The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Canadian ‘Freedom Convoy’ surges beyond legitimate protest

"Freedom Convoy" protesters block the roadway at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Windsor, Ontario, on Feb. 9, 2022. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

A few hundred Canadian truckers, irate over their country’s strict pandemic restrictions, have used their tractor-trailers to paralyze the center of the capital, Ottawa; to threaten the auto industry by blocking traffic at three major border crossings with the United States; and now to demand the resignation of the recently reelected prime minister, Justin Trudeau. In their self-righteous embrace of an upside-down idea of “liberty,” they have spawned copycats planning convoys to incapacitate cities elsewhere, including in the United States, and prompted an outpouring of right-wing support and funding on both sides of the border and beyond.

The truckers, calling themselves the “Freedom Convoy,” have leveraged their rigs’ brute bulk to intimidate the government and inflict economic damage estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars daily. They have flouted Canada’s laws and constitution and modeled a threat to peace and order elsewhere that goes well beyond the exercise of free expression.

Not all the truckers and their backers are ideological extremists or conspiracy fantasists —though some are, including apparent white nationalists who have borne Nazi and Confederate images into Ottawa’s staid streets. But their means of pursuing a motley array of goals are extreme and tinged by menace. For nearly two weeks, they have upended life in a city of 1 million residents, jeering at mask-wearing passersby, jolting residents awake by blaring their earsplitting horns, and prompting Canadian security officials to relocate Mr. Trudeau and his family from their official residence to an undisclosed location.

The Canadian protests are not a facsimile of last year’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, where about 140police officers were injured amid more than 1,000 assaults; at least five deaths resulted from that event. Canadians, by their own national stereotype, are famously peaceable, and law enforcement has taken a notably cautious, nonconfrontational approach.

Still, the lawless impulse is clearly inspired by the Jan. 6 insurrection. Former president Donald Trump has cheered on the truckers. So have other right-wing U.S. politicians and media figures whose stock in trade is inflammatory rhetoric and tribal division. Millions of dollars in donations — much of it from U.S. sources, according to Canadian police — have poured into social media sites ostensibly established on the truckers’ behalf.

The protests’ triggering event was the Canadian government’s imposition last month of a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into the country from the United States, a requirement already in effect for other Canadian citizens and international travelers entering the country, as well as for federal government employees and airline and railway workers.

In fact, roughly 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, and the Freedom Convoy has been spurned by the country’s main association representing truckers. Given those facts, the protests seem an amorphous uprising against pandemic restrictions generally and the Trudeau government specifically, along with a hodgepodge of other grievances.

The irony is that Canada’s tough pandemic restrictions have contributed to a covid-19 death rate that is among the lowest in the developed world, roughly a third of that in the United States. The truckers are sick of restrictions — fine; who isn’t? But by crippling a major capital, subverting commerce and jobs, and advocating the overthrow of a fairly elected government, they have surged beyond legitimate protest into the realm of thuggery.

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