On Saturday, a caravan of semi-trucks traveled all across the Trans-Canada Highway from British Columbia to Ottawa, Canada’s capital. This move was organized by a number of truck drivers across the country and was unofficially dubbed the “Freedom Convoy.” The convoy was organized in response to a new law passed that, according to the New York Times, requires truckers returning from the United States to show proof of vaccination. However, this originally narrow focus has since widened to include those who are generally critical of all pandemic restrictions and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
There have been worries that the protests in front of the Canadian parliament could turn violent, with a few members of the convoy calling for a riot similar to that which took place at the U.S. capitol on January 6 of last year. This, however, was denounced by the main organizers. As of today, the police have said there have been “no significant incidents.”
Unsurprisingly, very few of the protestors are following the pandemic rules that they are protesting. Most are not wearing masks or social distancing. While the protests are (obviously) taking place outside, the current Canadian pandemic restrictions require that those attending large outdoor gatherings wear masks and stay six feet apart. Most of the streets in downtown Ottawa are filled with semi-trucks, diesel fumes, Canadian flags, American flags, Serbian flags and the haunting refrain of hundreds of 18-wheeler horns all blowing in unison. This has made Ottawa a virtually inhospitable place to live.
Justin Trudeau has condemned the protest as hateful and racist. He mentioned the protest at noon on Monday, along with announcing that he and his family have tested positive for COVID-19. “Over the past few days Canadians were shocked and frankly disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau said. “I want to be clear, we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.” During the protest, at least one flag was flown with painted swastikas on it, along with multiple confederate flags. However, the organizers and supporting politicians have vehemently condemned these flags and even more so the people flying them.
Trudeau and other politicians also condemned the desecration of Canadian monuments by the convoy protesters, the most egregious of which was the appropriation of the Terry Fox statue. Terry Fox was a Canadian athlete who ran across the country to raise money for cancer research despite having one leg amputated due to cancer. He is seen as a unifying, apolitical figure both in his hometown and nationwide. Protesters tied a Canadian flag around the statue’s neck as a cape and placed a paper sign in his hands, reading “Mandate Freedom.” Both liberal party and conservative party politicians spoke and tweeted out against this. However, Benjamin Dichter, one of the main organizers of the convoy, told the “trustworthy media” that he thinks it isn’t a big deal. “The Terry Fox controversy, what Terry Fox controversy?” he said. “They put a piece of paper or plaque or whatever, it was a printout that said ‘mandate freedom’ and the Canadian flag. If you think that’s controversial I think you need to leave Canada and move to China. Right? Because that’s not controversial, that’s the spirit of us. And guess what? Some of us in Canada, we still have a sense of humor.” Terrifyingly, it seems no one is safe from China comparisons, not even in the Great White North.
So far this convoy has remained almost entirely peaceful, despite being loud and probably incredibly annoying. Right now, the ridiculousness of it all is striking, allowing one to laugh at both the protestors and the ones condemning them, for making mountains out of molehills. But as we’ve seen in the past, what starts out as a peaceful way to share your opinion when Twitter is down can quickly shift to cause real harm and property damage. These next coming days will be crucial to the conservative party’s optics moving forward.