Opinion: Does Trudeau have Canadians’ backs?

‘This government will continue to have your backs,’ Justin Trudeau reassures the Canadian public during a press conference last Tuesday. ‘As Canadians, we stand up for what’s right.’ This is in response to the truck protest, the Freedom Convoy, that started gathering in Ottawa late January, with estimates of around 5,000 to 18,000 protestors attending last Saturday. 

Unlike the UK and many other European countries, Canada is still burdened with heavy Covid policies, including mask and vaccine mandates. Unvaccinated Canadian truckers crossing the border into Canada from the US face a fourteen-day quarantine, making their job virtually impossible.

Canada Unity, one of the protest groups involved, have a Memorandum of Agreement outlining their main demands, subtitled ‘Canada’s #1 solution to getting our lawful freedom of choice back’. The demands include having their jobs and lawful freedoms returned, and the vax passport and fines dropped.

The mainstream media have exposed themselves as failing to transparently report on stories that do not fit their narrative. The Freedom Convoy was not mentioned in the news until at least a week in, and there are rumours of similar trucker protests mirrored in the Netherlands and Australia, but there is very little coverage from mainstream media. And, when the elephant in the room was finally mentioned, most media sites paid a huge disservice and used their favourite slander of ‘far-right’, ‘neo-Nazi’, and ‘fascist’ to describe a working-class protest.

It is not just the media that have slandered the protest. In press conferences, Trudeau labelled the protest as a ‘fringe group’, and condemned the use of confederate flags, Nazi symbolism, and disrespectful acts towards war memorials. He said, ‘We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags; we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans.’ Trudeau cherry-picked the very few examples of behaviour that do not speak for the majority of the protest in order to condemn the entire movement. Despite the size and (literal) volume of the truck protest, Trudeau is yet to open a dialogue with the protestors. 

The Canadian Trucking Alliance have disapproved the movement, and many media sites have shared concerns that it is a far-right movement that will echo the USA’s January 6th Capitol Riot and attempt to overthrow the government. The Washington Post published a cartoon with the label ‘fascism’ written across the side of the trucks, which has since been taken down.

It is difficult to see how a grassroots protest that originated from the working-class can genuinely be labelled as ‘fascism’ or even ‘far-right’. An individual holding a Confederate flag – which, in Canada, is incoherent – was confronted by the Freedom Convoy. The actual presence of Nazi symbolism and hostility towards soup kitchens is thin and far between. The majority of the protestors were, at least to begin with, peaceful – if a little loud

Nonetheless, GoFundMe has taken down Freedom Convoy’s donation page, which had raised over £6 million for the protestors. In a statement, GoFundMe claimed that they ‘strictly prohibit user content that reflects or promotes behaviour in support of violence’. Many individuals have accused GoFundMe of ‘professional theft’, including Jordan Peterson and Elon Musk. While GoFundMe is a private organisation and has the right to choose what fundraisers are permitted, this is transparently politically motivated. As Musk tweeted, GoFundMe evidently has ‘double standards’, as it had supported a fundraiser two years ago for the violent occupied zone, known as CHOP, in Seattle.

The movement has been supported by large profiles such as Russel Brand, Elon Musk, Donald Trump Jr., and Jordan Peterson. The latter released a video criticising Trudeau’s suspension of Charter Rights and his abandonment of the city ‘because he seems to believe his own propaganda’. Peterson asked the opposition, ‘What are you waiting for? This is your moment. Seize the day.’

The support is not unconditional. Both Russel Brand and Jordan Peterson made it clear that the support for the protests depends on the protestors continuing to be peaceful and resist from violent acts. Russel Brand said in his video that if the convoy were to ‘transcend into violence, antipathy, hated and loathing’, then it would lose his support. Similarly, when asked whether the trucker protestors were heroes or terrorists, Jordan Peterson responded, ‘it depends on what they choose’. He described the rising tensions within the protests, and that it is a ‘tinderbox’ and only takes ‘one idiot to set the match’.

Unfortunately, there have been recent reports of growing hostility and violence from the protestors. A Subreddit thread has noted the cases of assault and harassment, with instances such as throwing rocks at an ambulance, attempting to burn down buildings, and harassing homeless shelters for food. However, the extent of this hostility is unclear; reports from left-leaning newspapers such as New York Times state that the protests were ‘peaceful’, if a little unruly. 

On Sunday, the city of Ottawa declared a state of emergency, and the police have warned that people supplying resources to protestors could be arrested. However, states lawyer Nicholas Wansbutter, representing the Freedom Convoy, has claimed that ‘there is no law that would allow the Ottawa police to arrest people for giving fuel or food to another Canadian’. 

It is evident that the Freedom Convoy began as a grassroots protest of working-class truckers who want the freedom of bodily autonomy and the lifting of all Covid restrictions. As protester Harold Jonker said, ‘We want to be free, we want to have our choice again, and we want hope.’ From this outset, the protest is commendable and an exercise of direct democracy, giving a voice to the groups that are often demonised by the left. As Trudeau noted, Canadians ‘stand up for what’s right’, and these protestors are doing exactly that. 

Despite this, the protest is berated as far-right, its donations have effectively been stolen, people providing resources for protestors are being charged, and the PM is continuing to refuse to open a dialogue with protestors. It goes without saying that the emerging violence within the protests should be condemned. However, the cause and the mostly peaceful motivations of the protestors should be listened to.

Canada faces a long road ahead. Thousands of trucks are blocking roads in Ottawa; protests are extending to Winnipeg, Toronto, and Quebec city; noise disruption is preventing many residents from sleeping; and violent motivations are infiltrating the protest. The easiest way out of this is for Trudeau to stick to his word that he has Canadians’ backs, that he supports their right to protest, and listens to them. He cannot ignore them for much longer.

Read more

Press conference with the Freedom Convoy

Video: truckers arriving in Ottawa

CTV news: ‘So many angry people’

CTV news: Trudeau concerned trucker convoy converging on parliament hill could turn violent

Independent: Canadian truckers have every right to protest

Spectator: Trudeau vs truckers

Telegraph: Justin Trudeau tests positive for coronavirus

The Guardian: Thousands join in Canada against covid vaccine mandates

The Guardian: Canada truckers’ vaccine protest spirals into calls to repeal all public health rules

The Guardian: US anti-vaccine mandate campaigners aim to mimic Canadian convoy tactic

The Guardian: Canadians disgusted by anti-vaxxers who desecrated monuments

Washington Post: Canada must confront toxic protest

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