The TradCath Community Throwing Its Support Behind The “Freedom Convoy”

A short drive from the nation’s capital, Madawaska Valley is home to multiple religious institutions promoting a far-right interpretation of Catholicism that has been boosting the convoy protests.

Hazel Woodrow
Canadian Anti-Hate Network

Source: Unsplash

Just two hours from downtown Ottawa, traditionalist Catholics living in Madawaska Valley have been vociferously supporting the so-called “Freedom Convoy”.

LifeSiteNews is one of three institutions in the Madawaska Valley, alongside Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College and Catholic Insight magazine, with personnel as well as ideological links, promoting a far-right, traditionalist interpretation of Roman Catholicism. 

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Originally started in 1997 by the Canadian anti-abortion lobbying group Campaign Life Coalition, LifeSiteNews is now a transnational far-right media outlet, claiming to publish 4,000 articles a year and consumed by over 20 million readers. The organization’s most recent IRS filings indicate that they brought in $1.97 million in revenue in 2019 (the latest year for which records are available). 

Prior to the convoy arriving in the capital, Madawaska Valley resident, co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews, John Henry Westen, covered a gathering of convoy supporters in Pembroke, Ontario.

Opening his video coverage by highlighting that there were “many many families out here with young children, young children in the really bitter cold,” Westen interviewed a handful of convoy supporters, and described “this group” as having “come out from a single parish.” 

Local newspaper, the Eganville Leader, reported the parish as being St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church in Barry’s Bay. St. Hedwig’s is the campus parish for the traditionalist Catholic Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College.

St. Hedwig’s’ administrator, Reverend Pawel Ratajczak, led the group — including Westen — in reciting the Holy Rosary.

Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant live-streamed from the gathering, declaring “We’re having Canada Day today, since we didn’t have ours in July.” 

One unnamed man responded, “We’re getting our country back!”

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College co-founder and current theology professor, John Paul Meenan also attended the gathering in Pembroke and promoted it on Catholic Insight, his traditionalist Catholic online magazine. He described the demonstration in a post on Catholic Insight, as “pilgrimag(ing) forth,” and claimed that “hundreds, if not thousands” were in attendance.

The Eganville Leader reported hundreds, not thousands, lined Highway 17 in support of the convoy.

Meenan is the editor of Catholic Insight, and in his post reporting back on the January 28 roadside demonstration, concluded, “Scripture warns us that this, ultimately, is a spiritual battle. We cannot return to ‘normal’, to a Canada immersed in immorality, which is what ultimately caused the mess we’re in. We must get back to God, to His laws, and re-build the Christian nation of this great nation’s forefathers.”

He was also present for the convoy’s descent on Parliament Hill, indicated by his self-attribution of a picture from the rally (an attribution he removed after CAHN contacted him for comment).

Meenan declined to provide comment for this article, thanked the Canadian Anti-Hate Network for its questions, which he would “ponder,” and quietly removed some of the statements CAHN asked about, including “overpaid foreigners” playing in the NHL, and the “Gestapo tactics” of “Trudeau’s overpaid police.” 

Over the last eighteen days, Canada’s own megaphone for the far-right, LifeSiteNews, has published over sixty articles about the “Freedom Convoy,” the tone of which have been overwhelmingly supportive.

Many of the articles — including a statement of support for the convoy by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò; as well as a “Note from the Editor,” Steve Jalsevac — have employed antisemitic tropes, including ominous references to “globalists,” “ruling elites,” and a “New World Order.” 

Jalsevac told readers “The only news media that will tell you the truth now is the alternative conservative media,” naming LSN itself and Tucker Carlson as examples, reasoning, “The media today are one with government. They are an extension of government power and propaganda overseen and directed by a small group of extremely wealthy and powerful, international business and political elites.”

LSN is also currently hosting a fundraiser to “Help Truckers at the Border with Missed Wages,” the goal of which has been increased twice so far — originally set at $50,000, the target is now $150,000. LSN identified “spokeswoman for the truckers,” Vanessa Nieboer, as being the one to “open” the LifeFunder campaign. 

The same day the fundraiser opened, LSN published a blog post by Nieboer and identified her as an “undercover LifeSiteNews reporter.” The post speculated that Shane Getson, MLA for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland, and another “three MLAs from the central Alberta area who met with these truckers” had “threatened [the truckers] with something.” 

Nieboer provided no evidence for this speculation.

In another unsubstantiated claim, John Henry Westen said in an episode of his eponymously named show, that after cancelling the then-$10 million fundraiser, GoFundMe had “at first said that they were going to donate the 10 million to the charities of GoFundMe’s own choice, which were obviously against all of the donors who wanted to give the money to the truckers.” In fact, the platform’s original plan was to release the funds to “credible and established charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers and verified by GoFundMe.”

Living in Madawaska Valley, Westen has himself provided on the ground — and in the air — coverage of the convoy. On January 31, before boarding a helicopter to try to capture aerial footage of the demonstrations, he claimed that recent airspace restrictions over downtown Ottawa were “to hide the truth of what’s happening from you, the Canadian public.” 

Shortly afterwards, as Westen pursued his goal of “bringing [the Canadian people] that truth,” his pilot repeatedly violated the long-restricted airspace over Rideau Hall, incurring a Class F airspace violation.


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