Human rights defenders take issue with hands-off response to recent COVID protests

Activists who have spent much of their lives standing up for basic human rights say they’re hurt by the response they’re seeing to the recent protests against vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions.

In Ottawa and elsewhere across Canada, protesters have been rallying and honking their horns for days now, trying to get their messages across.

Joan Jack is no stranger to protests. As a lawyer and activist, originally from Berens River First Nation in Manitoba, Jack has been on the front lines of many other occupations calling for justice and freedom from violence and aggression against Indigenous people.

She believes the response by police and government to the recent rallies against restrictions and vaccines would be different if Indigenous people were the ones protesting.

Joan Jack believes the response by law enforcement and politicians to the recent rallies would be different if the protesters were mostly Indigenous. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

“Its a sad reflection of the Canadian state’s response to us as Indigenous people,” Jack said

“If our rights were as valuable — particularly as Indigenous women — to this government, this wouldn’t even be happening. Yeah no, they would’ve called in the army on us.”

Jack’s frustration is shared by Elsa Kaka, another former Manitoban who has participated in Black Lives Matter rallies.

“I find it really infuriating,” she said.

Kaka sees the mostly hands-off approach taken by officials in response to the COVID protest convoys as a tolerance for ignorance — to the fact that people of colour have been fighting against oppression for many generations.

Both activists acknowledge there are some people of colour in the rallies but insist that doesn’t make it right to compare vaccine mandates to historical atrocities.

Elsa Kaka says she’s disheartened to see protesters trying to equate COVID restrictions and vaccine mandates with atrocities like genocide and slavery. (Submitted by Elsa Kaka)

Kaka says she finds it “disheartening” to see some at the rallies compare their experiences over the past two years with lockdowns and vaccine mandates to slavery, genocide and violence.

“All that demonstrates to me is just an entitlement and that they’re completely unfamiliar with what actual oppression is,” concluded Kaka.

Jack and Kaka say the reactions to the trucker rallies by governments, police and all those who have contributed millions of dollars to support them, is hurtful.

Both predict the attitudes and actions toward the rally participants now will have lasting impacts on many who are trying to be patient with this movement.

“If politicians fail to oppose it, they’re being complacent, and that is very dangerous but it also encourages racist rhetoric,” Kaka said.

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