It’s The Anniversary Of The So-Called Freedom Convoy

Here are five lessons we have learned since the far-right occupied Ottawa and harassed its residents last January and February.

Canadian Anti-Hate Network Editorial


 


As January 2022 came to a close, fleets of cars, vans, pickups and of course, semi-trucks from all around the country descended onto Canada’s capital. Soon after the vehicles began to pour into the city, it was becoming clear that Ottawa was facing a new far-right protest tactic – an occupation.

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During the first anniversary since the Convoy, we are looking at some of the biggest lessons learned and takeaways from the event. 

 

The Far-Right Are Bullies

  

People in the Freedom Convoy would give the shirt off their back to another convoy protestor. We saw them give each other money, gas, food – you name it. If you are in with them, you are in with them. But, if not, you are either a target or collateral damage.

It was all too common in those first two years of the pandemic to see covid conspiracists harass (and sometimes even assault) front line employees for enforcing mask mandates, or to see groups of maskless people storm and shut down a mall. 

During the convoy, they didn’t show any sympathy for Ottawa residents, who were kept up for days on end. In fact, Pat King was gleeful about it. In his mind, because they lived in Ottawa and were not with their movement, they deserved it.

Not only that, but they stole food from a shelter, harassed residents, and terrified people who avoided the area, or removed the pride flag from their window.

The far-right exposed themselves as bullies with all of Canada watching. People do not like bullies, so this is always worth highlighting.

 

It Galvanized Opposition Against the Far-Right

 

Since COVID became a part of our reality, street-level opposition to the far-right slowed down as many people stayed home to avoid spreading the virus or becoming ill. As a result, the far-right took to the streets every weekend with what felt like impunity. Their numbers grew and grew. 

However, during the convoy, Ottawa neighbourhoods came together to defend themselves, sparking some of the first street-level counter organizing against the far-right since the pandemic began. 

As an organization, we have had more conversations with government officials, senators, and unions during the convoy and the days since than in the years before. 

Now, people are coming out against the far-right again, especially to defend drag events and the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The groundwork is being laid for an anti-hate and pro-democracy counter movement. 

 

Police Supported Them – Up To A Point

 

The relationship between the far-right movement and law enforcement has always been complicated. When police go to a demonstration, act friendly, and shake hands,  environmentalists, labour, people demonstrating for Black and Indigenous lives, etc. understand that police are gathering intel on the demonstration so that they can police you, not to be your friend. The far-right don’t understand that and perceive, perhaps correctly, that the police sympathize with them.

The most committed white supremacists usually are not fans of the police, while rank and file convoy participants usually are. They might think that frontline cops support them or will turn a blind eye or assist in their activities. Many of them blame any police action against them on higher echelons of command. 

Police officers were sympathetic to the convoy. Some donated, others seemingly refused to carry out enforcement actions, and some even leaked intel to the so-called Freedom Convoy. Video clips surfaced of officers and protesters sharing kind words, or officers expressing support to the convoy. It became clear in the Public Order Emergency Commission that the upper tiers of law enforcement didn’t trust their officers to follow orders.

At the same time, it was cops who carried out the mass arrests that swept up the dregs of the convoy, and some convoy protestors felt betrayed. Keep in mind that this situation was unique, that it’s our responsibility to counter the far-right, and we shouldn’t and can’t rely on the cops to end their protests.

 

Some Politicians Showed Their True Colours 

 

The Freedom Convoy, and by extension the COVID conspiracy movement, was seemingly endorsed by Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada. The far-right had the PPC, which was tailor made for them, but failed to win a single seat. Now they have supporters that are elected Members of Parliament.

This, of course, isn’t the first time conservative politicians have supported Canada’s far right. United We Roll, the earlier convoy that was organized by some of the same people, back when the far-right movement called itself Yellow Vests Canada, was endorsed by some politicians. But the support now is unprecedented.

 

The Movement and Networks Remain, Even if the Trucks Don’t 

 

The Freedom Convoy wasn’t the only convoy in Canada that carried with it vague, nebulous goals of “freedom” and “unity.” In 2019, the United We Roll convoy - largely populated by Yellow Vests Canada supporters - arrived in Ottawa, and at least two other convoys went to Ottawa between then and 2022. 

Other convoys took place in other parts of the country. It wasn’t uncommon to see smaller convoys in BC and Alberta over the last 3 years. After the convoy, an attempt was made to convoy to Vancouver Island, with Rolling Thunder hitting Ottawa in the spring of 2022. 

The far-right regularly tries different things to see what sticks, and convoys are no different. The movement adapts and keeps trying until they hit paydirt. They got lucky in Ottawa, and they will keep adapting until the movement pivots (again). The convoy, and the movement that bore it, are the evolution of the anti-immigration and populist movements before it. Many of the players and influencers are the same as then, with new ones added into the mix. Pat King and James Bauder were involved in the 2019 convoy, and Bauder has organized convoys to Ottawa prior to 2022. 

They aren’t going away. So get out there, get demonstrating, get organized, and brace for the next one.

 

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