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Let Freedom Honk

An on-the-ground look at the Freedom Convoy.

For weeks, the world has been riveted by a unique populist uprising in one of the most docile nations on earth: Canada. The Freedom Convoy, a cavalcade of semis, pickups, and other vehicles crossed the country and set up camp in the capital to demand that the government lift vaccine mandates, ditch vaccine passports, and give Canadians their freedom back. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, once the darling of the international left, has proven an utterly ineffectual leader in the face of the protests. Recent polls put approval of his performance at a devastating 16 percent, with 65 percent of those surveyed saying he has made the situation worse. The convoy may well end his leadership. In response, on Monday, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, claiming special powers to freeze the finances of those involved in the protest. The move has sparked controversy and the situation is developing rapidly. 

A primary reason Trudeau and other progressive politicians are floundering is because mass movements of this sort just don’t happen in Canada. Insofar as Canada has a national identity beyond being mildly anti-American, it consists of being insufferably left-wing both at home and abroad—which is why the Telegraphrecently referred to Canada as “the world’s first woke nation.” Regardless of what their government does, Canadians seem to put up with it. Until, one day, they didn’t. 

The Freedom Convoy began as a trucker protest against cross-border vaccine mandates, with out-of-work truckers and their supporters heading from Vancouver to Ottawa. But as the convoy rolled across the country, it became a flashpoint for pent-up frustration—about draconian restrictions, job-stealing vaccine mandates, and the near-total unwillingness of any major political party to address the concerns of working-class Canadians who felt crushed by the Covid regime. Tens of thousands of people—likely more—lined the highways and began packing overpasses, waving hand-held signs and the Canadian flag. 

Trudeau, who had previously accused the unvaccinated of being “often misogynistic, often racist,” responded by calling the protestors a “fringe minority with unacceptable views.” The New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh accused them of being white supremacists. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole dithered, unsure of how to deal with the populist uprising—and botched it so badly that his own caucus voted to remove him from leadership. As the Freedom Convoy descended on Ottawa with thousands of supporters, Trudeau claimed he had been exposed to Covid-19 and retreated to the wilderness. Weeks in, he still refuses to meet with the protestors on his front lawn to hear their concerns.

If he did, Trudeau might realize the Canadians he is demonizing are an incredibly diverse bunch. Some are vaccinated, some are not; some object to getting vaccinated on medical or conscience grounds, others on political or conspiratorial grounds. Every ethnic background is represented, and the signage on the massive trucks parked in front of Parliament ranges in tone from “F*** Trudeau” to Bible verses. The convoy is impossible to characterize because it has become a lightning rod for Canadians of every race and creed with unaddressed concerns. The only thing that ties them all together, if you talk to them, is their commitment to freedom—prompting Canada’s state broadcaster to dub freedom a “far-right” concept. 

One of the protestors is David Paisley, who currently resides in a black freightliner on Wellington Street in the shadow of Parliament’s Peace Tower. An HVAC technician from Southern Ontario, Paisley was shocked when the government began to shut down businesses—and the the populace’s passivity in the face of crippling, unprecedented restrictions. His breaking point came with the implementation of vaccine passports, which divided Canadians, prevented parents from watching their kids play sports, and triggered firings across the province. “It began to get surreal,” he told me. “This isn’t the Canada I believe in.”

When the Freedom Convoy hit Southern Ontario, he headed to an overpass to show his support. Hundreds of others were already there, in minus-20 degrees Celsius. Many stayed all day to watch the convoy drive through. “It wasn’t organized. It wasn’t posted. It was grassroots.” Paisley decided to join them, called one of his buddies who was a trucker, and piled in with several friends for the trip to Ottawa. The Ontario leg of the convoy arrived in the capital prior to the trucks from the West and Quebec, and Paisley ended up in front of the Parliament buildings. He organized with fellow protestors up and down the street to ensure that food and fuel were being distributed and that all was clean and calm. He now serves as the street captain for the Wellington Street section, and says he is not leaving until the government promises to lift all vaccine mandates. His boss supports him.

Just down the street from Paisley is Mike, who drives a semi that’s been parked in front of Parliament since the beginning. During the week, the core group of protestors stay put—as the weekend nears, waves of supporters drive up from all over the country to join them, giving the capital a carnival atmosphere. Many feel they finally have a voice. “I have seen every type of person at my window,” Mike said. “Every age, every color, and every background. I call it my confessional window. People pour their hearts out to me every day. The police should have arrested me sooner because now that I’ve heard all these stories, with people telling me I am their last hope, I will not move until they have their freedom back.”

Tyler, another truck driver living in his semi parked on the Hill, concurs. “I’m here for freedom, to have our freedoms restored,” he explained. “To see the kids smile without masks again and to have everyone be able to have their freedom of choice. We aren’t leaving until the mandates drop and everyone’s freedom is restored.” Tyler has been in Ottawa for three weeks. 

Sarah (not her real name) joined the convoy because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police put her on leave without pay for declining to get vaccinated. “I joined the convoy to talk to people,” she said, adding:

I wanted to hear people’s stories. I have felt so alone for two years. I have been harassed, pushed and ridiculed for two years by friend and family regarding my beliefs and decision. Attending this convoy has brought so much comfort to me as I know I’m not alone. For the first time in two years, I have been able to give, listen, and receive support and not be judged. Many are under the impression that the people protesting are uneducated rebels, but I can attest that I met nurses, firefighters, medics, police officers, veterans, lawyers, financial advisors, and of course many truckers who are vaccinated and support this movement. Tough times don’t last—tough people do. That’s what Canada is all about.

In short, the Freedom Convoy is a movement composed of people who often agree on little but their opposition to the vaccine mandates—but that has been enough to create a grassroots movement seemingly out of nowhere, shocking even the organizers who saw their ranks swell across the country and people pour into the capital each weekend to buoy their spirits. Polls now indicate that many Canadians believe the protestors have made their point, and that it is time to pack up and go home. The authorities, facing an unprecedented revolt, are still deliberating over their options. In the meantime, the protestors have no intention of going anywhere. Some truckers have removed the wheels from their trucks; others have put up mailboxes. Ad hoc organizations have sprung up to attend to the daily needs of the protestors. They want their government to respond to them, and plan to stay until that happens.

One way or another, a response will come. 

Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has appeared in National Review, The European Conservative, the National Post, and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The Culture War and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion as well as the co-author with Blaise Alleyne of A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.

 

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