I am somewhat baffled by the protests that have been talking place in the city center in Ottawa and the bridge to Detroit in Windsor Ontario where truckers and people in RVs and have been blocking streets for weeks now. The police finally moved in to clear the Windsor-Detroit bridge which opened today and it looks like they are beginning to clear the Ottawa streets too. Meanwhile prime minister Justin Trudeau has invoked emergency powers to be used of necessary.
So who are these protestors? Some of them are protesting the covid-19 restrictions that are still in place but others seem to be anti-vaxxers whom one would think would be a fairly insignificant presence since Canada has one of the highest covid-19 vaccination rates in the world, around 90%. But it seems like these people are similar to the anti-vaxxers in the US, very loud and angry though small in numbers and consist of the usual suspects that we find here.
The people were a mix of evangelical Christians, anti-mask mums, vaccine sceptics and local residents who are tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports.
The Freedom Convoy, as it’s been called, began as a protest against a mandate requiring truckers who cross the US-Canada border to be vaccinated against Covid.
But the group is not united by any one occupation – rather, they share a distrust of vaccines, a concern for government overreach and a general dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Unlike the Windsor crowd, which was limited to one major road, the Ottawa protest has essentially taken over the centre of a major city, with thousands of people flooding the streets with Canadian flags.
While many of the demonstrators have been peaceful, residents have told the BBC they have been shouted at for wearing masks, and had trouble getting to and from work.
Some of the complaints given by the protestors seem bizarre, as if they are grasping at anything to justify their complaints about the pandemic mitigation measures.
“This is not an anti-vax movement; this is a freedom movement. It’s for choice,” said Justin Smith, who was enjoying Beavertails – a Canadian pastry – with his wife Brandy Lawrence on the sidelines of the protests on Saturday evening. Both were wearing Canadian flags as capes.
“This nation is through and through my heart, I love Canada like you wouldn’t believe,” said Mr Smith.
They say they hate what mandates have done to their family, including their five children aged six to 16.
“I want my kids to go into a store and see a smile on someone’s face. That’s the saddest thing,” said Ms Lawrence.
Really? The saddest thing is that their children cannot see total strangers in a store smiling? They must live a very privileged life if that is what really upsets them.
While their numbers are small, like the right-wingers in the US, they are very vocal but Zack Beauchamp says that we should not be misled about their strength by the loudness.
But it’s important to understand the broader context in Canada. News coverage of the convoy, especially from sympathetic anchors on Fox News, may lead Americans to believe that Canada is in the midst of a far-right popular uprising. In reality, the mainstream consensus in Canada about Covid-19, and the nation’s institutions in general, is holding. The so-called trucker movement is on the fringe, including among Canadian truckers — some 90 percent of whom are vaccinated.
They are angry because they have lost.
The protests have had notable international reach, becoming a cause célèbre for anti-restriction conservatives in the US and Europe. Sixty-three percent of the donations to the truckers’ now-removed GoFundMe came from the United States; the American right reportedly played an important role in getting the protest off the ground. It’s also now inspiring actions elsewhere: An American convoy is scheduled to depart from California on March 4, with Washington as its ultimate destination. A similar French effort is already on its way to Paris, with police vowing to bar its entry to the capital.
Yet the fact that so much of the so-called trucker movement’s support seems to be coming from abroad is telling.
The reality is that a combination of factors, ranging from the structure of the Canadian political system to widespread acceptance of liberal cultural values, have made its government especially resistant to far-right radicalism. On issues ranging from Covid-19 to immigration to abortion, the mainstream consensus has held.
The freedom convoy’s willingness to disrupt life in Canada’s capital is less a sign of an incipient popular uprising than the lashing out of a minority that has little influence at the ballot box.
It is interesting that so much of politics in the US, and now possibly in Canada, is driven by those who are loudest and angriest. It takes anger to to get you out of your home and into the streets to demonstrate. Thus the people who are not angry, even if they are the overwhelming majority, tend to be passive, ceding the media stage to those who seek confrontations to get attention.