A recitation of a few facts buried in the untidy mess left behind when an angry mob – poorly disguised as champions of righteous indignation – was eventually herded off the streets of Ottawa in ugly disarray and with minimal violence.
The protest had started with triumphant cavalcades of vehicles from heavy-duty semi transports to modest pick-ups favoured by small-acre market gardeners. They all seemed to be flying Canada’s National Maple Leaf flag and plentifully equipped with eardrum-challenging airhorns to make sure onlookers would follow the sound and note that many of the flags were flying upside down – the international signal for distress.
These blaring convoys departed from Vancouver and Halifax, heading east and west for Ottawa and picking up more airhorns and flags en route, with the goal of paralyzing the Capital and shutting down a few important trade links between Canada and the United States of America.
National and international TV networks loved them for their colour and their noise, especially when they rumbled into the heart of Ottawa to disgorge drivers, a few families with playpens, pets and occasional grandparents to jam every available parking spot and disrupt or shut down normal business operations.
For a while, television relished its coverage of the great “Freedom Convoy” of hard-working truck drivers rising in wrath to protest COVID-19 mandated vaccination. Convoy organizers tried to portray the protests as a denial of human rights issues, with grassroot truckers challenging health authority claims on the best ways to control infectious disease. And, for a while, it appeared to be working until someone started asking how many full-time union-accredited truck drivers were driving in the protest convoy.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents big-rig truckers on both sides of the Canada-USA border, had denounced the Ottawa excursion; so had the Canadian Labour Congress. The CLC left no room for speculation when the blockades were moved into place:
“Canada’s unions have fought for generations for the right to protest. This is the cornerstone of our democratic system. But, what we have witnessed on the streets of Canada’s Capital … is something different altogether. This is not a protest; it is an occupation by an angry mob trying to disguise itself as a peaceful protest … We have seen right-wing extremists spreading messages filled with racism and intolerance, flying the Nazi and Confederate flags alongside other symbols of violence and hate. We have seen organizers not only demand the end of all public health rules but also call for the overthrow of our democratically-elected government. This is an attack on all of Canada and not just the people of Ottawa.”
The CLC had equal criticism for what it felt was a delayed and inadequate early response to the invasion, which “has also raised serious questions about an uneven application of policing. Authorities spent the first week taking a hands-off approach to the occupation of city streets and parks, not even handing out parking tickets … This is a far cry from the kind of crackdowns we have seen toward Indigenous land protests …”
Federal and civic governments responded to these strong labour union proclamations, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declaring the Emergencies Act and Ottawa’s city council appointing a new acting police chief. And 48 hours later, a police presence bolstered by law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions had restored relative calm to the streets.
I can hope that this calm is of lasting quality, but in this world where guns and violence long ago replaced butter and the ability to compromise as the preferred way to resolve problems, I fear my hope is in vain.