The once-narrow protest, dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” has spiraled into a broader movement of the far-right.
Truckers lineup their trucks on Metcalfe Street as they honk their horns on February 5, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. | Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
By Myah Ward
Since late January, truck drivers have wreaked havoc on Canadian cities, occupying parts of Ottawa and ultimately blocking the country’s most vital trade route to the U.S. in protest of Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates.
The once-narrow protest, dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” has spiraled into a broader movement of the far right as some protesters waive Confederate and Nazi flags in the streets. The demonstrations have caught the attention of conservative politicians in the U.S. who have praised the truckers as advocates of freedom.
Here’s what else you need to know about the protests that are garnering international attention and their potential to further fuel the anti-government movement across the globe.
On Jan. 28, a group of truckers traveled to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, in protest of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vaccine mandates for truckers traveling into the country from the United States.
Key organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” include Tamara Lich, who previously worked as the secretary of the Maverick party, a far-right group launched to promote the separation of the country’s three western Prairie Provinces; Maxime Bernier, who leads the far-right People’s Party of Canada; and James and Sandra Bauder, who lead a group calling itself Canada Unity. James Bauder reportedly supports QAnon conspiracy theories and has called for Trudeau to be put on trial for treason because of his pandemic policies.
The protest organizers have raised about $10 million Canadian dollars, or $7.8 million U.S. dollars, through GoFundMe for their “Freedom Convoy” protests. Only a small amount was actually dispersed to organizers since GoFundMe shut down the campaign after police cited “violence and unlawful activity” during the protests.
The prime minister early on dismissed the truckers as a “fringe minority” of people who don’t align with Canadian views, but the government has struggled to contain the protesters through three straight weekends of protests. First blocking traffic in Ottawa, the protests have expanded, with similar demonstrations in Toronto, Quebec City, Calgary and on the Ambassador Bridge. The protesters have said they won’t stop until the mandates are lifted. Others have said the protests won’t end until Trudeau resigns.
The protests continued to escalate over the weekend after Ontario’s premier declared a state of emergency on Friday and a judge ordered an end to the blockade on the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Michigan and Ontario. Police arrested multiple remaining protesters over the weekend, and Canadian authorities were able to reopen the Ambassador Bridge late Sunday.
Protesters are still disrupting daily life and affecting businesses throughout Ottawa this week, leading Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act, a powerful, never-used legislation that grants authorities temporary powers during a crisis, such as prohibiting public assembly that continues to disrupt the peace. Ottawa’s police chief also resigned on Tuesday, as the department faces criticism from city residents for failing to get the demonstrations under control.
The Biden administration worked with Canadian officials to reopen the key trade route over the weekend. On Sunday, White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall announced Canadian officials would reopen the Ambassador Bridge, suggesting the most intense of the protests might be over. Other administration officials like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have also been in close contact with their Canadian counterparts.
President Joe Biden and Trudeau have stayed in touch to coordinate a response to the protests. The two leaders have discussed the global and American influences fueling the demonstrations, as well as Americans’ involvement in the protests — including U.S. citizens flooding 911 phone lines in Ottawa, Americans participating in the protests, and the large amounts of foreign cash funneled to protesters, with 50 percent of the funds coming from U.S. donors.
The protests have caught the attention of U.S. conservatives from members of Congress to media figures.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is one of multiple Republicans who have said they support the protests. “Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights, you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates,” Paul said last week in an interview with The Daily Signal.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) defended the truckers on Fox News.
“They’ve had it,” Jordan said. “They are so sick of the double standard, so sick of the mandates. What they want is what God gave them. Freedom. That’s what this is all about. God bless those truckers for standing firm.”
And Fox News hosts have spent a good deal of time commenting on the “Freedom Convoy.” Sean Hannity cheered the protesters on while broadcasting live reports from the scene. “Send our solidarity, love and support to all of the brave people who are there,” Hannity said on his show last week.
Tucker Carlson’s online store is selling “I [heart] Truckers” shirts, edited from his standard “I [heart] Tucker” tee.
While the “Freedom Convoy” began as a group of Canadian truckers protesting cross-border vaccine mandates, it’s become a rallying cry for far-right grievances in the U.S. and around the globe.
More protests could be coming, as anti-restriction conservatives in both the U.S. and Europe cheer on the truckers. The protests have already sparked copycat “Freedom Convoy” protests in France, Australia and New Zealand. “Freedom Convoy” protesters blocked traffic in Paris over the weekend, and police in New Zealand tried to disperse protesters by blasting hit songs of Barry Manilow, James Blunt and the “Macarena.”
U.S. officials are bracing for an American version of the protests.
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