Recently the mayor of Morden, Brandon Burley, was barbecuing burgers for himself and his son in his back yard, when a number of cars all blasting their horns, pulled up onto his driveway outside his family home. The drivers were upset. Very upset. They hurled insults and even threats at the Mayor.
What upset them? Covid restrictions and the Mayor’s support of those restrictions that had been imposed not by him but by the provincial government.
As Malak Abas of the Winnipeg Free Press reported,
“It was the final straw for the 39-year-old father of four who, for months had watched the crusade create a divide in the city he represents. He said, he “saw red” and lashed out at the group, something he is not proud of. But he’d had enough.
The deniers had a tough time convincing the Mayor that Covid-19 is not real. In part this was because Mayor Burley had contracted Covid-19 and knew whereof he spoke. He knew first-hand that Covid-19 is real. Last November he tested positive for the virus. Today, he is still dealing with its ‘miserable’ effects. It took over a month before he was able to climb a flight of stairs without having to stop to catch his breath. He still can’t run a block without getting winded, and much of the food he once enjoyed now has a sulphuric odour and taste.”
Morden and Winkler, twin cities of the Bible Belt of southern Manitoba, have now taken over from Steinbach as the hotbed of “freedom rallies.” Some of the events there have attracted more than 100 supporters. As Abas reported,
Demonstrators with signs reading, ‘Away with Masks,’ and ‘Stop the lockdown’ have become common sights in the region. The demonstrators oppose pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns, arguing they are more harmful than Covid-19. Some deny the virus exists. Others assert restrictions are violation of their freedom and human rights.
Mayor Burley believes a rise in Trumpism as a political ideology in southern Manitoba, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are behind the protests.
What interests me, is that there is growing evidence that in Canada, as well as the United States there seems to be a merging of the forces of white supremacy, right wing ideology, anti-vaxxer doctrines, and Trumpism. These forces seem to be growing in strength and militancy. They seem to have a holy cause—freedom from government interference with their liberty to do as they please, no matter who is harmed in the process. To me it seems that this is there commonality.
As Abas reported, “Anti-lockdown protests have become a threatening presence, he said, noting public spaces, including big-box stores have become battlegrounds between weary employees and anti-lockdown protesters.”
Martin Harder, the Mayor of the other twin city, Winkler, said he has been trying to get to a middle ground with these opposing groups since the pandemic began. As Abas reported, “My focus, is how in the world do we live with each other when this is over? Martin Harder said. “It’s tearing families apart, it’s tearing businesses apart, it’s tearing communities apart.”
Randy Smart, Senior Pastor of Bergthaler Mennonite Church in the region, which has been following government restrictions, though not entirely with enthusiasm, says,
“He believes Covid-19 skepticism exists in the community, in part, because people who settled in Winkler faced unjust governments in other parts of the world. ‘I think one element that is probably unspoken, not in Bethel, but in the community is this lack of trust in government,’ he said, describing Winkler residents as ‘hard-working and generous.’ ‘So people who’ve had exposure and awareness of government tyranny in other places, they’ll come here and they say, ‘Oh, no…now the government is going to tell us when the church can open and when the church can’t open.’ “
I think Pastor Smart makes a good point. Distrust of government and an automatic suggestion that if the government wants us to do something it must be bad, are creating havoc with attempts by the government to impose health restrictions “for the good of Manitobans.” We have experienced decades of distrust in government here in Canada just as they have in the United States. They are a much more violent country then we are, so it is understandable if our levels of violence here have not been as great. But the ill-will towards government is strong here too. That is very unfortunate, particularly in a time of pandemic when trust in government is needed to achieve public goals.