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Editor's column: Making space for anti-vax views

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds talks about making space for respectful conversations with those who have differing views
COVID vaccination
Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds talks about making space for respectful conversations when views differ, such as on vaccines.

“Liberals announce election platform of things they could have easily done before now.”

If there is a headline that sums up this election campaign, I’d say it’s this one from the satirical online publication The Beaverton.

Or maybe it doesn’t sum it up so much as explain the “Why the heck are we doing this, anyway?” attitude that has dominated. (The editor of The Beaverton was on CBC radio Wednesday morning which got me perusing their site.)

Granted, we often hear a collective groan when an election is called. And the provincial NDP was taken to task over the same issue, particularly by the Greens, who said they had backed the provincial NDP on all their major initiatives.

Still, something feels different.

Back in the fall of 2020 we hadn’t slipped into the fourth wave of COVID, the NDP had at least governed for more than three years as opposed to the Liberals’ two, and the election wasn’t called in the middle of summer.

But actually the biggest difference is this rising tide of hostility and polarization.

Protestors swearing and throwing rocks at the Prime Minister? Really? That’s not just appalling, it’s also humiliating. How do we maintain our national reputation as polite and orderly folks with that kind of footage going viral around the world? (It’s so Canadian to be worried about what others will think of us.)

Moreover, we can see where it leads. There has been no storming of Parliament, but there were protestors outside of Vancouver hospitals screaming at the very people who have put themselves on the front line to keep the rest of us safe. 

How do we even relate to people like that? The Beaverton’s headline on that story is, “Anti-vax protestors throw rocks at Trudeau due to not having entered the Bronze Age yet.”

But are they all Neanderthals?

At the Richmond News, we are hosting two election debates: Sept. 9, featuring Richmond Centre candidates and Sept. 13, featuring Steveston-Richmond East candidates.

We invited all candidates, including those from the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). In other words, including candidate for Steveston-Richmond East Jennifer Singh who took to Twitter to encourage people to go to that hospital demonstration where workers were yelled at and intimidated. (I know one hospital worker who was so disgusted by what he faced during one of those demonstrations, he phoned in sick the following day.)

But here is where we need to see the bigger picture.

I have spoken with Singh via email and she’s been nothing but friendly, respectful and committed to what she believes are Canadians’ democratic rights.

It’s really too bad that she won’t be able to take part in the debate as she said her schedule is booked until the election.

You may also notice that in our candidate profile section on pages 8-14 there are no profiles for either of the PPC candidates. Again, this was not about freezing anyone out. We asked both candidates to participate but got no response from the Richmond Centre candidate, and Singh’s profile came in too late for our print deadline.

My point with all this is that, while I fear the anti-vax movement, and I’m disgusted by protestors throwing rocks at the PM or intimidating health workers, I’m even more fearful of the growing gulf between “us” and “them.”

It is hard to think big and encompassing. It’s hard to be generous and tolerant. And, frankly, some people are just too angry and myopic for any meeting of the minds. But I can only start with myself, both as a citizen and editor of a community newspaper, to create space where respectful conversations can happen.

Granted, not everything can be on the table. Racism is not debatable, for example. But a lot can be negotiated if we start from a place of respect and show a genuine willingness to listen to what’s behind the placard.