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opinion

Whether or not the Emergencies Act inquiry concludes that the threshold was met to invoke the legislation during the protests in Ottawa and at some border crossings this year, that word, “emergency,” seems bang on. For Ottawans who live or work in that part of the city, who felt trapped in their homes, who tried to get a baby to sleep to the lullaby of big-rig honking and diesel fumes – this was an emergency.

The inquiry has heard about Ottawa patients not being able to get to their cancer treatments, residents being harassed for wearing masks, businesses forced to close. One woman testified that she couldn’t sleep with all the noise but worried about wearing earplugs, lest the protestors barbecuing or setting off fireworks outside caused an actual fire and she wouldn’t hear the alarm.

And where was the protection? Where was the leadership? The inquiry has heard of hesitation by the appropriate authorities to take action, about buck-passing to an eye-rolling extreme. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified Friday about false assurances that things were under control. Meanwhile, children were being used as human shields, vehicles barricaded the city’s streets, and concerns about an escalation of violence were heightened.

For residents caught up in the mess, this was an emergency. With apologies to 1980s rockers Foreigner and their hit song Urgent, there was no need to “just wait and see.” There was far too much waiting and seeing happening as the protesters put down roots in the form of hot tubs and bouncy castles. With the endless disruption, residents were being put to the test.

We’re all being put to the test all over the place these days. Emergency feels like a very good word to describe our current, not very good, state of being. There are emergencies all around us.

The literal emergency departments in our hospitals – pediatric hospitals in particular – are operating over capacity with hours-long wait times in the double digits. The health care system is so broken that in B.C., people are dying of cancer before their first consultation.

We are barrelling toward year four of an isolating global pandemic that has been tearing us apart over issues like vaccines and masks. Everyone is exhausted; health care workers first and foremost. Their justified burnout has led to an exodus from the profession, exacerbating an already urgent situation.

British Columbia declared a drug-use public health emergency in 2016 and the losses are staggering. B.C. is on track to surpass 2,000 deaths from toxic drugs in 2022, just as it did last year.

At COP27 earlier this month, Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres warned “our planet is still in the emergency room.” In B.C., summer is now wildfire season. Even outside the fire zones, Vancouver homes that have historically been cooled in summer with open windows and the odd fan have become sweltering testaments to global warming.

Rising inflation and interest rates are having real consequences as mortgage rates climb, rents soar (if you can even find a place to rent), and trips to the grocery store reach ever-new heights of “Are you kidding me?”

And yet this holiday season, people are going to feel pressure to spend, spend, spend and wrap, wrap, wrap – credit-card interest rates and a burning planet be damned.

Of course, we all deserve some comfort and joy, the kids especially – and for many that equals shiny wrapped presents under the tree. But what kind of world are we gifting them?

A survey of Canadian postsecondary students suggests a bleak outlook for youth mental health. The American College Health Association, which counts some Canadian institutions among its members, found that rates of anxiety and depression were way up among Canadian participants in 2022, while the number of students who say they feel happy and satisfied with life, that society is a good place, and that people are basically good, is way down.

We are a long way from the sunny ways we were promised the night Mr. Trudeaus Liberals won the election in 2015.

When someone tries to tell you that the occupation of Ottawa was a happy display of love and unity; that kids always get sick in the fall and there have always been wait times at hospital ERs, so what’s the big deal?; that COVID-19 was an exaggerated emergency; that the Earth has been warming forever, so just chill, dude; that to take control of your finances, just skip the avocado toast; that someone who dies of an overdose made a choice to do drugs, so, shoulder-shrug emoji – I invite you to consider another word.

It’s the term that Merriam-Webster has chosen as its word of the year for 2022: gaslighting.

Take care out there.