From British Columbia to Ontario, with their steel horses, they rode.
For several days the “Freedom Convoy’’—made up of drivers who had formed unbreakable bonds born out of COVID-19 conspiracies and hatred of lockdowns—proudly tore down the Trans-Canada Highway. Nothing was going to stop these freedom fighters! Nothing was going to stop the “Freedom Convoy!”
Then they hit the Ontario border on Monday, where they were immediately stopped by police. The border has been closed since April 19 to non-essential interprovincial travel in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We started this trip out from British Columbia believing in Canada as a free country but not really believing in the virus,” says one man who livestreamed himself being turned away. “We made it to the Ontario border and the first two in our convoy made it through, no problem. Then they split us up and turned everyone away.”
“There is no getting through; we tried twice,” he adds, crestfallen.
The convoy, headed up by well-known anti-masker Chris Saccoccia, was organized to show the drivers’ displeasure with COVID-19 regulations. Storming this border was the main course. Saccoccia, who is known for greatly exaggerating his the size of his events, said the convoy had, at its peak, “over 50 vehicles” (a livestream from a few days prior shows closer to 20 cars).
Not content to just road trip across the Great White North, the group has been stopping at various anti-mask gatherings along the way, including in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the small town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, which has recently been hit hard by COVID-19 infections.
When the anti-maskers hit the Ontario border, it didn’t go well for them.
The man at the front of the convoy, just ahead of Saccoccia, told Ontario Provincial Police he was going straight through to Montreal, without stopping in Ontario—and was able to get through. (This was a blatant lie, as the man visited an anti-mask rally in Dryden, Ontario, later that same day.) Saccoccia and one of his co-riders also sailed in, because they are Ontario residents, and also proceeded to the rally.
At the border on Monday though, the others, who were more honest than the man in front, were turned away.
“We lost essentially everyone except (the man at the front of the convoy) and myself,” said Saccoccia at the Dryden rally. Saccoccia would pay tribute to his fallen convoy at a Terry Fox memorial where he declared his convoy was “travelling across Canada for an even greater cause” than Fox's because “cancer affects a lot of people but the cause of our rights and freedom affects every single one of us.”
Caryma Sa’d, a Toronto lawyer who is chronicling the anti-mask movement and tweeted out several videos she got from livestreams about the convoy’s failure, said that Saccoccia uploaded a video shortly before hitting the border check stop in which he admitted some people in the convoy may be sent packing.
“A few days prior his tone was: ‘We are the convoy! We are going to crash through that barrier! No one is going to stop us!’” said S’ad. “When I saw the (final video), I was like, ‘Oh, OK, he just duped a bunch of people into following him on this goose chase where he’s going to be fine, no matter what.’ And that’s precisely what happened.”
“It was a bit like watching Pied Piper play this tune and people follow along, oblivious to objective reality.”
While with the OPP officers, some of the anti-maskers attempted to give police pseudo-legal reasons for why they would be allowed to pass. Others read off Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights (the mobility rights of a citizen) in the hopes of being able to go through with only a fine.
The police did not care.
It was a dejecting moment for some of the anti-maskers. “We’re not used to having to deal with police officers, so it’s very intimidating,” said one man while driving away from the border. “I feel that I’ve somehow failed but I feel that it’s our government failing.”
At one point, a woman, who was already declined entry by police, attempted to get through by stating she provided an “essential service”—but didn’t say what it was. When she was once again denied access, she told the police officer they were “now living in a communist country.”
“We’re not moving,” the man next to her proudly exclaims, not realizing the woman had already begun to turn her truck around.
One man riding with Saccoccia was denied entry because he was not an Ontario citizen. Saccoccia gave him two options: he could walk across the border where he could face arrest, or turn around and go back to Manitoba. Either way he was getting out of the vehicle so Saccoccia could continue.
“If you wanna go back, I could help you find a car to take you back but I don’t really wanna drive all the way back,” he tells him. “You can try and walk (across the border). They might just be trying to bluff you… We don’t know.”
“I’m not bluffing you,” the police officer responds. “I’m not in the business of lying.”
The man decides not to risk it. Saccoccia drives onwards without thinking twice.
Since leaving them behind, Saccoccia and the one other man who got through have pledged to rebuild the convoy in Ontario. (That’s going to be more difficult, however, as Saccoccia was arrested and charged Tuesday night after taking part in a rally in Thunder Bay, for breaking bail conditions from prior arrests that prohibit him from attending rallies.)
As for the others, one by one, they all turn around, with many facing a long drive home to British Columbia, Alberta, or elsewhere.
This time, they ride alone, without their leader.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.