I fled my country to find freedom in Canada. Let's not lose sight of what freedom really means

Today, protesters are occupying our nation’s capital and blocking border crossings. They’re demanding freedom, but I can’t see what freedom they've lost.

Intimidation and threats of violence have no place in a free society

Mirtha Rivera stands near her home in Regina, Sask. (CBC)

This Opinion piece was written by Mirtha Rivera, a resident of Regina who came to Canada from Chile as a political refugee. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I know what it's like to feel fear to venture outside, to feel that it's not safe to go anywhere, to live under a regime that weakens people and breaks them to the point they would agree to anything to stop the violence they face.

I know what that's like, because I survived the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. I came to this country as a political refugee in the 1970s. For me, freedom meant losing everything: my home, my family, my job. 

I thought I had left the fear and uncertainty behind, but those feelings are rising to the surface again.

I never thought that I would see what is taking place here in Canada right now. People are occupying main streets, speeding through the streets in residential areas, honking non stop and shouting obscenities at people who are wearing masks.

Intimidation and provocation, and with it the motors idling and horns honking nonstop, are all methods of torture that make it impossible to stay calm or sleep. This is on top of two years of doing what we can to survive the pandemic.

Back in early 2020, we didn't know if we would survive this unknown virus. Some didn't. Most of us did what we could to stay as healthy as possible by wearing masks, not giving handshakes or hugs, living apart from friends and family. I can admit, I hate wearing masks, a product of years of abuse and torture as a political prisoner in Chile. But I did my part.

I could only see my grown sons when they parked at my house in their cars. I waved and smiled from my door with tears rolling down my face. Their visits became a treat. I could see they were still around and I missed them more.

A protester waves a Canadian flag in front of parked vehicles in Ottawa, in the ongoing protest against COVID-19 measures. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The vaccines gave us a glimpse of hope for a life of normalcy. Somehow, people saw it as a loss of freedom. 

I know what a loss of freedom is. It's much more frightening than getting a needle in your arm that will keep you alive by helping prevent the spread of a highly contagious virus.

Today, protesters are occupying our nation's capital and blocking border crossings. They're demanding freedom, but I can't see what freedom they've lost. They are doing whatever they want and they have not faced any consequences so far.

Prime Minister Trudeau said that he wants to avoid violence against civilians, but where is he when Indigenous people are arrested violently, their ceremonial fires put out because they were rightfully defending the land without violence?

Considering other people's lives and health is an act of caring and support. This is something that gets better with practice. Showing anger and displaying hate with swastikas and the Confederate flag, and comparing a health mandate to the Holocaust, doesn't help anyone.

If we look carefully, we can see that the current "protest" fits the pattern of abuse of power and privilege. 

The bullying, intimidation and threats need to be stopped now or we will never have real freedom.

The oppression we are experiencing right now reminds me of a very painful part of my life I thought I had left behind when I came to Canada. 

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Mirtha Rivera is a resident of Regina. She came to Canada in 1975, escaping a dictatorship in Chile as a political refugee.