Freedom Convoy 2022 truckers in it for the long haul in Ottawa –

Freedom Convoy 2022 truckers in it for the long haul

City of Ottawa strikes deal with protesters to leave residential neighbourhoods

OTTAWA, ON, Feb. 13, 2022 – Freedom Convoy 2022 truckers have been saying all along that they aren’t going anywhere and are prepared to ‘hold the line’ despite threats of stiff fines and possible arrest.

The battle lines have been drawn in Ottawa and across the country with the trucker convoy on one side and public authorities on the other. The showdown began when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered Canadian truckers to be vaccinated or to quarantine after returning from the US. Going into its third week, the trucker protest, described by some media outlets as an occupation or siege, has morphed into a call to action to end all pandemic restrictions. Now, it appears that Ottawa’s downtown residents some of whom have begun to rise up with protests of their own against the constant din of truck horns, may be getting some relief from the noise and chaos despite the standoff of protesters with federal and provincial governments over vaccine mandates.

The city of Ottawa has struck a deal with protesters that would allow them to confine their protest activities to an area around Parliament Hill. In a letter to convoy president Tamara Lich, Mayor Jim Watson says he will agree to meet with demonstrators if trucks and other vehicles taking part in the ongoing protests clear out of residential neighbourhoods by noon on Monday, Feb. 14. Watson  says residents are “exhausted” and “on edge” and warns businesses are teetering on the edge of permanent closure. Call it a Valentine’s Day gift, but protesters and municipal authorities now appear to be talking to each other. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has steadfastly refused to meet with convoy protesters. The PM has been accused not only of being stone deaf to their concerns, but of inflaming tensions by demonizing some of the very same people he once praised as frontline heroes during the pandemic. 

According to a recent study by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) a full 8.8 per cent of global working hours were lost in 2020. That is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs, or “approximately four times greater than the number lost during the 2009 global financial crisis,” the ILO said in a statement. “This has been the most severe crisis for the world of work since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in a virtual briefing. While truckers risk losing their jobs if they refuse to take the jab, millions of Canadians lost their jobs during the pandemic despite the fact that they did everything they were supposed to do. But, things still haven’t gotten back to normal and public anger is mounting. 

In a show of force Premier Doug Ford of Ontario declared a State of Emergency on Thursday, Feb. 10 saying that he would convene cabinet to use legal recourse to enact orders making it illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure. Several Canada-U.S. border crossings have remained closed for days with severe economic consequences on both sides of the border. “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn a living. It does not outweigh our right to get food across our borders. Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the rights of people in Ottawa to live peacefully, free of harassment and chaos in their own homes,” said Ford.  

On Friday, an Ontario Superior Court judge granted an injunction with a view to ending the blockade on the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit that has held up cross-border traffic since Monday. The auto parts groups that filed for the injunction – Global Automakers of Canada, Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association and Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association — represent dozens of Canadian car companies that are losing as much as $50 million per day due to blockade. In a statement issued after Friday’s court proceeding, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was pleased the injunction was granted. “At the same time, I’m disappointed that it had to come to this,” he said. By Saturday truckers had returned to the site of the six-day standoff on the Ambassador Bridge after being cleared away earlier on the Canadian side by police. By Sunday evening, after police made numerous arrests, the bridge had been cleared once again. However, blockades continue at the border crossings at Coutts, Alberta and Surrey, B.C. while a blockade by semi-trailers, farm vehicles, and passenger vehicles at a border crossing in Emerson, Manitoba has grown. 

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says all options are on the table to deal with the crisis, but invoking the federal Emergencies Act is a last resort. “I want to assure you that we recognize the threat to Canada, to Canadians, to our livelihoods and to our prosperity that these protests represent. This isn’t about vaccines anymore.” But Blair suggested the federal government would only take the exceptional measure – not invoked since the October Crisis in 1970 – after provinces exhaust “their authorities” and turn to Ottawa for more help. Blair, the former chief of the Toronto Police Service, added Canadians “need the police to do their job.”  “To that end, we’ve been working to make sure they have the resources and the tools that they need to do it. But ultimately it comes down to: the police need to restore order and enforce the law,” Blair said.

Protests taking place across Canadian cities have been gathering steam since the convoy hit the road. Protesters in major cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, and Montreal far outnumber unvaccinated truckers who drove all the way to the nation’s capital honking their horns to protest compulsory vaccination. They also outnumber the police. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier walked in support of the trucker convoy in the streets of Montreal on Saturday after a huge freedom rally took place in Jarry Park. He urged protesters to join the truckers convoy in Ottawa and to make their voices heard there loud and clear. 

Thousands of supporters have converged on Ottawa in the last couple of weeks to protest, party, and pray for an end to the mandates. Lots of people have partied noisily for the last two weeks in a jubilant celebration of freedom much to the chagrin of some of the locals in the downtown area. However, the calmer side of the protest movement doesn’t seem to have garnered much media attention, like a Muslim trucker prayer meeting at the Ottawa encampment on Friday. The Trucker Convoy movement is arguably a very pro-Canadian movement. People often sing the national anthem and wave Maple Leaf flags at what protesters would call rallies rather than demonstrations. But, despite extensive film footage of upbeat events, these positive stories don’t dominate the news cycle. 

Former RCMP officer and Freedom Convoy 2022 spokesperson Daniel Bulford spoke out recently about what he views as a smear campaign of the trucker convoy movement.  He told a press conference in Ottawa that he had it on very good advice that offences related to property damage and assault on Feb. 3 weren’t associated with the truckers’ anti-vaccine mandate movement. Bulford, who resigned from the RCMP after 15 years because of the federal vaccine mandate, said safety has been the main concern of the protesters, including enabling emergency vehicle access. Bulford said he has personally seen “our truckers and supporters of the movement feeding the homeless, for free, right on Wellington, filling their backpacks; truckers taking a whole trailer full of food down to a homeless shelter, maintaining cleanliness of city streets, including picking up discarded masks all over the ground; centralized garbage collection, shovelling snow at the War Memorial and the Terry Fox statue, providing security for those two locations. I’ve even seen people have tents set upright by the Terry Fox statue to protect it.”

Kyle Kemper is the PM’s half-brother and a supporter of the Freedom Convoy movement. Speaking on GBN Live he said, “It’s been two years of fear, fear, fear by my brother and the media and the global corporatocracy, disconnecting people, creating uncertainty, doubt, mental health challenges, division amongst everybody, tensions have been so (high).” Kemper said that he loves his brother, but over the last decade they have drifted apart philosophically and politically especially on fundamental questions of liberty and freedom. “Canadians never voted for vaccine mandates,” he says. “It’s decidedly un-Canadian.” He sees the trucker convoy protest as an opportunity for Canadians to come together. “Make no mistake. What’s going on in Ottawa isn’t hateful. Swastikas aren’t flying on street corners. That was one photo. That wasn’t in the crowd.” He says the mainstream media pushed a narrative that the trucker convoy is racist to “slander an entire movement.”  In Kemper’s view, the reality on the ground and the media presentation just don’t jive. “I’ve been talking to these truckers. They’re cleaning up the streets. Crime is down. There’s sharing, there’s community, there’s dancing, there’s high vibration, there’s music. They just want our freedom back. That is what Canada is known for. The True North Strong and Free is what Canada is known as.”  

The crackdown on the trucker convoy may yet turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory even if it proves successful in clearing the big rigs off the bridges at international border crossings. The PM, Premier Ford, and other provincial leaders have repeatedly said that they support legal protests and know that people are tired of never ending restrictions. Reliable polling shows that Canadians are much more willing to learn to live with the virus now even if they don’t necessarily agree with the methods of some militants in the trucker convoy. Get ready for the ‘Protest Festival’ in Canadian cities this spring if all mandates aren’t dropped very soon. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and other provincial leaders may be ready to loosen restrictions in their provinces as the world watches the UK, the Scandinavian nations, and other countries drop pandemic health measures as the number of deaths and hospitalizations go down. 

However, Quebec is the holdout. Premier François Legault hasn’t set any deadline for ending mask mandates and vaccine passports or established any medical metrics for doing so. This could change the dynamic of pandemic politics with a Quebec provincial election looming next fall. If Legault feels that it is in the CAQ’s political interest to maintain mandates – some pundits say that his Coalition Avenir Québec government is poised to win – Legault may persuade Ford to align Ontario’s public health policies with Quebec’s as he did at a summit of the two leaders in the summer of 2020. The wild card is Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party whose share of the popular vote grew to just under 7% in the last federal election, up from about 1.5% before the writ was dropped. He is a well-known Quebec politician who reemerged on the political stage as a figure of interest after a number of setbacks. His message opposing lockdown and mandates resonates with many citizens inside Quebec, as well as the rest of Canada, even if people don’t necessarily agree with all of his ideas or his party’s platform on other issues. He’s been a fixture at the freedom rallies all over the country for many months and is looking to steer the trucker convoy protesters his way. 

by Deborah Rankin

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