Canadian politicians are breathing a sigh of relief as the last of the Protestors were cleared from the street on Monday after a three-week stand-off, but what were the protests about, and will they have lasting effects?
The “Convoy for Freedom” protestors arrived in Canada’s capital of Ottowa on the 28th of January, having converged on the city from all over the country. The initial proclaimed goal of the protestors, largely comprised of truckers, was the overturn of the vaccine mandates for those entering the country. While there is a non-negligible portion of Canadian truckers who are currently unvaccinated, the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that 85% to 90% of the 120,000 of the Canadian truckers who work US-Canada routes are vaccinated.
Once the convoy arrived in the capital, trucks and other vehicles blocked the streets, and, importantly, the Ambassador Bridge, which links Canada to the US and carries around 25% of US-Canada trade. The blocking of this bridge was estimated to be blocking around £221 million worth of trade per day and was described by the Canadian Transport Minister as an “illegal economic blockade against all Canadians”. Several car manufacturing plants were forced to suspend operations due to a lack of access to new components.
As the protests wore on the politics and the demands of the protestors changed, or at least became more evident. What started as a protest against cross-border vaccination mandates soon became a demonstration against covid restrictions as a whole.
Some of the protestors, including some of the organisers, exhibited far-right ideals. One of the truckers was seen to be waving a Nazi Swastika flag, several were seen wearing “make Canada great again” caps, and one of the organisers, Patrick King, had previously made comments in videos posted online promoting far-right white genocide conspiracy theories.
King says in one such video:
“There’s an endgame, it’s called depopulation of the Caucasian race, or the Anglo-Saxon. And that’s what the goal is, is to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines”
Many members of the protests condemned the far-right elements, but the extremist component’s presence continued nonetheless. Dozens of incidents of intimidation and harassment of people wearing masks were reported to the police over the course of the protests.
The talking points of the protestors largely took the form of criticism of Trudeau for alleged government overreach.
Trudeau dismissed the protestors from the beginning as a “fringe minority”, a moniker which the protestors adopted as a source of pride.
Those who live and work in the area quickly grew annoyed at the protests, after travel to work was blocked, and the protestors took to “honking for freedom” with their truck’s horns. Eventually a court issued an injunction prohibiting the use of the truck’s horns, although several protestors continued regardless – leading to some arrests.
The protestors were initially receiving funding through crowdfunding site GoFundMe, but after an incidence of violence was reported the site took down the donation page. Another crowdfunding site, GiveSendGo, was willing to host a donation page for the protests, which ended up accumulating just under £6 million for the protests.
GiveSendGo was soon after hacked and the names and donations of the crowdfund supporters were leaked. Almost half of the funds for the protests came from the US. The Intercept conducted a cross-reference with another leak, one detailing the membership of the far-right Oathkeepers group which played a significant role in the January 6 insurrection, and found 355 matches.
Trudeau did not, at any point, meet with the leaders of the protests, instead attempting to coerce them to leave.
Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in the countries history, which gives the federal government additional powers the following 30 days. He did, however, insist that the use of the Emergencies Act would be limited both geographically and temporally. On Friday police began to arrest protestors, confiscate rigs and freeze bank accounts. At least 206 bank accounts were frozen, 79 rigs were towed away and 191 people were arrested, Patrick King and several other of the organisers included.
While the protest has now been dispersed, the issue has helped to polarise divisions within Canada and a large portion of the country did reportedly sympathise with the protestors; an opinion poll by Abacus Data found that 68% of Canadians felt they had “very little in common” with the protesters, while 32% said they “had a lot in common” with them. Conservative politicians used the topic to criticise what they call government overreach and right-populist politicians from the Canadian People’s Party used it to drum up support for the anti-mandate policies which they ran on at the last election. Trudeau’s handling of the situation didn’t receive much support from those to the left of him either; NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said that the reaching the point at which use of the Emergencies Act was deemed necessary was “proof of failure of leadership”.
The actions of Trudeau’s governments in ending the protests has also been met with scepticism worldwide, with many political commentators in the UK highlighting their concern at his use of emergency powers to end the protest.