Entitlement is Not Freedom

I like to open each session with, what I think, is an appropriate quote from the wisdom of other. Today I am reflecting on an insightful comment by actor and outspoken speaker on rights, Liev Schreiber. That is, and I quote, “I react very badly when mediocrity throughs a tantrum of entitlement”. I share that belief.

As a polio survivor who contracted the virus as a baby (1953) I never had the luxury or protection of a vaccine introduced in 1955. Unfortunately I have a life time of people in positions of privilege making decisions on how I, or other disabled, should live their life despite the decision makers total lack of disability experience. Spending an hour touring around in a wheelchair, as many politicians and decision makers do teaches them nothing about the disability experience. Developing a pressure sore on your ass large enough to put your thumb into it but not being aware of it until you see the blood on your wheelchair cushion is the disability experience.

Nothing frightened a community more than an outbreak of polio so institutionalization for the betterment of society was societally acceptable in those day. In the 50’s and 60’s “social isolation” was about putting most of us into, what was known at the time, as polio kids hospitals. Those values no longer hold. We have, I thought, evolved but this truckers protest is challenging my beliefs.

While polio cases declined in Canada during the Second World War they increased substantially after the war. The number of cases reached a peak in Canada in 1953 (the year I contracted polio) with nearly nine thousand cases and five hundred deaths, the most serious national epidemic since the 1918-20 Spanish influenza pandemic. Needless to say, what is currently happening with this pandemic is not far off from the situation I grew up in however this “sense of entitlement” is much more ingrained and appears more acceptable in society today.

I have grown up living with that developing sense of entitlement. Most polio kids of my generation were either institutionalized or hidden away at home. The community of the 50’s and 60’s were not prepared for the disabled in their midst. The demands of the WW2 vets, as well as Korean vets, to be able to live independently in the community and not institutionalized in some VA institution was hard to ignore. Remember these are the same people who contracted their disabling condition in the defence of the freedoms of Canada. They were not going to be satisfied, justifiably so, being “warehouse” in extended care centres after defending “freedom”. The polio kids were able to piggy back on that community support being generated by the vets and supports being put in place, rudimentary at best, but a beginning.

Polio kids faced the same challenge, a community not ready, structurally, for the large number of polio survivors. Up to 1959 Alberta schools were not required to accept students with disabilities. If you wanted education your parents had to either fight the system for it or put you in a polio hospital. The introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955 changed all of that. By the late fifties polio outbreaks in Canada had all but disappeared with parents vaccinating their kids. They were preparing their kids for a future of freedom.

With the number of polio kids “aging out” of the hospitals (kids could only be in the Children’s Hospital until they were 16) the government of the day recognized this growth in polio kids becoming adults requiring independent living status. Amendments were made in 1959 to the School Act of the day guaranteeing access to education for students with disabilities. Mind you, the face of disability in the 50’s looked very different from the face of disability in the 80’s.

My first involvement with “community school” was grade 4 when I was ten years old. That was also my first encounter with what I realize now was the seedlings of entitlement. I was met at the Thorncliffe Elementary by a wall of parents throwing stones at me to “protect” their vaccinated kids from “these polio kids”. As a ten year old you don’t process that very well on an abstract basis but you certainly recognize it on a “concrete” level. That became a suppressed memory that this pandemic has forced to be resurfaced. I understand the belief to protect your kids, after all I am a father, but at the time I came to the belief that my “safe place” was my polio siblings in the Children’s Hospital. Despite having five siblings the kids at the hospital were more of a family. There we were just kids to all of these nurses (I often joke that I grew up with 30 mothers in different shifts) and each other, not “polio” survivors.

Words matter so when I see something like #ConvoyForFreedom2022 being referred to as an infringement on a persons right it sickens me. Let’s call it what it is “a convoy of entitlement”. In fact, when I see swastika being bantered around, people defacing monuments like the Terry Fox Memorial, protestors pissing on the on the National War Monument or people walking around with “Trump 2024” sheets wrapped around them, I’m pissed. This isn’t “freedom” this is an attack on the freedoms of every Canadian. Again I feel for these few truckers who started off protesting a cross border vaccination policy (also applicable to people coming “from” the States) as is there right. However their voice has been drowned out by a group of hate mongering racists who have co-opted the trucking protest.

There is no “freedom” without some compromise. The freedoms all Canadians should enjoy is under threat by a small number of anarchists that are being encouraged by alt-right politicians. Compromise in the middle of a major pandemic means ensuring the safety of every Canadian, not just those who feel they have the right to overthrow a federal government. This really is the equivalent to the Jan 6 attack on the American Capital Buildings. Right now it is still that Canadian way of politeness and apologies that have kept this protest reasonably non-violent but I fear that will change as long as we continue to be polite and “play nice”. We are far past the days of “playing nice”, it’s time to start being more forceful with those who flaunt the standards of decency that has made Canada what it is. I have a life time of “accommodating” to fit in while not pushing harder for a two way street of accommodation.

I have been involved in the activism community and protests as far back as Vietnam. Those were protests with purpose not based on entitlement. I really have no one left to alienate so I am now at that point where I am just as prepared to be blatantly outspoken as these idiots that thrive on a diet of conspiracy’s and misinformation. The longer Canadians ignore what going on while looking in their rearview mirror of “the good old days” of forty years ago, the faster they will lose sight of what lays ahead and when that happens Canadian democracy dies.

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