Protest by Canadian Truck Convoy is an Unpopular Uprising

Since January 28, Canada‘s capital, Ottawa, has been besieged by a convoy of angry truck drivers – a two-week protest that has drawn support from right-wing extremists in Canada and abroad.

The so-called “freedom convoy” is nominally protesting a vaccination mandate for truckers, implemented in mid-January on both sides of the Canada-US border. But the protests quickly turned into a broader far-right movement, with some demonstrators waving Confederate and Nazi flags. Protesters’ demands include an end to all Covid-19 restrictions in Canada and the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Protesters, who numbered as many as 8,000 at their peak, terrorized Ottawa: blockading streets, harassing citizens, forcing business closures and honking extremely loudly all night. Ottawa police, who have proven both unwilling and unable to restore order, even set up a hotline to deal with a barrage of alleged hate crimes stemming from the protests. During the first week of February, he received over 200 calls.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency and the Trudeau government deployed hundreds of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the protests. As the situation in Ottawa continues, the freedom convoy movement has spread across the country. Protesters closed at least two border crossings between Canada and the United States.

But while the protests are generating a lot of noise and attention, the eruption highlights a counterintuitive fact: Canada’s far-right is weak and ineffective, especially when it comes to pandemic restrictions.

Canadian provinces have generally used strict Covid-19 measures such as school mask mandates and vaccine passports, including during the recent omicron surge. They enjoyed widespread public support for doing so; even the strictest restrictions are less controversial in Canada than in the United States. The current demonstration is quite unpopular with the general public, divisive even within the center-right conservative party.

This does not mean that the movement will accomplish nothing. He has already contributed to a revolt against the leader of the Conservative Party and serves as an important organizing node for right-wing extremists. The blocking of border crossings is putting more strain on the supply chain between the United States and Canada, costing (by one estimate) $300 million a day in economic damage. Internationally, the Freedom Convoy inspired attempts at imitation in the United States and France.

But it is important to understand the larger context in Canada. Media coverage of the convoy, particularly by sympathetic anchors on Fox News, may lead Americans to believe that Canada is in the midst of a popular far-right uprising. In reality, the dominant consensus in Canada on Covid-19, and the country’s institutions in general, holds. The so-called trucker movement is marginal, including among Canadian truckers – about 90% of whom are vaccinated.

They are angry because they lost.

Canadians versus “truckers”

I have been to Canada several times since the pandemic began, crossing the Peace Bridge from Buffalo to southern Ontario. The differences between the two countries become apparent almost immediately after crossing the border. At upstate New York’s gas stations and rest areas, masks are treated as optional at best; once you cross the border, virtually everyone you see inside is masked. When my daughter developed a fever due to an ear infection, I was asked to provide a negative Covid-19 test at the entrance in an urgent care facility; without one we were told we would have been turned away.

My experiences reflect the much stricter government policies in the country. Vaccination passports, school mask mandates and even bans on private indoor gatherings of more than 10 people have been widely used in Canadian provinces. Even Alberta, the prairie heartland of Canadian conservatism, had imposed all three – with Jason Kenney, the province’s Conservative premier, saying in September that a passport system was “the only way to reduce viral transmission without destroy businesses.

Alberta and several other Canadian provinces are in the process of lifting some of the heaviest restrictions. But this generally reflects the ebb of the omicron surge rather than a wave of public opposition; in Ontario, where Ottawa and Toronto are located, the Conservative provincial government is following a pre-existing reopening scenario linked to lower case numbers and hospitalizations. Some provincial leaders, like Quebec’s Francois Legault, noted that the reopening plans were in no way influenced by trucker shenanigans.

There’s a reason Canadian politicians have taken this stance: poll after poll, Canadians have overwhelmingly supported restrictive pandemic policies at the federal and provincial levels. This does not mean that they benefit from restrictions on their freedoms – who does? – but simply that they believe the government has an obligation to act when the number of cases is high.

This is particularly clear with regard to the coercive vaccination rules, apparently the main target of the freedom convoy.

January’s edition of the Covid-19 Monitor, a regular survey of Canadians’ attitudes towards the pandemic, finds around three-quarters of Canadians support vaccine passports for indoor dining and gatherings. interior. Surprisingly, 70 percent would “strongly” or “somewhat” support a vaccination mandate for all eligible adults — a far more restrictive policy than any province has actually attempted. What’s more, the researchers behind Covid-19 Monitor find that, on most issues, “support has remained relatively stable” throughout the pandemic – strong evidence that it’s not just of a short-term problem caused by omicron.

So it makes sense that the truckers’ protest is largely unpopular.

A counter-protester sends a message to truckers and supporters protesting against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in Ottawa, Canada, February 5.
Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images

Polling firm Innovative Research Group has conducted three separate rounds of voting since the convoy began and found that public opposition grew as the protest continued. In their most recent poll, conducted Feb. 4-9, just 29% of Canadians expressed support for the “idea of ​​the protest,” while 53% disagreed.

A separate Leger poll, released Feb. 8, found that 62% of Canadians oppose “the message that the truck-convoy protests are sending that there is no vaccination mandate and fewer public health measures”. Sixty-five percent of respondents agreed that the protesters represented a “small minority of Canadians who think only of themselves.”

Why the Truckers’ Protest Matters, Even if They’re Losing

It should be emphasized that a movement does not need to be popular with a majority to have influence.

During the trucker protests, an uprising against Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole succeeded in toppling him from the top spot. The challenge was fueled, in part, by Tory MPs frustrated by O’Toole’s equivocal stance on the convoy, with many in the ranks calling for the party to embrace the truckers.

The leadership challenge underscores the protest’s most important effect: it’s a rare action by Canada’s far-right that garners mainstream attention and support. “Even if the truckers’ protests recede, their show of force has won them demonstrable support abroad, including financial backing, and created large online communities that could fuel future business,” writes Max Fisher of the New York Times.

The protests had a notable international reach, becoming a cause celebre for anti-restriction conservatives in the United States and Europe. Sixty-three percent of donations to the now-deleted GoFundMe from truckers came from the United States; the American right would have played an important role in launching the protest. It is also inspiring action elsewhere: a US convoy is due to leave California on March 4, with Washington as its final destination. A similar French effort is already on its way to Paris, with police promising to bar it from entering the capital.

Yet the fact that so much of the support for the so-called truckers’ movement appears to come from abroad is telling.

The reality is that a combination of factors, from the structure of Canada’s political system to the widespread acceptance of liberal cultural values, has made its government particularly resistant to far-right radicalism. On issues ranging from Covid-19 to immigration to abortion, the mainstream consensus has held.

The freedom convoy’s desire to disrupt life in Canada’s capital is less the sign of a nascent popular uprising than the denunciation of a minority with little influence at the ballot box.

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