Canadian Anti-Hate Network
The first weekend of the “freedom convoy” has passed, and while police have not released official numbers of the crowds, observers say the total numbers likely reached into the multiple thousands.
The end of the weekend has seen many visitors who rolled into the nation's capital heading home and the highways on Sunday night saw no shortage of vehicles heading away from Ottawa with signs and flags still in tow.
What remains outside of parliament, and in its surrounding streets, are a fleet of semi-trucks, commercial vehicles, RV campers, and the people who are digging in – with over $9 million raised for the effort.
Swarming across Wellington Street, the crowds shuffled across the sidewalks often in between the blocks of parked trucks that occupy the asphalt. Numerous other vehicles set up shop along other stretches of road, idle and unmoving.
While the weekend has passed, we will continue to report on the organizers and participants of the convoy that remain embedded outside the seat of the federal government.
Here is a look at how things went down over the weekend.
While the vast majority of participants were nonviolent, violence did occur, both at and around the Hill on Saturday. Many participants rejected the notion that the convoy or its supporters were somehow entangled in Canada’s various hate networks, in many cases defiantly embracing the quotes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and titling themselves a “fringe minority” holding “unacceptable views.” In a convoy ostensibly about human rights, others appeared to push their own agendas.
However, despite claims of racism and hate being unacceptable during the event by organizers, observations of the three days and two nights since the convoy descended upon Ottawa indicate that, in addition to violence, both harassment and vandalism occurred throughout the downtown core.
Journalists and their crew reported being assaulted by having cans of beer hurled at them, or attacked by convoy participants as they tried to work. Others reported harassment, according to the Canadian Association of Journalists.
A photograph shows one convoy participant performing a seig heil or the Nazi salute; the photographer says it was unmistakably a seig heil, thrown repeatedly in time with the honking of horns.
Source: @CanadianCentury on Twitter
There were also multiple instances of swastikas being displayed on the Hill and nearby. While the antisemitic display of swastikas stylized and designed to criticize the government and vaccines (and vaccine mandates) have become a common sight at protests, one large version of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party flag was flown and photographed on Saturday.
Far from the only hate symbol on site, US confederate flags were also being flown – and protesters have begun to claim one person doing so was a plant meant to make them look bad. However, several individuals wandering the hill also wore patches and clothing emblazoned with the symbol of the confederacy. A semi was also seen displaying a flag for the III%ers across its hood, an American-based far-right militia group with a small membership base in Canada. It was designated a terrorist entity in Canada during June 2020.
In the crowd, a handful of members of the Islamophobic hate group La Meute stood in their approximation of biker gang jackets. In similar apparel, the anti-vaccine group Farfadaa appeared. Lesser known, Farfadaa’s membership includes Steve Charland, a one-time leader of La Meute who also appears to have made an appearance on Saturday.
Most notably, members of the Plaid Army streaming collective chose to remain away from the protest site on Saturday. A few supporters did arrive, but none waved the black and white flag – a symbol of the fictional country of Diagolon – that was seen flying from multiple branches of the cross-country convoy during its push towards the capital.
Before the rally, we and other news outlets made note of the statement made during a Plaid Army live stream by Derek “Rants” Harrison saying he hoped to see an event in Ottawa similar to the events at the US Capitol building on January 6. The resulting attention led to him and others to take a much more subdued approach to their attendance -- de facto Plaid Army/Diagolon leader Jeremy MacKenzie and Derek Harrison holed up in their hotel rooms on Saturday. Citing an inevitable false flag plot to foil convoy supporters, MacKenzie and Harrison instead chose to stream throughout the day, saying earlier that it would be proof they were not present on the Hill.
Among those there, however, was Canada First host and white nationalist Tyler Russell. Flanked by supporters, including one waving the signature “CF” flag of his network, he was also joined by friend and Plaid Army supporter Dan Sleno, as well as Shane Marshall. Marshall is a former riding manager for the recently failed election of People’s Party of Canada candidate Chelsea Hillier and is currently facing charges for allegedly throwing a handful of gravel at Justin Trudeau during a campaign stop. We previously revealed that Marshall also posted white supremacist music about killing immigrants to one of his many social media accounts.
Before arriving in Ottawa for the protest, Russell had posted to Telegram asking his followers to post “HH (Honk Honk) for our truckers.” His fans obliged, with one posting “lmao just realized what it means.” HH is shorthand in white power spaces for Heil Hitler.
“Significant Strain” Placed On Local Social Services
As the first night set on the convoy, Ottawa remained snarled by traffic from Parliament down to the Centretown neighbourhood. Much of the group, supporters and truckers alike, spent that time partying late into the night. Despite the large amounts of funds raised, it appears food was not made available to all of those involved.
Businesses in the surrounding areas that did not close ahead of the protest were swarmed with customers, many reportedly refusing to wear a mask.
According to the Shepherds of Good Hope, a local soup kitchen and shelter, convoy participants who were turned away from restaurants after refusing to wear a mask arrived at the shelter demanding to be fed by the facility staff.
“Our staff and volunteers experienced harassment from convoy protestors seeking meals from our soup kitchen,” the organization wrote in a statement on social media. “The individuals were given meals to diffuse the conflict. Management was then informed of the issue and no further meals were given to protesters.
“Our soup kitchen is committed to providing meals to people experiencing and at risk of homelessness in Ottawa. This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time.”
Officials working at the shelter told the Ottawa Citizen the protesters' behaviour was “mob-like” and complained that the parked vehicles blocked the shelter making it difficult for ambulances to reach their facility and for staff to assist community members in need.
Disturbingly, according to the shelter’s president, convoy participants assaulted a client of the shelter, and hurled racial slurs at the security guard who attempted to intervene.
On an audio recording of the Zello channel – a walkie-talkie app that convoy participants are using to communicate with others – convoy participants said they felt entitled to these services intended to help individuals without housing or food security in Centretown. One user said they are “homeless” in Ottawa, which he called hostile, and shared conspiracy theories that Justin Trudeau is paying off restaurants to not serve them.
“You bet, brother,” another participant replied. “Those resources are there to help you guys as well.”
A statement from police on Sunday morning indicates that there were no arrests made Saturday night related to the convoy, though multiple reports from around the city allege harassment and disorderly conduct. Among them, the accusation that a home was pelted with rocks and snow, as well as vandalized with human feces – all for flying a pride flag in their window.
Other reports from the night included videos of a man dancing on top of a vehicle spraying fire into the air above him with what appears to be a tradesperson’s torch, wielded as if it was a small flamethrower.
The city, in turn, is struggling to function anywhere near normally in the most impacted parts of the city. Many downtown residents report feeling abandoned by the city and law enforcement, and are afraid to leave their homes.
The Rideau Centre, a major shopping centre near the protest site, and the subject of an organized maskless ‘shopping trip’, will remain closed for the third day. On Saturday, a flood of convoy participants descended on the downtown building, demanding to be served, forcing its closure. Road blockages have led the city’s public transportation provider to issue warnings to passengers to expect delays while several vaccination clinics, including one at Ottawa University have closed as a result of the event. OC Transpo cancelled all service to the downtown area entirely.
Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney told their Twitter followers that they have received hundreds of complaints from residents who are “tired & frightened at what they are experiencing in their neighbourhoods.”
According to the operations commander for the Ottawa Paramedic Service, an ambulance was pelted with rocks and a paramedic checking the damage was called racial slurs by convoy participants. Ottawa paramedics have since requested a police escort, citing safety concerns.
More public ire was also raised when pictures surfaced of a monument dedicated to commemorating Terry Fox was shown draped in protest signs and made to hold an inverted Canadian flag – a sign of distress. Protesters have since cleaned the statue, with some online reports including blame directed at “antifa” for this.
Both PPC leader Maxime Bernier and Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament (and leader of the de facto Ontario arm of the PPC) Randy Hillier spoke on Saturday, choosing to stand on a small platform closer to the Parliament building rather than the flatbed truck that would serve as a stage for both Saturday and Sunday.
Hillier has been leading a group called No More Lockdowns since early in the pandemic. Historically a strike organizer since early in his political career, COVID-19 has seen him throw in with the Plaid Army, and most specifically Jeremy MacKenzie – a former combat veteran and the most popular live streamer from the collective. Both MacKenzie and Derek Harrison quietly attended the protest site on Sunday, choosing to avoid having their already well-publicized presence become a distraction the day before. MacKenzie instead appeared as a guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars.
Photos show Maxime Bernier visiting the pair at their hotel room over the course of the weekend. Bernier has repeatedly associated with the Diagolon/Plaid Army streamers, who have recently shifted from sharing online threats and antisemitic content to focusing on the creation of localized in-person meet-up groups for their supporters. MacKenzie specifically has not only spoken of the inevitability of a race war and domestic conflict, but has previously claimed that it is already occurring in the United States.
Christopher James Pritchard, host of the A Warrior Calls, also appeared and took the stage on Sunday.
A proponent of an extremely convoluted pseudo-legal philosophy that falls within the Sovereign Citizen movement – though he denies this association – Pritchard‘s speech included familiar assertion that the legal system does not apply to individuals due to his nonsensical but confident interpretation of the law.
His speech on the hill, however, comes shortly after he made multiple antisemitic statements about global Jewish conspiracies online. This includes mention that “Hitler was destroying the Jesuit … central bankers” and warning of “Jewish satanists” controlling global financial systems.
The Long Haul
According to the convoy participants themselves, they are not moving until their demands are met. While the issue becomes much broader on the ground, the current “Memorandum of Understanding” posted on organizer Unity Canada’s website details what they are looking for.
“Cease and desist all unconstitutional, discriminatory and segregating actions and Human Rights violations,” the document reads. “It calls for an immediate instruction to all levels of the Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Municipal governments to not only stop but furthermore waive all SARS-CoV-2 (and not limited to SARS-CoV-2 subsequent variations) fines that have been issued and imposed upon its citizens, institutions, and private enterprises. Further, to immediately reinstate all employees in all branches of all levels of governments and not limited to promote the same to the private industry and institutional sectors employees with full lawful employment rights prior to wrongful and unlawful dismissals.
“Lastly, it instructs all levels of government and private sector that the illegal use of a Vaccine Passport to cease and desist immediately.”
At time of writing, GoFundMe has released a reported $1 million dollars of the currently over $9 million raised for the convoy.
Our earlier reporting found that not only did the multi-million dollar fundraising organizer Tamara Lich have a hand in a previous, extremely similar, pre-COVID convoy, she was also an organizer and self-identified “Yellow Vest” who has made Islamophobic statements and posts to social media. This lines up closely with the statements of the man added to the GoFundMe the week before the convoy arrived in Ottawa, Benjamin “BJ” Dichter, a former Conservative candidate who defected to the PPC.
“[The Conservative Party of Canada] is suffering from the stench of cultural relativism and political Islam,” he said during the first PPC conference held in Gatineau, Quebec. “It is suffering from the stench of extremism that same way in third-world countries suffer from extremist groups, separatist groups, communist guerrilla factions, paramilitaries, organized crime, and more.”
In the same speech, he also noted his belief that “Islamist entryism” is “rotting away at our society like syphilis.”
Update: An earlier version of this story included incorrect pronouns for Councillor Catherine McKenney. We apologize for this error.