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© 2022, Tony Harwood-Jones
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The Golden Rule

Moral issues in the 2022 “Freedom Convoy” protests. 1 

In mid-December 2021,  just before the Omicron coronavirus roared into North America, my wife and I drove to California to visit our daughter and her family for Christmas.  Babysitting our two tiny grandchildren, and other matters, kept us in the U.S. through the New Year, but, finally, on January 26, we set out on the drive home.  By then, as everyone knows, lockdowns and mandatory COVID-negative tests were back in full force, for people crossing into Canada by car.  It took us an extra four days to arrange for testing, and then wait through the February 1st weather event 2 that closed U.S. Interstate 29 and Manitoba’s Highway 75, before we made it to the Emerson port of entry.  There we presented all our carefully-prepared proofs of vaccination, COVID tests, and the ArriveCan Internet application’s QR Code, and were courteously welcomed back into Canada.

After 2,900 kilometres of winter driving, we were little more than an hour away from home… but were suddenly forced to drive at a snail’s pace, by the “Freedom Convoy,” protesting vaccine mandates for international commercial truckers.  Hundreds of semi-trailer transport trucks blocked Highway 75 in both directions.  They were moving, but just barely; the long line of enormous vehicles was going at 10 km/hr, forcing us, other passenger vehicles, and some working transports to creep along behind them.

Winnipeg… and home… so near, yet so far away!

Finally, I had had enough.  I pulled onto the paved right-hand shoulder, and began to pass the lumbering vehicles.  It was safe.  All four wheels of my little Toyota fit on the pavement, and, by keeping my left wheels on the “rumble strip” that marks the edge of the driving lane, there was almost no risk of slipping into the deep snow beside the road.  Then a protester, ahead of me, must have seen me coming in his right-hand mirror, so he moved his truck onto the paved shoulder, blocking my way.

Now, I am sure that you know the moral principle, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  It’s called the “Golden Rule,” and is common to almost every known religion and philosophy in the world.

Those truckers are upset because regulations and mandates are denying them the freedom to work and move around as they wish.  But their convoy did to others – to me and to various vehicles on the highway, plus to shopkeepers and ambulances in the cities, like Ottawa, where they have taken their protest – exactly what they hate, when it’s done to them: they denied us our freedoms!

No respect for the Golden Rule going on there!

In fact, it resembles another moral code, called “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (more formally known as the Lex Talionis, or “law of retaliation”).  In its origins, the Lex Talionis was an attempt at fairness: if a guy steals your toothbrush, you cannot retaliate by smashing his entire house.  Toothbrush for toothbrush.  If he pokes out your eye, you may poke out one of his eyes, but not both. 3

So, somewhere in the subconscious of our protesters is this: “You stole my freedom, I’ll steal yours!”

The Lex Talionis was an attempt, three thousand years ago, to bring legal balance and fairness to the conflicts that occur between people.  “May the punishment fit the crime.”  But it proved unworkable.  If a starving person were to steal your pound of bacon, he has no more bacon for you to take back.  So laws were developed to ensure fairness – fines, and jail time, and sometimes reparations – that were appropriate to the nature of the offense.  And, people were discouraged from taking the law into their own hands.  If someone does something terrible to you, get the police to find and arrest him, and get the Crown and the courts to set an appropriate penalty.

And, it’s the same thing, if your “freedom” has been blocked.  Get the law to….  Uh-oh.  It is the law itself that mandated the thing that upsets you!  So, what’s to do!??  Take the law into your own hands?  Storm the legislature, break windows, threaten to hang the Prime Minister?  Or, just retaliate by making an elderly clergyman wait for hours before he can get home after a long drive?

Note that anger comes into play here.  Truckers have lost some “freedoms,” and are horn-blaring angry – taking away other citizens’ “freedoms.”

Well, guess what?  When they blocked my car, I felt anger surging up within me.  If I were face-to-face with one of them (especially the one who deliberately pulled over to prevent me passing him 4 ), I might have blackened his eye!

Except that I am a Christian, and I have spent my life trying to live up to the line in the Bible that says “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

Besides, I try to follow Jesus, who did something extraordinary to the Lex Talionis.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well…”  5    And Jesus lived up to this principle, fully!  When he was wrongfully convicted of treason, and sentenced to torture and death, he forgave and prayed for his executioners.

Christians have struggled with this one for two thousand years.  If a guy steals my car, am I supposed to say, “Here, have my RV, too!”  If someone beats up his spouse, do we say, “Have a nice day!” and arrange his marriage to another woman?  Should I have spent an hour driving behind those truckers, and then said to the lead truck, “Let’s spend another hour on this!”?

No.  Surely you would agree that the perpetrator of an offence should not be encouraged to keep on doing it!  The sooner the police take him or her out of circulation, even at risk to their own safety, the safer our community will be!  And (this is a true echo of Christian moral principles) we have a system whereby, if a judge or a parole board thinks that the perpetrator has changed, and will live successfully in the community, then permission is given to leave the jail and try to live a peaceful life.

What Jesus said, after telling people to “turn the other cheek,” is that the primary moral principle, in the face of an offence, must be: “love your enemy.”  So, we may protect others by putting the perpetrator in jail, but we must love this person; wish them well, and hope that good and happy things will eventually befall them.

In the end, I must love the truckers, even though they annoyed me hugely on that snowy highway.  And I would urge anyone – either protesting truckers or those who sympathize with them – to love the lawmakers and health department leaders who issue those mandates that they find so troubling.

And, to live by the Golden Rule: Do to others what you want them to do to you!  If you want “freedom,” then grant “freedom” to the drivers, and shopkeepers, and ambulances, and tourists around you.

Tony Harwood-Jones
February 15, 2022

NOTE: This essay was originally written for the “Keeping In Touch” magazine of the RCMP Veterans’ Association of Manitoba.  It has been slightly re-written for a more general audience.

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1  As the Coronavirus-19 pandemic roared into its third year, long-haul truckers, whose work carried them across the Canada / U.S. border, were faced with a requirement to be vaccinated against the virus.  Those who refused vaccination would have to quarantine for two weeks following their arrival in Canada.  Although 90% of truckers were vaccinated, the 10% organized a protest, blocking traffic at border crossings, and this quickly morphed into a nation-wide, then international public disruption, objecting to government mandates in general.
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2  On January 31 and February 1, 2022, a weather event (known as an “Alberta Clipper”) roared across the Canadian prairies and the northern U.S. states.  It brought large quantities of snow, and, in North Dakota it brought a mix of freezing rain and snow, making highway driving especially treacherous.
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3  The Bible expresses the law at Leviticus 24:17-22.  Jesus comments on it, as described later in this essay, at Matthew 5:38-40.
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4  Incidentally, the protest had a lot of involvement from the U.S.A.  The big rig that pulled out to block me had a U.S. licence plate.  And I probably should mention that eventually, the American trucker pulled back into the driving lane.  I had been out of his sight for some time, in my little car, tucked in behind his trailer, and when he left the shoulder, I darted out, passed him, and passed about 70 other trucks, until I was in front of the entire convoy.  Heather and I made it home in daylight.
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5  Matthew 5:38-40.
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