A convoy of folks angry about anything and everything, but especially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, will be descending upon Canada’s capital this weekend.
For the past week, hundreds of vehicles carrying thousands of people have been actively making their way from all across the country to Ottawa. More are leaving by the day. They’re all part of the so-called Freedom Convoy, and they’ve raised over $6 million for their protest, while drawing the support of right-wing media. And for some weird reason, Elon Musk is tweeting about it.
The convoy, consisting of both commercial trucks and personal vehicles, was initially in support of truckers protesting a vaccine mandate at the U.S.-Canada border, but it quickly morphed amid a mishmash of right-wing and general anti-vaxxer grievances.
“This isn’t about vaccines; this is about freedom,” Tamara Lich, the convoy’s primary organizer, said in a livestream Thursday morning.
While many involved are expressing their constitutional right to protest, the convoy certainly wouldn’t have grown so large without some serious co-opting. As the Canadian Anti-Hate Network reported in detail, many of those helping coordinate and amplify the convoy are not truckers but people who’ve been active in far-right organizing for some time.
Lich is an Alberta woman who’s more closely tied with right-wing organizing in Alberta than with the trucking industry. She was previously a regional coordinator with Wexit—a movement that wanted Western Canada to separate and join Donald Trump’s America—and currently is a secretary with the Maverick Party, an Albertan political party that threatens separation.
But this protest doesn’t reflect the majority of truckers. Omar Alghabra, the Canadian minister of transportation, has stated that 90 percent of truckers are vaccinated, and some trucking groups have even come out against the protest. In a statement, the Canadian Trucking Alliance said it “strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges… especially those that interfere with public safety.”
“The vast majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated with the overall industry vaccination rate among truck drivers closely mirroring that of the general public,” it continues.
The convoy and its rapidly approaching date with the capital have been the top story in Canada this week, so much so that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even referred to it in a speech Wednesday as a “small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa.”
“They do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country,” Trudeau said.
And in a deeply annoying coincidence that will make for much conspiracy theory fodder, he just announced today that he’s going into COVID quarantine for five days.
The website for the convoy has an itinerary that indicates multiple convoys coming from multiple directions and descending on Ottawa on Jan. 29. Ottawa Police said the information they’ve gathered “indicates this will be a significant and extremely fluid event that could go on for a prolonged period.”
“As with any large demonstration, there will be unique and asymmetric elements that are impossible to predict and challenging to manage,” said Chief Trish Ferguson at a Wednesday press conference. “We are planning for a range of potential risks that contain but aren’t limited to counter-demonstrations, the blocking of intersections, interfering with critical infrastructures, and unlawful and violent activity.”
The GoFundMe for the convoy has raised a staggering $6 million from almost 80,000 donors. GoFundMe previously froze the fundraiser until the organizers could explain where the money was going. The fundraiser now states the money will be going to truckers for the cost of the journey.
As has been reported by Global News and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, well-known figures in the Canadian extreme-right have been following the convoy with excitement—some even openly hoping the protest could result in a Jan. 6-type riot on Parliament. Lich and other organizers have been pushing back hard on any sort of violent aspirations.
“If you see anybody, a part of this convoy, that is misbehaving, acting aggressively, acting in a threatening manner, they are not with us,” Lich said in the Thursday-morning livestream. “These men and women want to do this with no violence.”
One of the more influential members of Canada’s far-right, who is going to Ottawa, put out a video in which he told his followers to “be on their best behaviour” when in Ottawa as they’ll be under extreme scrutiny. He went on to say all they have to do to get Canada back is support the truckers and “let them do their own thing.
“This is it, man,” he said. “This is our last shot.”
Those coordinating the convoy may be experienced in putting together protests, but their past efforts haven’t amounted to much of anything. This time they’re promising the country will be “taken back”.
But they’re not too keen on media coverage. A Thunder Bay news outlet reported "organizers refused to speak with local media and when asked, threatened reporters with trespassing charges, on land they did not own, after calling the reporters 'dirty communists' and telling them to ‘go find a new country” in a verbal confrontation." A reporter for the Ontario news station CP24 said that he was chased out and had his vehicle's tires kicked. A Global reporter in Nova Scotia filmed an encounter Thursday morning of the protesters screaming at the media, before they set off some nice fireworks. A CBC reporter tweeted out his texts that he got from a Freedom Convoy regional contact. The contact told him “Traitors will swing in time.”
Canadian Unity, a central organizer of the event, has put together a "Memorandum of Understanding" it hopes to present to the federal government basically asking for the reversal of all vaccine mandates. (Most vaccine mandates are actually coming from the provincial level.)
But up to this point, other than some over-the-top rhetoric, the group has been peaceful. The group has made an effort to distance themselves from people like Pat King, a bumbling yet consistent organizer of far-right events in Canada who has left a swath of unsavoury statements in the past, even though he has previously spoken for the group and was listed on their website.
Some estimates of the number of convoy participants seem wildly optimistic. Former NHL all-star and Olympian Theo Fleury, who has been active in the COVID conspiracy movement for some time now, went on a popular Fox News show and said the group is expecting 50,000 trucks and 1.4 million people. (For the record, that’s about a half million more people than the entire population of Ottawa.)
“It’s getting hard to decipher what’s real and what’s rumour anymore,” Lich said in a livestream.
Despite reports and traffic authorities reporting to the contrary, the 50,000 truck number was also repeated by Joe Rogan, who excitedly told a recent guest, a Canadian spearfisher, that Canada was “in revolt.” Others in Rogan’s contrarian community have started following his lead. Elon Musk for example, tweeted “Canadian Truckers Rule.” Even some journalists have been parroting the predicted estimates.
Unsurprisingly, considering all the money and media attention the convoy’s been receiving, right-wing politicians like former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer are openly expressing their support. Maxime Bernier and his extreme-right PPC Party are attempting to glom onto the convoy. The trucker vaccine mandate also has been connected to claims of food scarcity by some, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Current Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, has yet to weigh in.
Even a cursory glance at the conversations of those within the convoy and their supporters shows the prevalence of misinformation. On Thursday, when one portion of the convoy got held up because of bad weather, they immediately began to speculate it could be a secret government operation keeping the group from getting to Ottawa.
“The truckers are discussing plans to circumvent this,” one person wrote on Telegram. “Trudeau and the Canadian government are very scared.”
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