The Freedom Convoy — a motley coalition of disaffected truckers, hardcore conservatives and neo-Nazi malcontents vying for headlines on these freezing days in January — is a misguided exercise in futility.
Hordes of truck drivers from Alberta and points eastward have descended on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the past few days to protest a Canadian government mandate requiring them to show proof of Covid-19 vaccinations after returning from trips to the United States.
The mandate went into effect on January 15 and applies to a small number of truckers whose routes extend southward into the United States. Airline and railway workers, as well as ship crews, have been required to abide by this regulation since October 30.
The mandate is not a one-way road. Since January 22, vaccinations have been mandatory for Canadian truckers entering the United States.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has correctly described the Freedom Convoy protesters as a “small fringe minority.” And the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a trade union, has issued a statement saying they do not represent the views of the majority of truck drivers, 90 percent of whom are reportedly vaccinated.
The dissident truckers and their assortment of supporters are at heart anti-vaxxers. They should know they are going against the grain of public opinion in Canada. Seventy seven percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated and support essential public health measures to combat the spread of the pandemic, which already has killed more than 30,000 Canadians.
Plainly, the protesters are contemptuous of the public mood. At the crowded outdoor protests that have clogged streets, snarled traffic and closed shops in the nation’s capital, very few of the participants have observed the rules of social distance or have worn masks. In a show of arrogance, protesters have deliberately entered restaurants and malls without masks, forcing store owners to close.
Several protesters have been seen dancing on the National War Memorial or defacing the memorial to Terry Fox. Still others have urinated and defecated on private property. And a flag bearing a Nazi swastika was seen among the protesters.
It is fair to say that their obnoxious show of disrespect has revolted Canadians from sea to sea.
At a press conference on January 31, Trudeau denounced the extremists. As he put it, “Freedom of expression, assembly, and association are cornerstones of democracy. Nazi symbolism, racist imagery and desecration of war memorials are not. It is an insult to memory and truth. Hate can never be the answer.”
In a Facebook post on January 30, the Canadian academic Tanner Mirrlees suggested that the protesters are incredibly selfish and self-absorbed. They proceed from the assumption that the notion of individual freedom grants them the unhindered right to do whatever they please, regardless of the consequences, he writes.
They are dead wrong, of course.
Their demand for freedom from vaccines is intrinsically reactionary and refuted by science. The vaccines are not perfect, as we now know, but they protect the bulk of Canadians who abide by Covid-19 protocols.
That the Freedom Convoy has attracted elements on the periphery of Canadian society is hardly surprising. They are always looking for opportunities to publicize their execrable cause.
Pat King, an avowed racist and Holocaust denier, has been one of its keenest promotors, according to AntiHate.ca. Diagolon, a far right movement rife with neo-Nazis, has endorsed it as well.
The convoy was organized by Tamara Lich, the secretary of the new Maverick Party, which promotes the separation of the prairie provinces from Canada.
The convoy’s chief organizer in Ontario, Jason LeFace, is a member of the right-wing People’s Party of Canada, which is headed by Maxime Bernier, a former Canadian cabinet minister.
Regrettably, the leader of the Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, has foolishly backed the Freedom Convoy. He may live to regret his short-sighted decision.
If the protesters believe the Canadian government will bow to their unreasonable demand to revoke the trucking mandate, they should think again.
Asked at today’s press conference whether he will meet the protesters or give in to their demands, Trudeau dismissed this idea, saying he will not negotiate with people who seem to tolerate hateful rhetoric and disrespect science.
Urging all truckers to get inoculated, Trudeau said that vaccinations rather than rowdy and disruptive protests are the way out of the pandemic.
It sounds like a sensible strategy.