All choked up

Despite the great news that a measure of normalcy is returning in Ontario, we heard more “excuse me(s)” in recent days than at any point in the last two years.

Ordinarily one might say excuse me to get someone’s attention or signal a polite desire to get in on a conversation. Recently, however, friends and contacts have used that phrase to grasp for a moment of composure when talks turn to Ukraine and the tragedy befalling its people.

It should come as no surprise that Canadians and others in the free world are coming to terms with the horrific imagery emanating from eastern Europe. The destructive nature of war is one thing, the toll on entirely innocent people, particularly children, is another. 

Accordingly, the outpouring of empathy for families disrupted by actions not of their choosing is only natural. Fathers left behind, families cast into the wind, futures in peril – not much wonder the usually stoic people we know find themselves choked up and unable to speak. The despair is ominous and genuine. Canada has pledged support, as have other members of NATO. Sanctions and various manoeuvres to snap Putin from his bullying actions and selfish gaze have been enacted. Time, however, is precious as freedom fighters wage war against Russia and its agents of doom.

This past weekend, friends of Ukraine met at the corner of St. David and Queen St. outside MP Michael Chong’s office, to draw attention to the plight of Ukrainians. In times of strife, people want to do something – anything – to make people aware of injustices. Our lead letter this week follows a similar vein, that fellow Canadians should support efforts to free Ukraine from Putin’s wrath, any way they can.

We lead quite a sheltered, privileged life here in Canada. Although Canadians have engaged in conflicts around the globe, we have no clue what it is like to have soldiers and ordinances plundering neighbourhoods and infrastructure. Our separation from many grievances and slights in the old world, coupled with our vast geography, has allowed for a peaceful existence, but that has also led to a depth of ignorance about living under forms of government other than democracy. Without mincing words, Canadians are spoiled and we need to embrace some uncomfortable truths.

While spending time in the world’s largest communist country – after having a travel visa denied twice due to occupation in the media – we witnessed firsthand what it was like to be under surveillance and scrutiny. A street vendor selling roasted chestnuts was roughed up in front of our group, his equipment smashed and he himself taken away. Another compelling moment for this westerner was seeing the manifestation of rage in the eyes of a young translator after being questioned about his presence at the lounge bar as our guest. Those who think that is what we have going on in Canada currently, really need to get out more.

That conspiracies and misinformation have seeped into the underbelly of the internet is no surprise. Many of those social media channels and dubious websites claiming contrary motivations for Putin’s assault are sponsored by nefarious actors, intent on driving wedges between people, countries and those of us who believe in democracy at its core. Suspicion, intrigue, scandal, paranoia – we remain unsure why anyone would subject themselves to that preoccupation and level of unhappiness.

Voices for goodness and decency need to speak out now more than ever. There are glimmers of hope despite the discord affecting many the past two years.

Perfect strangers grasping the significance of the demonstration outside Chong’s office last weekend added their voice to a call for freedom from an evil foe. “It was overwhelming. And it brought tears to our eyes” the organizer said. 

Stand for freedom for Ukraine and its people.