The trucker protests in Canada seem to be coming to an end as the police have moved in with force, arresting people who refused to leave and towing trucks that were blocking the streets. For reasons that are unclear to me, some protestors seem to have been taken by surprise at being thus evicted when to me the puzzlement was why it took so long. This inaction by the authorities, coupled with false assertions by protest leaders, apparently led the protestors to think that they were in the legal right and had widespread support and could dig in for the long haul. And like the January 6th protesters in the US, they now complain about how unfairly they are being treated.
When thousands of protesters against Covid restrictions arrived in Ottawa last month, it would have seemed unimaginable that they would take over parts of the Canadian capital with little resistance.
To their own disbelief, the rightwing protesters soon controlled the streets outside parliament, brazenly flouting the law in the belief nothing could or would stop them.
This weekend, however, the blockade ended in incredulity, accusations of betrayal and questions over the future of the protest movement.
Like so many people in these right-wing movements, they have the most curious ideas about the powers that governments have. We are all, whether we like it or not, enmeshed by all manner of laws that governments can invoke if they feel the need. The fact that those laws are often used selectively against marginalized groups may have misled these people to think that the laws don’t exist or do not apply to people like them.
The rapid dismantling of the blockades stood in stark contrast to weeks of bold protest as truckers flouted bylaws, blaring horns at all hours.
Even as police threatened to break up the blockades and the prime minister, Trudeau, invoked the Emergencies Act, many protesters were unfazed, arguing police didn’t have the authority to break up the protests. Key influencers in the movement, including Pat King, repeatedly reinforced this message.
“King told protesters the warnings from police weren’t official because they didn’t have signatures on them or that the city didn’t have a police chief so no one could give the order,” said Kurt Phillips of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “And he was telling this to people who don’t really understand how government works.”
Still, even as police swarmed the area on Friday, many protesters expressed disbelief that arrests were possible.
“You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You have no right,” pleaded one woman as a line of police pushed towards a blockade on Rideau Street. Another broke down in tears as protesters were hauled off.
As footage of arrests and scuffles spread, on the secure-messaging site Telegram groups supporting the truckers reacted with shock and skepticism. One user claimed the officers were with the United Nations, part of a common conspiracy theory which holds that Canada’s government is linked to globalist networks.
Others were told, often by protest leaders and organizers, the police supported their movement.
“They honestly believe that all of Canada supports them. And so it’s shocking to them to learn they aren’t seen as heroes,” said Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow with the Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University, adding that many believed police officers were on their side.
“And now they’ve realized that’s not true.”
And then there were the grandiose claims by those who seemed to view themselves like Spartacus leading a revolt of the slaves, except that unlike the real Spartacus, these supposed leaders quietly left when things got too hot, leaving their followers in the lurch.
But in the waning days of the blockade, amid reports some leaders had their bank accounts frozen, defiance gave way to uncertainty.
Csaba Vizi, a trucker from Windsor, went viral on social media after he pledged to come home “glorious like Caesar, or in a body bag”. The night before the police operation, however, Vizi and other drivers left the city. Many did so after trucking companies, fearing ruin, ordered them home.
Police arrested nearly all protest leaders who called on demonstrators to “hold the line”. But the perceived ease with which some handed themselves over sparked a sense of betrayal. One user on a Telegram group accused Tamara Lich, the lead fundraiser, of having ties to the financier George Soros.
“A lot of patriotic Canadian[s] were duped into believing this [convoy] was real,” the user wrote.
Benjamin Dichter, a protest leader, called on supporters to stand their ground but left Ottawa before he could be arrested. His decision prompted one Telegram user to call him a “globalist operative subverting the freedom convoy”.
“Influential figures were really pushing disinformation to keep the protesters there,” said Celestini.
What is it with this belief among right-wingers that we are on the verge of a United Nations-led one world government takeover? t is about as far-fetched a theory as one can imagine and yet it seems to exert a great deal of influence among the nutters in the US and, apparently, in Canada too.
This protest illustrates the tight line that authorities have to walk when dealing with protests. Even if the protestors represent a very small fraction of the public (as seems to be the case in Canada), if they are sufficiently large in numbers, authorities face a quandary. You want to avoid suppressing expressions of dissent by force. On the other hand, letting them break laws feeds them the illusion that it is they who represent public opinion and gives their movement greater strength. There is also always the racial dimension. White protestors seem to be given much more leeway than protestors of color.
The Canadian protestors were supported financially and rhetorically by right-wing moneyed interests and politicians in the US who seem to be urging truckers in the US to stage a similar protest here and there are rumblings that it might take place, beginning around March 4th. I think the US authorities have likely noted what happened in Canada and seem to have decided that it is easier to prevent the trucks from arriving in large numbers than getting rid of them later.