S1: Hey, everyone. I may have caused just a little bit in this episode. So you’ve been warned. As someone who cannot stand to be stuck in traffic, I’ve been thinking about how much I would hate to be in Ottawa, Canada these days. Hundreds of big rigs have poured into the city and parked right in front of parliament to protest COVID restrictions. They call themselves the freedom convoy. There’s been a lot of honking involved.
S2: They even erected a little structure where they kept diesel fuel and they have people bringing them fuel so they can basically live in there in their vehicles indefinitely.
S1: Jesse Brown is the publisher and editor in chief of Canadaland. That’s a news site and podcast network.
S2: There have only been a few hundred trucks at the height of it, but these are big rig trucks and it’s you got to hand it to them, at least in terms of like political theater and just the physics of this.
S1: When I read about what’s happening in Ottawa, to me, it seems like shit posting come to life by which I mean, there are so many absurd things happening, but also kind of on the edge of danger. Like I’ve read about bouncy castles being set up and hot tubs, but then also, you know, local residents who are really aggrieved and have real complaints.
S2: Yeah, all of that is true. There is a carnivalesque aspect to this there lighting off fireworks that have hot tubs, barbecues and if you read their accounts, they’re like, Hey, we’re happy warriors here and nobody’s getting hurt.
S1: I mean, some people have called it an occupation. Would you go that far?
S2: Yeah, I don’t think that that’s the wrong term. There’s no question that this has been a massive disruption. A protest or an event like no other in Canadian history. It’s certainly it’s absolutely wild.
S1: When I first heard about the freedom convoy, it seemed like a particularly Canadian protest. Polite.
S2: I’ve even read accounts of them shoveling the snow for the citizens of Ottawa.
S1: But these protesters complaints, they also have this familiar American flavour. They’re upset about a vaccine mandate for Canadian truckers, about mask requirements, about school closures. And in the last week, this freedom convoy has spread.
S3: Also developing the protesters against Canada’s vaccine mandate, forcing the Ambassador Bridge to close that group
S1: disrupted on Monday. Truckers blocked the busiest border crossing in North America, a bridge that connects Ontario to Detroit.
S3: And as day turns tonight, the situation hasn’t changed any. Thousands of truckers now stranded on Detroit roads with nowhere to go. We got to grin and bear it,
S1: and if you listen to the people holding up traffic, they simply sound exhausted.
S3: And you know, we may have caused a little disturbance for hours here. But two years of this, two years is almost three years of this. We’re done. People are done.
S1: Jesse hears voices like this, and he wonders if the protesters have a point.
S2: And it’s easy to dismiss them because the stated goals of this protest are ludicrous. Like, there’s some real conspiracy theory this real white nationalism. There’s like some real scary stuff involved, but a lot of them are just like mad as hell. And the rules have been getting increasingly arbitrary and there was bound to be some pushback and it’s taken this form.
S1: Today on the show, how a Canadian protest movement started picking up steam, a Mary Harris, you’re listening to what next? Stick around. The so-called freedom convoy, it got its start because of a vaccine mandate. In January, Canada started requiring truck drivers to show proof of vaccination when they crossed the border with the U.S., though most Canadian truckers are vaccinated. Some of the ones that weren’t decided to fight. It’s worth noting that the whole country saw this demonstration coming a Trucker convoy starting in British Columbia on the western side of the country, driving all the way to Ottawa, the nation’s capital. It’s not exactly subtle, but people didn’t necessarily take it seriously at first.
S2: That was laughed at because America has the same rule. So even if Canada said We have no such rule and you’re a Trucker who needs to cross that border, you can’t do your job because America won’t let you in if you’re not vaccinated, right? Well, in
S1: 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated,
S2: 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated. The truckers alliance, the you know, the actual like labor representation decries this, this protest. So there was like kind of like political and media establishment sneering at this. And I think trying to minimize it as like this seems like a very silly grievance. Meanwhile, they’re rolling through the country and every town they show up, and they’re met with a lot of supporters. If you do research into the organizers of this convoy, you’ll find that they have alliances to a bunch of fringe extremist groups. There’s one group that was involved in what was called WXIA like western separatism in Canada, like Alberta, splitting off and creating its own country.
S1: That does not sound mainstream.
S2: No, we have our own version of Q and on we have our own version of all sorts of conspiracies here. We have tons of white supremacists here and white nationalists and this group, you know, the organizers included people who are, you know, not just Western separatism. Two of the organizers, like, have either like Confederate flags behind them in videos they’ve shot or said that they’re okay with Confederate flag showing up. You know, you’re talking about these types of modern movements that are really diffuse, and the intentions of the people who show up might not be the same intention of the people who organize it.
S1: So what started with the vaccine mandate grievance became a kind of right wing stew?
S2: Yeah. And even the right wing thing like, I think that if the NDP, which is our most left leaning major federal party, had said, Hey, Labor has suffered terribly under the pandemic, we’re going to have a Trucker protest. I think that a lot of the people who joined this protest would have joined that one. But yes, certainly anybody on the radical fringe of the right was part of this, but a lot of other people were too. This basically became the place to put your anger. And so as they roll through the country, it grew into something more than just about this Trucker, you know, mandate specific to the trucking industry. And you know, they released this ludicrous memorandum of understanding in which they, you know, they considered Trudeau to be treasonous and there are calls for him to be executed. And so the memorandum of understanding was like, we won’t even meet with Trudeau. We want to meet with the governor general, who’s the queen’s representative in Canada.
S1: Does that person have any power?
S2: No, they just rubber stamp. It’s a silly holdover of, you know, Canada’s colonial past. They have no real political power. So it’s like like kind of just this effort to like, cut out parliament from the process of meeting their demands and their demands were the elimination of all vaccine mandates and any rules whatsoever need to go
S1: like no masks, no vaccines. No nothing.
S2: Just back to normal. Now, ask me how many of the people who showed up at the protest read that memorandum of understanding. And you know, I don’t have any like hard data for you, but my guess is not a lot. I just think that if you were angry with the government and sick and tired of the restrictions, then this was a protest that might attract your attention.
S4: My body, my choice. I want freedom to do what I want with my body. Does this look like a few extremists? My husband has been put on unpaid leave of absence from work because he refuses to get the shots. I am not anti-vax. I am not anti-government. I am anti stupidity.
S2: What we saw was a couple hundred or so big rig trucks roll up right in front of Parliament Hill, set up camp block off the streets and a massive celebratory protest took place. And when the thousands went home and the dust cleared, there were these guys left. They’ve just been occupying the nation’s capital since, and meanwhile, there have been Trucker convoy type protests in Toronto. Now Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax. The cops learned their lesson, and they didn’t let the trucks get to government buildings or to the downtown core. And like that’s played out kind of OK, like we have the right to free assembly in Canada and where these other protests have showed up. They spent a day honking and then they went home. But in Ottawa, they’re still there in Ottawa.
S1: Was the fatal flaw just letting the trucks in? Or was it something else because you say that in other places there have been there’s been honking and everything else? So what’s the difference in Ottawa? Why is it been so hard to move these protesters
S2: like because of the actual physical size of the trucks, like they’re being conversations in Canadian media of like, well, OK, how could you without the truckers participation? Towing these trucks actually presents a physical challenge in certain operators of tow truck companies so that they would refuse out of solidarity. But even if you had willingness from towers, it’s a huge logistical challenge to clear these out. There’s also been a lot of speculation that the Ottawa cops or some of them might be sympathetic to the cause, and they allowed these trucks to set up camp. I’m a little bit skeptical of that. The police chief of Ottawa is not looking too great right now.
S3: This is not a simple demonstration where if you deal with one set of charges or one particular location, that’s the end. There is a level of sustainability. Financial capability determined the commitment around whatever the range of causes, and I’ve lost track of all the range of causes where
S1: we, as Canadian law enforcement, struggle to get their arms around a slippery contingent. The protesters are getting high fives from the right wing media ecosystem. Former President Donald Trump mentioned them at a rally last month,
S3: and we want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way they are. They’ve really shown something. It’s time to move on
S1: and with the greater attention from right wing luminaries has come money.
S2: This protest is fueled by millions of dollars of donations. People have been, you know, they’ve been crowdfunding and they raised. I think it went well over 10 million on GoFundMe before they froze that account. They dispersed a million of it and then it was frozen. And there’s there’s this kind of like refusal to believe that this could possibly be true because there’s over 100000 people open their wallets to fund this, which is one of the reasons why the truckers can camp out indefinitely. So a lot of Canadians are saying this isn’t real, it’s all funded by Americans. Is that true? It’s true to some extent. We just don’t know to what extent. I find it perfectly credible that if 10000 people showed up in person in Ottawa, 50000 Canadians might have lent a few bucks to the cause. I find that completely credible, and just my sense as a Canadian talking to Canadians is that there’s you will find people who are sympathetic to this, like people are put off by like the super radical, especially the racist fringe of it, but they’re effectively hiding that and denying that part of it. And a lot of people involved may not even be aware of it themselves if that’s what the organizers are all about or have been about. The reality is, I think that the angry part of Canada is getting organized
S1: Jesse Brown from over at Canadaland, we’ll be back after a quick break. You alluded to it a little bit in some of what you said before. But I want to ask you directly this question, which is. Whether this protest is an American protest or a Canadian one, and I say this sort of cheekily because a protest is happening in Ottawa, obviously it is about Canadian truckers, but a Canadian scholar who talked to my colleague Dahlia Lithwick. He said it like this, he said. The Trucker convoy is the toxic American political environment spilling across our border, and I wonder if you would agree with that or not.
S2: I rarely agree with Stephen Marsh, who I cannot among my friends. There’s truth to it. But look, the suggestion there is that like your toxic grossness spilled over onto our pristine country. When it comes to producing our own extremists and bigots, we punch above our weight. And my company, Canadaland has been documenting the radical fringe in Canadian extremist politics for years now. Canadians from their desktops have been punching above their weight in their support of Trumpism. You know, brewing up all sorts of conspiracy theories and partaking in QAnon. And all that stuff has not just Canada being represented, but Canada is a bit overrepresented given the fact that we’ve got like a tenth of the population of the states, you know, so so we’ve got our own here.
S1: But do you think that the protests would have gone on this long without Donald Trump Jr. tweeting support or Trump going to a rally and talking about how great this was?
S2: No, I think that the endorsement of big name American figures in this, you know, wider right wing movement was a major factor. And now there are Trucker convoy protests purportedly being attempted all over the world to the rank and file who show up and wait for one of the one day protests. I think that they actually are just trying to voice their grievance to government and then go home. But I think to the people who have really dug in their heels and dug in their trucks, I think that there is like, you know, you can read in the ludicrous literature of some of these groups plans for maximum destruction in order to incite a race war. One of the organizers of this thing, Pat King, openly talks about like bullets are going to fly soon. So you’ve got some real scary characters who explicitly want to launch a civil war and are pursuing a strategy of dividing society and creating mass disruption.
S1: If the demands of these protestors weren’t about racism, why does it matter that these white supremacists ended up being a big part of signal boosting this movement?
S2: It’s very, very difficult to put your finger on the role that white supremacist movements and white nationalist movements play in this, largely because it is vociferously objected to.
S1: You mean people don’t want to call themselves racist?
S2: It is explicitly denied. And they will cite this as proof that this is just a way of silencing us. And a lot of people legitimately feel that way, and they have nothing to do with white nationalist movements, and they really resent being lumped in. If you’re at a rally with 10000 people and six of them have racist flags. You probably have plausible deniability that you are not in a racist rally. I would suggest. But then you get into the organizers themselves. They will deny that they are racist at all. In fact, one of them will say that she is matey, that she is an indigenous person. Another one says she’s a Jewish person. Well, the Jewish guy says he’s fine with Confederate flags because he’s open to all ideas. One of the other guys involved was seen in a video with Confederate flags flying behind him in his own in his own business. Is the Confederate flag a racist symbol? I think it is. So you’re always in this situation of being gaslit and like, who really cares? Well, I guess you care because they are organizing this massive movement. If you read the dumb ass literature of these people, they talk specifically and explicitly about hiding your power level. You know, don’t show up with a swastika tattoo on your forehead, you know, find a cause that lots of people agree with. You know, the Proud Boys or Canadian phenomenon Gavin McInnes came up with that one. A lot of these guys do like good Samaritan things, and they try to find populist causes to get as many people under their tent as possible while explicitly obscuring the actual white supremacist agenda. When you see the mainstream conservative politicians, including the guy who’s going to be the next leader, embrace this group. That is what they want. They want to be laundered. They want to be part of a mainstream coalition.
S1: Maybe the greatest victory of the Trucker protest movement has been the way it’s shifted the discourse in Canadian politics. The mainstream opposition party, the Conservatives have tried to stitch themselves onto this demonstration, using support for the truckers as a kind of purity test for its leadership
S2: when this all started. Erin O’Toole was the leader of the Conservative Party and the mainstream Conservative Party in Canada has been sort of out in the wilderness and really struggling with what to do with this rising radical sentiment and angry anti Trudeau sentiment. The polling has shown us that Canadians really reject Trumpism. There was a candidate for conservative leadership sometime back who really was kind of aiming at immigrants in a Trumpian way. And she lost horribly. You know, another mainstream conservative who took a Trumpian route had to go off and start his own fringe party. So the mainstream Conservative Party has really tried to resist in any way embracing that more angry, radical sentiment. But that angry, radical sentiment has been growing and growing, and meanwhile, the mainstream conservatives can’t form government or even get very close. Erin O’Toole for a long time, kept a lot of distance from people like the truckers in this convoy and other fringe groups and other movements like that. But what happened with this protest was because when they showed up, there were like 10000 of them. And because in that first weekend of protesting, there wasn’t even an arrest made. And it was a lot of people waving flags. It effectively laundered the message that this is just working class people. This was the moment where mainstream Canadian conservatives embraced this movement, and Erin O’Toole tried to do so. Every time our conservative politicians tried to do so in the past, they’ve gotten their fingers burned and somebody is waving a swastika behind them.
S1: But it looks safe to him.
S2: It did. It did. But because he’s positioned himself as the sort of compassionate conservative, a progressive conservative, he’s just like, you know, it was not credible coming from his lips. And in no short order, he was ousted and directly. His failure to stand up to the charter rights of Canadians in the face of Trudeau’s pandemic measures was cited by his own caucus as a reason why he was ousted. He was not embracing them genuinely. He doesn’t believe he’s that doesn’t seem like an angry guy. And that was sort of his brand is like, Here’s a conservative you don’t have to be afraid of. He’s not a Trump. Well, it looks like there’s an interim leader now, but it looks like the next leader of the Conservative Party is going to be a guy named Pierre Paul, who is an angry man, and he’s fully embraced this protest.
S3: If you walk into a grocery store and you see products on the shelves, thank you Trucker. If you walk into a grocery store and you see empty shelves, thank Justin Trudeau.
S2: And that looks like where mainstream politics in Canada is heading, that the conservatives are going to be helmed by a very angry leader.
S1: So while Canadian politicians have been kind of keeping their distance from this angry wing, they can’t do that anymore.
S2: Well, I guess that’s the the conclusion they’ve made, and it’s interesting to read editorials pointing out the folly of this. It’s almost taken as an impossibility that trying to harness this kind of angry rage could work in a country like Canada. I am not so sure. I’m watching it coalesce into something like a political movement. Hmm.
S1: So how does this end?
S2: Well, it’s hilarious because what the police couldn’t do and the mayor couldn’t do and Trudeau refused to do wouldn’t send in the military. A 21 year old young woman who lives in downtown Ottawa has done, which is she sought and received an injunction that killed the king, is keeping her up. It’s a violation of her rights. The volume levels are such that actually could do physical damage, and she was granted an injunction and that injunction gave the police powers, which I guess they didn’t have before. It’s it’s wild to think that given the overreach of Canadian cops with just about every other protest that they were like so careful not to violate the rights of the protesters. But now the injunction has apparently given the police powers to arrest for honking. And that has resulted in the honking. Stopping the trucks are still there. The honking has stopped. When will the trucks leave? Everyone would like to know,
S1: given everything we’ve said about how this protest feels like, it’s sort of just a primal scream by people with a lot of different grievances. And given the fact that I’ve read that the organizers of this event are trying to do similar convoys, other places in Washington, D.C., in Europe, do you have advice for the rest of us?
S2: Don’t let them in. It’s not that complicated. In Toronto, a bunch of school buses and cop cars were parked around Queen’s Park Legislature here, and the trucks couldn’t make it in. It’s not as much fun if you’ve got to park your truck off on some street, you know, or the suburbs and then walk in. Eventually, you got to go back to your truck. You go back to your truck and you know, it’s not the same fun party atmosphere as if you were right downtown in front of the government buildings. And so they went home by all means do not stamped out people’s rights to protest. But I don’t think you’ve got a right to drive a big rig truck onto a main thoroughfare and park it there for 10 days.
S1: Jesse Brown, thank you for speaking Canadian with me.
S2: My pleasure.
S1: Jesse Brown is the publisher and editor in chief of Canadaland. That is a news site and podcast network. It’s smart. It’s fun. Go check it out. And that’s our show. What next is produced by Alan Schwarz, Daniel Hewitt, Kamal Delshad and Mary Wilson. We are led by Alicia Montgomery and I’m Mary Harris. You can go find me in this feed tomorrow, bright and early, or just go find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk.
S5: Talk to you later.