

Billionaire wealth has increased a staggering 68 percent. Many, many people are struggling to make ends meet.

Public policy around COVID has shielded the laptop class and exposed the working-class, time and time again.

As elites have worked comfortably from home, ordering takeout and amassing wealth, the working class has lost savings, housing, businesses, and childcare (with widespread school closures), and has gotten sick with the virus and lost more work, money, and security.

The resentment has been building and building, and now it’s hit a breaking point.

These demonstrations have been painted as far-right and extremist, and, while I believe that threat is exaggerated, it would be naïve to think that that element is not present.

If one is to take the threat of the extremist far-right seriously, as I certainly do, then the Emergencies Act is the worst possible way of handling this crisis.

It risks radicalizing peaceful protestors and confirming their worst fears about government.

It risks driving citizens to more and more extreme positions, as legitimate concerns go unheard, and legitimate democratic dissent gets squashed.

We must pull back from the brink – starting with our Prime Minister.

Justin Trudeau must seize the moment, affirm humanism, and speak to our collective good. He must listen to the truckers’ concerns about our country and its policies.

The Prime Minister must be a leader for all, not just those who agree with him.

Let America’s descent into a constantly politicized nightmare be a lesson. It’s time to turn the temperature down, for the good of all Canadians.

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