Often, we speak of critical thinking, but do we use it?
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” has shut down vital transportation routes, taken up valuable news time, incurred significant costs (including increased policing and snarled traffic), and been an incredible burden to those living, running businesses, and working nearby. It has reinforced the need for critical thinking and careful fact checking.
Sometimes the media makes errors in reporting, sometimes people and organizations provide information that is incorrect in order to support their cause, and sometimes we really don’t know something so everyone is guessing. As I write this, the situation continues to unfold, and likely more will happen between now and when you are reading. However, as of mid-February, the following are a few of the items that caught my attention.
1. We don’t know how many trucks are in the convoy. Just how many trucks are there? Politifact provides some fact checking on the number of trucks in the convoy. They report seeing claims that as many as 250,000 trucks were involved in the protest. Although it appears to be quite challenging to actually count the trucks, there are some reports from across the country.
The Kingston police reported 17 tractor trailers and 103 tractors without trailers. Global News reported that there were 230 trucks from Toronto and Western Canada. City News is quoted as saying “you’d be hard pressed to find 100 trucks. Meanwhile, Logistics Canada reports that “approximately 500 protesters were present in Ottawa’s ‘freedom convoy’ but most of the protesters were non-truckers.”
It seems a sure thing that many of the reports are exaggerated. Simple math demonstrates that 50,000 trucks with trailers would make for a 1150 km convoy (each truck and trailer being 23 meters long); 50,000 trucks without trailers (9 meters long) would be a 450 km convoy; and even 50,000 cars (Honda Civics) would be 230 km.
2. We don’t know how many truckers there are in the country. Statista reports that at the end of 2021 there were 324,200 truck drivers in Canada, while the Canadian Trucking Alliance reported that there were only 225,000 Canadians earning a living by trucking.
3. We don’t know how many truckers cross the border. It becomes even more of a challenge to know the extent of the supply chain impacted by the cross-border vaccine mandate. According to CBC, the Canadian Trucking Alliance reports that there are 120,000 Canadian truckers who cross the border; while the Globe and Mail quotes the same organization as reporting that there are 26,000 truckers crossing the border regularly.
4. We don’t know how many truckers will be impacted by the mandate. According to the Canadian Government, the vaccine mandate will impact approximately 8,000 truckers, while the Canadian Truckers Alliance believes this is about half the CTA’s estimate of 16,000 truckers.
If one can trust the CBC-reported number of truckers crossing the board (120,000) and the 90 percent vaccination rate, the true number would fall exactly in the middle of these two projections at 12,000. However, Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada reported that 20 percent of Canadian truckers who cross the border are unvaccinated.
5. We don’t know how the mandate will impact the supply chain. Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra indicates that the mandate will have no impact on the volume of trucks crossing the border. He based this on the volume of trucks entering Canada in the seven days after the January 15 mandate began. Mike Millian disagrees, claiming “we’re going to see shortages on shelves and we’re going to see inflation of prices.”
6. Canada is a free country. The very fact that protesters fly the “F#*! Trudeau” flag is proof of freedom. In what non-free country could this happen? Canada has been extremely patient with the protests even as they shut down international transportation routes and threaten future trade with our closest partner.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell spoke to CBC radio about her frustration that the blockade was preventing the transportation of supplies needed to keep U.S. factories open, and preventing healthcare and other workers from crossing the bridge to work in the U.S. As for the risk of the U.S. rethinking its reliance on Canadian goods, Dingell suggested that the American government would act swiftly to remove the blockade were it on the U.S. side of the bridge.
7. While most of the people reading Critical Links will trust science and disagree with them, there are many people in Canada who are genuinely afraid of the vaccine. There are people prepared to forego social events, face coldness from friends and family, and even lose their vocations because they are afraid of the vaccine. Perhaps some empathy is due these individuals.
We would empathize with someone who could not walk around the top of the CN tower because of their fear of heights, and with someone who could not be pacified by the promise that a dog they’re afraid of won’t bite them. Most of us would not shame and humiliate these individuals. So perhaps the time has come to take a similar approach to those that have a significant fear of the vaccination. These are individuals who have been victimized by religion, pseudo-science, and sensationalized journalism.
8. Responsible journalism vs. responsible news consumption. As the pandemic recedes (I hope) from the forefront of the news, it is important that we retain the lessons that we learned in the past two years. Often we hear about responsible journalism. However, perhaps the time has come when the responsibility lies with the reader. It is our job to think critically about what we read — to acknowledge that the media and the people that they interview have biases, make errors, and even outright lie. It is our job to question the accuracy, to review multiple media sources, and to consider ideas that do not necessarily match our own.