The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The American right uses truckers to import right-wing fury into Canada

A protester holds gas cans near Canada's Parliament in Ottawa on Feb. 8. (Kadri Mohamed/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

By now, you’ve probably heard about the protest underway in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. A number of truckers, incensed at a mandate encouraging full vaccination to carry cargo across the border with the United States, have encamped in the city. They have tried to make their presence felt as universally as possible, including by repeatedly blaring their horns until a court order forced them to stop.

In demonstrating loud, incessant opposition to a vaccine requirement implemented by a leftist politician, the truckers have become heroes to the American political right. And that has meant the concomitant appearance of misinformation, political posturing — and frustration for the Canadian government.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

It’s useful to assess how Canadians feel about the convoy. There’s not a lot of polling on the subject, but we do have some indicators.

Polling published Monday by CTV News found that Ottawans are quite tired of the protest. Nine in 10 say it’s time for the protesters to leave, with two-thirds opposing the effort overall. About half of residents oppose it strongly. But, then, this is to be expected: The point of the protest in part has been to be disruptive.

There doesn’t seem to be recent national polling evaluating the effort, but a survey conducted by Maru Public Opinion last month found that fewer than 3 in 10 Canadians felt that no vaccination requirement should be in place. (The mandate is that truckers either be fully vaccinated or quarantine after crossing the border, an obvious imposition on their ability to do their jobs.) A third of respondents said that truckers should be able to carry cargo over the border if they showed a negative test for the coronavirus.

It’s important to note (as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has) that most truckers are already fully vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that 10 percent of the country’s truckers have not been vaccinated. At the end of January, the government said there was “no sign whatsoever” that the recently implemented rule had reduced cross-border carriage.

What is very clear is that many on the American right see the protest as righteous and inspiring. In a statement released by his not-yet-a-social-media-company company, former president Donald Trump praised the truckers as “peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau.” He welcomed truckers “with open arms to communicate freely” on his social media platform — which he said was “coming very soon!”

This was a good example of how the protest has been intertwined with existing right-wing politics. The prompt for Trump’s statement was Facebook’s banning of a group that was organizing in support of the protest and for a similar one in the United States. According to Facebook, the ban was triggered by the group’s inclusion of QAnon-related content on its page.

Other pages shut down by Facebook this week appear to have been created through a hacked account, as reported by Grid News. But Facebook has been a favorite target of the right for years now, despite the extent to which the site has been a platform for right-wing rhetoric. So Facebook’s actions have become another rallying point.

GoFundMe was ensnared in similar controversy when it pulled the plug on a fundraising effort to support the truckers. Its concern, it said in a statement, was that the once-peaceful protest had “become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.” That view is shared by Canadian authorities. In response, Republican politicians have taken the opportunity to criticize the site — often looping it in with the hated Big Tech collective — and to pledge a probe of its decision.

The energy on the political right has led to the spread of false claims about the protest on social media. CNN’s Daniel Dale documented several, including the assertion that 50,000 trucks had participated in the protest. That would constitute a line of trucks more than 500 miles long, which obviously didn’t happen. Numerous images have also circulated that purport to show the protest, but, in reality, show past, unrelated events.

Part of the reason for this is to make the protest seem far bigger than it is. Consider the column written by the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington at the end of last month. Titled “Which poll on support for trucker vaccine mandates do you believe?” his column contrasted the Maru poll mentioned above, a “professional [poll] with a select panel of participants,” with “the reaction of tens of thousands on social media.” Not being familiar with Warmington’s politics, I assumed this was a joke about the tendency to assume that online energy was a useful measure of support, which it isn’t. But the column is not a joke. By exaggerating the scale of and support for the protests, the right, especially in the United States, is indirectly exaggerating the scale of support for similar opposition here.

As you might expect, coverage of the protest has been far more common on Fox News than on other major cable-news networks in recent weeks. What’s particularly noteworthy, though, is that the extent of its coverage is matched mostly by mentions on RT, the Russian state-run network.

This has echoes with a concern expressed by Canadian authorities: Support for the protest, particularly from the United States, constitutes something akin to foreign interference in the country’s domestic politics. If you imagine a scenario in which D.C. was rendered partially immobile by an anti-gun protest funded heavily by a concerted campaign led by prominent Chinese officials, you can get an understanding of the frustration that Canadian officials feel.

Canadians, like Americans and everyone else, are legitimately exhausted with coronavirus restrictions. Rules governing containment of the virus are unpopular even when they have public support. The trucker protest, though, has taken on a slightly different meaning with the political right, both in the United States and elsewhere. It has been embraced as a response to government power more broadly.

Speaking to Politico, Ciaran O’Connor of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue said that “right-wing U.S. political figures and content creators … really gave [the protest] a boost that made it global.” This makes the outrage of the moment to some extent an import from the United States — ironically, one carried by unvaccinated truckers.