Canada’s Liberal government is getting frustrated. They’ve tried everything and still the Freedom Convoy is camped out in front of the Canadian Parliament, honking horns, blasting music, dancing in the streets, playing hockey, handing out free food — and refusing to go home.
Well, they’ve tried almost everything — except, you know, actually talking to the truckers. From the very beginning, Justin Trudeau made it clear that the government was not going to engage with the protesters. As thousands of trucks from all over Canada began converging on Ottawa last week, the thrice-vaccinated Trudeau announced that he had been exposed to Covid and had to isolate, even though he was testing negative. Subsequently, on January 31, he said he had tested positive and would continue isolating. The world collectively rolled its eyes.
From an undisclosed location, far from the madding crowds, he issued a rebuke to the approaching citizenry: the “fringe minority” heading to Ottawa held “unacceptable views,” he said, and did not represent true Canadian feeling.
What were these supposedly unacceptable views? The Freedom Convoy began rolling across the country to protest the vaccine mandate for cross-border trucking. Its members say they are not against vaccines, but against mandates — all mandates. They believe government overreach is ruining the country they love.
“Small businesses are being destroyed,” convoy representatives wrote on their GoFundMe page, “homes are being destroyed, and people are being mistreated and denied fundamental necessities in order to survive. It’s our duty as Canadians to put an end to [these] mandates.” They said they would protest peacefully in Ottawa until their demands were met.
This “fringe minority” has raised over $10 million in mostly small donations on GoFundMe in around nine days — nearly three times the amount fundraised by the Liberal Party of Canada in the first quarter of 2021. From coast to coast, the “fringe minority” rolled along roads lined with thousands of Canadians of every description out in the bitter cold, cheering wildly, letting off fireworks, waving flags and homemade signs, handing out carefully packed lunches and boxes of supplies, thanking truckers for demanding a return to normal life.
It was a welcome no contemporary Canadian politician could dream of — certainly not the unpopular Justin Trudeau, who won the last election with just over 5.5 million votes out of a population of 38 million. Supporting the truckers brought people together, instilling new hope and patriotic pride into Canadians, demoralized after two years of some of the harshest health measures in the world and subjected to extremist and divisive rhetoric from both media and leadership. Elon Musk, who supports the freedom truckers, said it best: “It would appear that the so-called fringe minority is actually the government.”
Musk’s comment is all too accurate. Trudeau is terrified of talking to peaceful Canadian citizens, because he’s afraid engaging with them will legitimize a public conversation about ending the government’s dictatorial emergency powers. He would find himself on the losing side in that conversation: as a new Angus Reid poll shows, a majority of Canadians want Covid restrictions to end.
What Trudeau would like to talk about is the supposed violence, hatred, racism, antisemitism, vandalism and disorderly conduct of the truckers, all of which he bravely condemned from his undisclosed hideout.
But he’s having a tough time of it, since the truckers are in fact orderly, racially diverse and remarkably peaceful. (Interestingly, the head of convoy volunteer security is a former police sniper from Justin Trudeau’s security detail, who resigned after refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate.)
Of the two main spokespersons for the convoy, Tamara Lich and Benjamin Dichter, one is part Indigenous and one is Jewish. Many participants are not white, including numerous truckers of Indigenous and South Asian origin. A Confederate flag and a swastika flag were made much of in the mainstream press, but they were disavowed by participants, who asked the balaclava-wearing individual with the Confederate flag to leave. Organizers offered a $6,500 reward for anyone able to identify the man who carried the swastika flag.
Ottawa police reported zero arrests, zero rioting and zero injuries at the end of the weekend, though two locals were arrested later on. A disgusted CBC journalist posted a photo of trash on a downtown sidewalk — but it was bagged and neatly piled for collection. Mainstream media raised an outcry about supposedly defaced statues (somebody dressed the statue of cancer runner Terry Fox in a rather debonair flag, hat and sign) and desecrated monuments (some juvenile stood on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier shouting “Freedom!” which was disgraceful, but hardly “desecration” as the word is generally understood). Truckers spent time later cleaning the Terry Fox statue and brought flowers to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The truckers say they won’t leave Ottawa until their demands are met. Ottawa’s mayor wants to have the rigs towed, but local tow-truck drivers have taken a leaf from the prime minister’s handbook. Reportedly, they’ve told officials to a man that they’ve come down with COVID and can’t help.
A supporting group of trucks has been blocking a major border crossing between Alberta and Montana since Saturday, demanding the removal of all mandates. Again, tow-trucks are reportedly declining to assist in their removal. The premier of Québec has scrapped his plan to impose a punishment tax on the unvaccinated. Conservative Opposition leader Erin O’Toole may well be toppled in the coming days for his failure to challenge Trudeau.
Events are flying thick and fast. There’s a whiff of freedom in the air. By the time Trudeau makes it out of quarantine, Canada may be a different — and a happier — place.