A trucker protest in Ottawa, initially over vaccine requirements, has inspired copycat demonstrations and attracted the hearty support of right-wing figures across the United States.
It’s day 12 of the protests, which attracted thousands of people over the last couple weekends.
The mayor of Ottawa declared a state of emergency Monday, as big rigs clog the densely-populated streets around the Parliament building. The protests have featured sustained horn honking, diesel fumes and heckling of the mask-wearing locals. Some protesters have also reportedly engaged in such unsavory behavior as urinating on monuments and pressuring a homeless shelter to give them free food.
Initially, the protest — or so-called “Freedom Convoy of 2022” — was sparked by a new restriction from the Canadian government requiring that truckers crossing back into the country’s borders be fully vaccinated. Though the majority of Canadian truckers were already vaccinated, they were previously exempt from entry requirements.
The convoy reached Ottawa, and thousands of protesters swarmed the area two weeks ago. Their numbers dwindled through the week, ticking back up last weekend.
On Monday night, police seized fuel from the protesters whose numbers, they said, had dropped. A court also granted a 10-day injunction against sounding horns in downtown Ottawa. But the protests continued. The trucks on Tuesday morning blocked a major international crossing between Canada and the United States.
A Cauldron of Discontent
The truckers’ initial complaints have devolved into a general howl against Canadian COVID-19 restrictions of all kinds.
“Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right, ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms,” Tamara Lich, one of the loose movement’s leaders, said at a news conference.
A spokesman for the group, speaking Monday, urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “come out of hiding.” Trudeau has been quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19, but called for a stop to the protests Monday. The spokesman also cribbed a quote from Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, saying that Trudeau has a “.22 caliber mind in a .357 world.”
A national poll conducted last week shows that 68 percent of Canadians say they have “very little in common with how the protesters in Ottawa see things,” while 32 percent say they have “a lot in common.” One of the pollsters attributed the one-third’s support to a general wearying of the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions.
Canada is relatively well-vaccinated, with 88 percent of citizens over the age of four having received at least one dose.
Support from Southern Neighbors
In the least surprising twist to this story, the protests have been a magnet for the usual cast of characters occupying the United States’ right wing.
Former President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) both issued statements boosting the demonstrations.
“The Freedom Convoy is peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far-left lunatic Justin Trudeau, who has destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates,” Trump wrote in a statement.
Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Eric Trump and Franklin Graham all used Facebook to raise the profile of the protests and encourage support. Extensive coverage of the protests on Fox News has also attracted sympathetic Americans.
There has been fundraising for the movement on fringey platforms — reportedly including on white supremacist Telegram channels. Much of that money went to a GoFundMe page for the protests before the company shut it down, sparking another wave of right-wing agita.
GoFundMe Pulls the Plug
The GoFundMe page for the trucks amassed about $8 million before the company shut it down. In a statement, it said that what began as a peaceful protest had become an “occupation,” in violation of company policy.
“Given how this situation has evolved, no further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organizers — we will work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe,” the company wrote.
The company later scrapped that plan and instead automatically refunded all donations.
GoFundMe’s original response piqued fury from some Republican players.
“It is a fraud for GoFundMe to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) tweeted. “I will work with [Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R)] to investigate these deceptive practices — these donors should be given a refund.”
“#GoFundMe now won’t honor #FreedomConvoy donations and will instead redirect to other charities? In WV, organizations must not deceive donors and engage in deceptive advertising practices. If you’ve been victimized by a deceptive act or practice, let us know!” added West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R).
Jack Posobiec, an alt-right conspiracy theorist and troll, directed his followers to rival site GiveSendGo instead.
A Far Right That, For Now, Is Still Fringe
Canada’s far right has not yet assimilated into the mainstream as well as the faction has in the United States.
They have been less successful in getting a toehold in their country’s government, and, as evidenced by the much higher vaccination rates and lower relative casualties from COVID-19, have largely taken protections in stride. The Canadian government has said that nearly 90 percent of its truckers are vaccinated, making the protesters a small minority.
The protest now is a hodgepodge of discontent with no clear set of demands. But the movement is certainly attracting the interest of its dangerous, and more electorally powerful, United States cousin. Conversations about a copycat protest across the southern border are happening online; whether that energy will make the jump to the trucks and streets or fizzle out in the endless Pong game of the right-wing echo chamber is still unclear.