On Canada: place, protest and perceptions

Alex Klaushofer
7 min readFeb 14, 2022

I’ve never known much about Canada. Until recently its one appearance in my life took the form of a bear-like coat given to me by my mother, the fake fur she’d bought during a snowy winter in Montreal.

That was all I knew about Canada: it was cold. Also big.

Until last September, that is, when I did a three-hour Skype with a Canadian woman in Vancouver. Emma (not her real name) had a Sophie’s Choice kind of dilemma and I was doing some informal emergency counselling to help her work through the issues. Canada was fast following in Australia’s footsteps as the western country with the most authoritarian Covid response, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had announced that at the end of October, ‘the unvaccinated’ would no longer be allowed to travel. Emma had to decide whether to leave her country before the gates closed.

Emma wasn’t ready to leave her country within the next few weeks; she still had some hope that, thanks to the growing number of activists, things would eventually get better. But one particular historical fact weighed on her mind: the fact that while some Jews got out of 1930s Germany in time, others ignored the signs. Could things get to the point where, as she put it, ‘there were boots on the ground’ and she would be forcibly detained? Would she look back on this moment and wonder why she didn’t leave Canada when she could?

Apart from pointing out that history never repeats itself exactly, I didn’t have an answer. Instead, we explored some of the practicalities of the worst-case scenario: leaving by private boat, crossing the border to the US by car or, if necessary, on foot under the cover of dark. At the same time I was struggling to believe that this could be happening in a western country: surely, as the breaches of human rights grew, international pressure would be applied?

Talking to her and others since then, I’ve heard how the lives of some Canadians have become more and more difficult as state and federal government have put them under more and more pressure. ‘The Unvaccinated’ can go to very few places and even food shopping and the school run present daily challenges in this newly-divided country. Baffled, I asked my new friend how she thought nice, liberal Canada had got to this point. Canadians tended to be very…