Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
David Agren
David AgrenFebruary 09, 2022
Trucks block a downtown road as truckers and supporters take part in a convoy to protest the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers, in Ottawa, Ontario, Jan. 29, 2022. (CNS photo/Patrick Doyle, Reuters)Trucks block a downtown road as truckers and supporters take part in a convoy to protest the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers, in Ottawa, Ontario, Jan. 29, 2022. (CNS photo/Patrick Doyle, Reuters)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency as a truck convoy protest that has thrown the center of Canada’s capital city into chaos showed few signs of ending on Feb. 8. Ottawa police tweeted a warning: Anyone caught bringing fuel or other supplies into the protest to support the demonstrators would be subject to arrest. So far the additional pressure from police appears to have done little to deter the protest or efforts to keep it supplied.

The main body of protesters continued a diesel-rumbling siege of Parliament Hill, igniting fire pits on city streets and sounding truck horns at all hours—a judge on Monday issued an injunction against the relentless honking—and driving local residents to despair.

The movement, if it can be so described, has brought international attention to this uncharacteristically unruly moment in Canadian politics. “Your protest, dear Canadian truck driver friends, joins a worldwide chorus that wants to oppose the establishment of the New World Order on the rubble of nation states,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò said, endorsing the convoy, according to LifeSiteNews.

Protesters continued a diesel-rumbling siege, igniting fire pits and sounding truck horns at all hours—a judge on Monday issued an injunction against the relentless honking—and driving local residents to despair.

He added, opining conspiratorially: “It would seem that Canada is—along with Australia, Italy, Austria and France—one of the nations most infiltrated by the globalists.”

The “Freedom Convoy” has polarized Canadians, animated U.S. conservatives and astonished international observers. It also cast a critical spotlight on normally tidy Canada as images of chaos and rowdy demonstrations—with photos and video swirling on social media of Confederate flags, swastikas and people urinating on the National War Monument—clashed with polite Canadian stereotypes.

The protest threatens to similarly upend Canadian politics: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has used vaccine mandates to appeal to his base while the opposition Conservative Party is unraveling as members split over support for pandemic precautions and support for the convoy.

“Canada’s politics are becoming increasingly defined by the issue of vaccine mandates. Political parties are being reshaped by it, the streets of Ottawa are seized with it,” columnist John Ibbitson wrote in The Globe and Mail. “No one knows how this ends.”

Protesters have railed against the prime minister, flying “F—k Trudeau” flags and releasing a pre-convoy document calling for the federal government to be replaced with a citizens’ committee, prompting critics to warn that the convoy could lead to a Canadian version of Washington’s Jan. 6 insurrection.

Mr. Trudeau stayed out of sight last week, having contracted Covid-19 himself, appearing only to brand the protesters as a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.” He and his family left Ottawa for an undisclosed location, but the prime minister reappeared at an emergency debate in Parliament on Feb. 7, where he called for unity. He said of protesters, “individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop.”

The “Freedom Convoy” has polarized Canadians, animated U.S. conservatives and astonished international observers.

Observers point to intractable positions being taken on both sides—with Mr. Trudeau accused of fanning the flames of protest and some in the Conservative Party looking south to the United States for inspiration.

“Trudeau made a mistake in that he helped create some of this opposition,” said D.W. Lafferty, an Ottawa-based Catholic scholar and commentator. He compared Trudeau’s depiction of the convoy to 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton calling supporters of Donald Trump a “basket of deplorables.”

Some Canadian conservative politicians, he said, “are leaning in to support of the protesters, copying some of the tactics of the Republican Party in the U.S. [and] pushing out more reasonable conservatives.”

The Freedom Convoy started as a demonstration against vaccine mandates required by the Trudeau government for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. Unvaccinated truckers have been required to quarantine upon their return from the United States. The Trudeau government reports so far that the mandate has not affected truck traffic between the two nations at all. That issue became moot when the Biden administration implemented a vaccine mandate for Canadian truckers entering the United States.

But the planned convoy took on a life of its own, garnering enormous international attention. It collected more than 10 million Canadian dollars in donations until GoFundMe halted all giving, saying the cause violated its terms of service.

Ironically, the Freedom Convoy has formed in a country where the population has largely obeyed pandemic precautions. Nearly 89 percent of adult Canadians have been fully vaccinated, including about 90 percent of Canadian truckers. Canadians largely supported curfews, lockdowns and vaccine mandates throughout the pandemic—at least until the Omicron variant arrived.

“We listened to our public health officials. We embraced what they were telling us. We trusted them,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, a nonprofit Canadian polling organization.

Some Canadian conservative politicians “are leaning in to support of the protesters, copying some of the tactics of the Republican Party in the U.S. and pushing out more reasonable conservatives.”

But general fatigue with Covid measures has set in: Ms. Kurl points to polls showing 54 percent of Canadians want all restrictions lifted, a 15-point increase in that opinion since early January.

Ms. Kurl cautioned “not [to] confuse people wanting to see a change around restrictions with what’s happening in Ottawa.” But she added, “When we think about the number of people who are ready to have a conversation about ending restrictions in this country, that doesn’t represent a small fringe. There are a lot of Canadians ready for that.”

The protests come amid discontent with the state of affairs in Canada, long perceived as a peaceful, prosperous and orderly country, but increasingly seen by its own citizens as poorly governed in recent years.

Canadians have voiced disquiet with rising housing prices, inflation and supply-chain issues with tweets of empty grocery shelves and produce sections populating social media prior to the convoy. There has also been a sense the country’s political leaders underperformed on everything from handling the pandemic to responding to natural disasters to clearing snow from the streets. Now many have come to doubt government’s ability to maintain public security in Ottawa.

“The Canadian political class is weak and naïve. The entire purpose of it is dividing up the spoils in a country that is considered to be rich, stable and peaceful as just the natural, unwavering order of things. It’s not. Our leaders and whole governments are clueless,” columnist Matt Gurney of The Line, a popular site for social and political commentary in Canada, wrote in a Twitter thread. “This is a massive failure of the state.”

Amid the protests, talk surfaced among the chattering classes that Mr. Trudeau may be on the verge of a “just watch me moment,” in which he does the unthinkable: Call in the army. It would channel his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who quipped, “just watch me” when asked about deploying soldiers to Quebec in 1970 during the October Crisis, when members of the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped the provincial Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross. (Negotiations eventually led to Cross’s release, but Laporte was murdered by F.L.Q. kidnappers.)

The protests come amid discontent with the state of affairs in Canada, long perceived as a peaceful, prosperous and orderly country, but increasingly seen by its own citizens as poorly governed in recent years.

Over the past year, the younger Trudeau himself has stoked the divisions emerging over vaccines in Canadian society. He called an election in August, hoping to turn a minority government into a majority. But he floundered in the polls and in the end turned the campaign’s focus to wedge issues like vaccine passports and Covid-19 policy in an attempt to put his conservative opponents off-balance.

His Liberal Party won re-election, but barely, claiming a minority of seats in the House of Commons and capturing fewer votes than the Conservative Party for the second consecutive election.

“Some of it is a very personal anger with Justin Trudeau. That isn’t representative of everyone, but it’s also not like a fringe minority,” Ms. Kurl said. “People have not been voting for him for a while.”

She also noted in an essay for NBC News’ Think website, “Trudeau has yet to acknowledge that the country is showing signs of wanting a new approach [on the pandemic] because he knows his core voters are energized by othering the ‘fringe.’

“The result? Nearly 40 percent of Canadians believe there is no room for political compromise in Canada, which is a staggering number of people in a country that prides itself on peace, order and good government,” she wrote, warning of “a rising, creeping extremism in Canada” in recent years.

“While Canadians have been consuming news from down south since the dawn of broadcasting, the American right appears to be speaking directly to them now,” Ms. Kurl added.

U.S. influence in Canada can prove controversial, with conservatives previously complaining of U.S. foundations funding environmental activism against the Alberta oil industry and progressives calling for an end to U.S. conservatives sponsoring the convoy.

Amid the protests, talk surfaced among the chattering classes that Mr. Trudeau may be on the verge of a “just watch me moment,” in which he does the unthinkable: Call in the army.

Former President Barack Obama and former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton both endorsed Mr. Trudeau in past elections.

This time, former President Donald Trump weighed in, endorsing the convoy and blasting Mr. Trudeau as a “far left lunatic who has destroyed Canada.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised action against GoFundMe for canceling the convoy’s fundraising.

At least one Catholic bishop in the United States joined the social media fray.

“The freedom convoy is deeply rooted in the basic values that have built the world we take for granted. We must be free to make choices for our own lives.… We MUST respect individual freedom. #FreedomConvoy,” tweeted Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

Other Christian clergy took a dimmer view of the convoy and its appeals to Christian faith.

“From the well-attended prayer service held on the first Sunday of the occupation to the placards with Christian symbols and Biblical texts that are so common, what we’re seeing is the co-opting of the Gospels by the political hard right,” the commentator and Anglican priest Rev. Michael Coren wrote in The Globe and Mail. He described truckers in a heated discussion over protest strategy who suddenly turned to a collective recitation of the “Our Father.”

“I’ve no idea of what was in the hearts of those men who suddenly turned from bellicose plotting to telling God they ‘forgive those who trespass against us,’ but judging by the ubiquity of vulgar anti-Trudeau signs and images of nooses, I’m a little cynical.”

“While Canadians have been consuming news from down south since the dawn of broadcasting, the American right appears to be speaking directly to them now.”

Some Canada observers say the convoy chaos should not have come as a surprise. The populist People’s Party of Canada captured 5 percent of the popular vote in the 2021 election on a platform of opposing pandemic restrictions.

Canadians themselves took “harsh” positions toward the unvaccinated, pollster John Wright told America last year, with many showing enthusiastic support for a proposal that vaccine resistors should lose their jobs. The Quebec government floated the idea of a tax on the unvaccinated, but backed off.

“As far back as 18 months ago, I said 1 in 10 Canadians would not go along with passports/restrictions/vaccines and would resort to doing exactly as they are doing today,” tweeted Mr. Wright of Maru Public Opinion.

“This is going to be the most divisive time in our history. Right now,” he said. “There are 3.8 million Canadians who are pushing back in a big and organized way against how they have been marginalized, fired, restricted, media ignored, vilified.”

Convoy proponents have posted photos and videos of multicultural crowds waving Canadian flags and protesting peacefully in Ottawa and at protests in other parts of the country. (Truckers have blocked a border crossing between Alberta and Montana and more recently closed the bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.)

Their critics have circulated images of protesters disrespecting monuments, flying Confederate flags and brandishing swastikas.

St. Patrick’s Basilica in central Ottawa canceled Sunday services on Feb. 6 as a precaution because of the truck protest, and exasperated Ottawa residents have tweeted stories of harassment, told of verbal abuse for wearing masks and complained of the endless horn honking. One resident posted a video of an attempted arson in his apartment block, an incident police are investigating, though it is unclear if the suspects arrived with the convoy.

Gleaning an accurate assessment of the situation in Ottawa has not been easy.

“If you watch the media coverage of it, it basically forces you to pick a side,” said Ben Woodfinden, a graduate student and Ottawa resident, who lives near the protests and described the scene on Saturday as similar to “tailgating” at a football stadium. Depending on which media commentator you consult, “you think it’s either a fascist coup taking place” or “it’s a massive party,” he said. “The reality is much more complicated than that.”

“This crowd is mostly friendly. But anyone telling you there’s no dark edge here is either blind, or lying to you,” Mr. Gurney wrote at The Line. “Depending on which person you’re using as your explainer of the local vibe, you could reasonably walk away convinced that most of what was happening in Ottawa was a pretty big party, or a hostile invasion by thugs and harassers.”

The latest from america

A Reflection for the Nineteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time, by Zac Davis
Zac DavisAugust 08, 2022
There is no formula to charity, companionship or Matthew 25.
Marty RogersAugust 08, 2022
Bishop Álvarez stands facing the camera.
Bishop Álvarez, facing the threat of incarceration, maintains a message of love and hope.
The homily should be part of an active relationship between preacher and parish. None of us, speaking or listening, should stop trying to improve the experience.
Terrance KleinAugust 08, 2022