Yel­low vest mes­sage be­com­ing mud­died

The Observer (Sarnia) - - OPINION -

From a sim­ple piece of personal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, the yel­low vest has trans­formed into a sym­bol loaded with mean­ing and mes­sag­ing. In France, it was adopted by demon­stra­tors de­cry­ing a new green tax on fuel. They donned the yel­low vests that ev­ery French mo­torist is re­quired by law to keep in their ve­hi­cle; it made a per­fect icon for pro­test­ers who are largely work­ing-class and ru­ral and wanted max­i­mum vis­i­bil­ity for griev­ances.

In­evitably, the yel­low vest has spread around the world as de rigueur ap­parel for any mass ful­mi­na­tion. But the French anger at wealth in­equal­ity didn’t travel with it.

In Al­berta, yel­low-vest protests ap­pear to be fo­cused on car­bon taxes, Bill C-69, stalled pipe­line projects and, con­fus­ingly, Canada’s plan to en­dorse the non-bind­ing United Na­tions’ mi­gra­tion com­pact. Dis­turbingly, yel­low-vest events have proven pop­u­lar with anti-im­mi­gra­tion groups and self­pro­claimed white su­prem­a­cists.

Those with in­tol­er­ant at­ti­tudes ap­pear to be co-opt­ing the yel­low vest to the dis­may of oth­ers who would wear it to sup­port the en­ergy in­dus­try or op­pose car­bon taxes.

One re­cent yel­low-vest march in Ed­mon­ton saw two peo­ple ar­rested as coun­ter­protesters sup­port­ing im­mi­gra­tion clashed with some in the group. Other events have fea­tured plac­ards de­pict­ing vi­o­lent acts against Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

This week, Face­book be­gan re­mov­ing con­tent from the Yel­low Vests Canada Face­book group after nu­mer­ous com­ments about killing Trudeau came to light.

For en­ergy ac­tivists plan­ning a cross­coun­try con­voy to raise aware­ness of the in­dus­try’s plight, the yel­low vest’s new anti-im­mi­gra­tion con­no­ta­tions are mud­dy­ing their pro-pipe­line mes­sage.

That’s why Canada Ac­tion, the group be­hind a con­voy head­ing to Ot­tawa on

Feb. 13 wants par­tic­i­pants to leave their yel­low vests at home and is dis­tanc­ing it­self from a yel­low-vest car­a­van also head­ing to Ot­tawa a day later.

“There’s no room for racism,” founder Cody Bat­ter­shill told Post­media. “There is no room for some of these view­points in our move­ment.” Shun­ning those with xeno­pho­bic views is a sound ap­proach, one that should be as­sumed by any­one who sup­ports the main­stream Cana­dian val­ues of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and ac­cep­tance.

Protests can be a pow­er­ful tool but threats and mes­sages of hate have no place in an im­por­tant na­tional de­bate.

And be­cause those who es­pouse ha­tred feed off ac­cep­tance from the es­tab­lish­ment, our politi­cians also need to be care­ful who they stand along­side.

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