After the Trucker rally, Canada grapples with one question: Is it a blip, or something bigger?
OTTAWA – A massive rig plowed into Canada’s capital, blocking major streets, drawing thousands of supporters, outraged residents and capturing the attention of a shocked nation for three weeks. Now, they’re gone, leaving Canadians to grapple with some high stakes questions about their country’s political future.
Was the occupation a mistake, or was it the beginning of a more fundamental change in the country’s political landscape? Has their chaotic blockade alienated the public to the point where the movement has no future, or has it formed the basis for a lasting political organization?
Wesley Wark, a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian public, said: “There is anxiety, and it has manifested in all its forms, that this protest movement will become something much more important and sustainable. policy group. “It has been given excellent oxygen to spread its message.”
This moment is tied to the pandemic: Protesters demand an end to all government anti-pandemic measures. But it is also part of a broader trend.
Social media has been the driving force behind the street protests of the past decade or so, bringing together people in professions from Zuccotti Park in New York to Gezi Park in Istanbul. But research has shown that such movements often have difficulty converting their energy into real change.
By Sunday afternoon, the streets of Ottawa were packed with trucks, makeshift canteens and noisy protesters were barely empty except for police cars. A strip of the city center has been fenced off. A block of protesters occupying the baseball stadium’s parking lot has been cleared – although about two dozen heavy trucks and another group of vehicles have resumed about 100 kilometers outside the city.
During their three-week occupation, much about the protests alienated Canadians. At a border blockade in Alberta, police seized a large arsenal of weapons and charged four protesters with plotting to kill police officers.
But the protesters also see much of the disruption they caused as a tactical victory.
A team in Windsor, Ontario, blocked a vital bridge between Canada and the United States for a week, forcing auto factories to scale back production and disrupting trade by about $300 million. everyday.
From the very beginning, they caught the flat law enforcement. Several truckers said in interviews that they were surprised to be allowed to stay in the first place, and the city’s police chief resigned amid public outrage over the slow pace at which the government the right to proceed with their removal.
The disbanding of the protests came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-declared human rights defender, introduced an emergency measure that would allow police to seize protesters’ vehicles and allow banks to customers freeze their accounts. Mr. Trudeau’s decision prompted legal action to rescind the order from the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, which called it “unconstitutional”.
The leader of the Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, leaned more and more towards the center, but was forced out and temporarily replaced by a staunch supporter of the protests. And Doug Ford, prime minister of Ontario, lifted proof of vaccination requirements and capacity limits for businesses a little earlier than planned.
Neither move was directly related to the occupation – Mr Ford made it clear that he was not responding to protesters’ demands but because of public health trends – but both were honored by the occupiers. is victory.
Perhaps in large part because under the eyes of television cameras and live-streaming mobile phones, the protests have dominated the wave for weeks and generated conversation about coronavirus restrictions.
“The big lesson in all of this is that everyone has learned that we are not really helpless,” BJ Dichter, the convoy’s official spokesman, said in an online discussion among people. support last week. “A lot has happened as a result of all these people coming together,” he said.
However, experts say the protesters have not really channeled the energy accumulated over the weeks into a definite political force.
Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, a right-wing group without a seat in Parliament, appeared at the protests – but he did not attract more attention than any other speaker.
And while many sympathize with protesters’ frustration with the pandemic’s rules, the majority of Canadians resent their tactics and want them home, surveys show. In Ottawa, people are angry that the government has acted for so long.
“This is a really fortunate marginal movement, in my view, of failures in policy control,” Mr. Wark said. “I think this is an extraordinary and fleeting moment.”
There are elements of right-wing extremism tied to protests across the country, where Confederate, QAnon and Trump flags have been raised. Conspiracy theorists can also be found in Parliament: those who believe that the big Pharma created the coronavirus to make money off of vaccines, or that QR codes allow the government to control our thoughts.
But the protests drew thousands on some weekends, many of them disappointing Canadians who either didn’t want to be forced to get vaccinated or were just fed up with the pandemic and its limitations. The majority of the more than $8 million donated to truckers through GiveSendGo comes from Canada, a data leak shows.
In interviews, trucker after trucker said this was his or her first objection. Michael Johnson, 53, parked his red truck with a fire engine in front of Parliament after his son suggested they drive with the convoy. He was there until the last minute.
“When we turned our headlights toward Ottawa, I don’t think any of us knew where we were driving,” Mr Johnson said. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got here.”
Mr. Johnson has never been vaccinated and does not need to ship scrap around northern Ontario requiring no border crossing. And he said he recently became a supporter of Canada’s right-wing People’s Party. But he believes the coronavirus is real, and when people knock on his car door to talk about conspiracy theories, he refuses to participate.
“That’s not why I’m here,” he said. “It’s a distraction.”
About every 10 minutes, someone stopped by to send money, give him a hug, or thank him.
Mr Johnson has heard stories of people losing their jobs because they didn’t want to get vaccinated. His cab was plastered with thank-you letters from people who told him the movement made them feel for the first time that they weren’t crazy or alone.
“Telling people you get this or you lose your job or you can’t get places – that’s separation,” Mr Johnson said.
Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, says that the kind of protestors, “the people who are really against vaccines,” have been looked down on throughout the ages. working time.
“Their voice has been largely ignored on this issue,” said Ms. Celestini, adding that, “because we keep pushing it below the naming and unattractive, it will become bad.”
Mr. Johnson’s truck is the most valuable thing he owns, and it is also his livelihood. The risk of losing it worried him. When the police started coming in, his uncle and aunt begged him to come home.
“Being aware of what I could lose from all of this,” he said, “it was terrifying.” There was a part of him that wanted the bet to end. But he refused to pack up early.
“Now that I have gone too far,” he said, “If we show fear, others will lose motivation.”
On Saturday, police finally reached his door. A man stepped forward to shake his hand through the window again. Mr. Johnson stepped outside with his hands in the air, handing himself and his truck over to authorities. A bunch of supporters let out a cheer. “We love you,” some shouted.
Mr Johnson was forced out of the protest along with others gathered in front of Parliament. But he vowed to keep fighting.
“Now,” he said, “they’ve woken me up.”
Vjosa Isai contributed reporting from Toronto and Sarah Maslin Nir from Ottawa.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/world/americas/canada-protest.html After the Trucker rally, Canada grapples with one question: Is it a blip, or something bigger?