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Don’t Call Them Protesters

All the ways the occupying mob made a menacing mockery of legitimate democratic dissent.

Michael Harris 21 Feb 2022TheTyee.ca

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

When you come right down to it, there is not much difference between storming a capital and strangling one.

The “truckers” who have been laying siege to Ottawa were no more “protesters” than the mob that sacked the U.S. Capitol last year were “tourists” or “patriots.” Yet all through the coverage of this deliberate assault on democracy, television reporters and hosts kept referring to the “Freedom Convoy” as the “protesters.”

A major mischaracterization. Why? Because it helped legitimize them. The right to protest, after all, is a vital part of democracy. Everybody believes that citizens have the right to speak up lawfully against public policies they don’t support. There are a lot of places where doing that will land you in jail or worse. Thankfully, Canada is not one of them.

But that is not what the occupiers in Ottawa were doing. You don’t have to look very far to confirm that. One of their stated goals was to topple the government. Another was to secure the resignation of Justin Trudeau, implying he was a Nazi.

Which is to say, that they did not come with a critique and a point of view, as legitimate protesters do. They came with ugly biases, lies and an ultimatum. Get rid of all the mandated restrictions related to the pandemic, and get rid of this federal government and this PM or else. Last time I looked, Parliament and elected MPs make the laws, not mobs holding their fellow citizens hostage to their cause.

And just exactly what did they mean with their threat, or else?

Or else they would not leave.

Or else they would shut down the national capital, paralyzing a city of 1.18 million people.

Or else they would “slow-roll” their trucks around Ottawa airport to further disrupt things.

Or else their supporters would shut down the Ambassador Bridge, costing the economy $3 billion before it was done.

Or else others would clog border crossings in places like Coutts, Alberta, where four “protesters” are now facing conspiracy to murder charges.

That doesn’t make them protesters. These self-styled freedom-lovers were authoritarian thugs wrapped in the Canadian flag.

Who urinates on the grave of the unknown soldier to make their point?

Who expresses their love of freedom by depriving thousands of their fellow citizens of their right to get to work, or even a good night’s sleep, for weeks on end?

Who drags their kids into a situation made inherently dangerous by the actions of the parents?

Who makes their argument by displaying hate symbols and shouting down journalists trying to do their jobs?

Who has their say by jamming the local 911 system, a tactic that could easily have cost lives?

An illegal assault

Despite their singing, dancing and arch bullshit, this mob didn’t give a hoot about anyone else’s basic rights. Nor did they care about the law.

As soon as they blockaded the parliamentary precinct, they were acting unlawfully. An 18-wheeler is not a person and has no charter rights. They were there illegally from the moment they parked their rigs on Wellington and Sussex streets, and started honking their horns and polluting the air with diesel fumes 24-7 for weeks on end.

They were acting illegally when some of them continued to blast those horns after a court injunction ordered them to stop for the sake of a community under environmental siege.

And they were there illegally after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, declared a national emergency and requested that they leave.

And all in the name of what? Ostensibly, because they didn’t want to get vaccinated against a deadly virus, the very thing that would have allowed them to continue their cross-border trucking in a safer and more responsible way. And which, by the way, the United States government also requires. So they weren’t going to the U.S. anyway.

Yes, they were against life-saving vaccinations to protect against a virus that has killed nearly 6 million people worldwide, including almost 36,000 in this country.

The reason the death toll is tragic but not catastrophic here is thanks to the federal government’s pandemic policy. The centrepiece of that policy has been an aggressive vaccination program. It worked — 80.9 per cent of Canadians age five and up are now fully vaccinated, including almost 90 per cent of truckers.

There is a reason that the associations that represent Canadian truckers have denounced the Freedom Convoy’s assault on Ottawa and the federal government.

By comparison, COVID-related deaths in the U.S., where this fringe group of truckers want to do business without getting the jab, are approaching one million. Do the math on the per capita differences between the two countries.

A failed provocation with US ties

At bottom, the Freedom Convoy was a failure. True, in the age of Twitter and trash talk, it managed to garner international attention. But the one thing it needed to keep it alive was the real reason it descended on Ottawa in the first place. It wanted a violent confrontation with the Trudeau government and police that didn’t materialize — except on Fox News, which featured the usual torque and false stories. The way to monetize these events is to get the money shot and authorities didn’t give it to them.

In fact, authorities acted with an abundance of patience — perhaps too much. The occupiers were left to make their point without interference for nearly three weeks. They were given every chance to leave without being arrested. When the decision to act was made, the police were measured and professional in their enforcement of the law.

Canadians didn’t end up with a Jan. 6 or Waco moment. The occupation ended peacefully without injury or loss of life. Only those who wanted to be arrested were taken into custody, including one of the convoy’s leaders, alleged white supremacist Pat King, who faces four charges.

The media coverage of this tail-gate party of anarchists is shooting off in all directions, now that the occupation appears to be over in downtown Ottawa, and in several other locations across the country.

Did the police fail the people of Ottawa? Is dissent under attack? Did governments bicker about jurisdictional matters at the expense of suffering citizens? Was it necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act? Did the intelligence community miss what was on its way to Ottawa, given the many warning signs on social media? Should there be a judicial inquiry into how authorities lost control of the situation?

Those are all fair questions. But this is not the time to be distracted while the elephant in the room is quietly led away. The heavy American financial involvement in these chaotic blockades is striking and grossly improper.

For example, according to a Washington Post investigation of leaked material from the GiveSendGo Christian crowdfunding website, there were 55,000 U.S.-based donors to the Freedom Convoy. The wealthy communities they came from had a solid majority of registered Republicans.

In addition to Canadian flags, other banners displayed in Ottawa and Toronto during the occupations have previously shown up at events in the United States.

They included the Gadsden flag, which was carried at the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of a defeated Donald Trump. It was also a favourite of the Tea Party movement. Another donation to the Freedom Convoy came from the Oath Keepers, a far-right group deeply involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

And look at the prominent right-wing Americans who have weighed in on the side of the Freedom Convoy, people who would not normally take notice of Canada if Martians landed in Ottawa and held a press conference.

Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who is really Donald Trump’s press secretary, sent his “solidarity, love and support” to the truckers. Right-wing Sen. Ted Cruz called the truckers “heroes” while his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, invited the Freedom Convoy to come south and clog U.S. cities. As for Donald Trump, who recently called Prime Minister Trudeau a “far-left lunatic,” he “has a lot of respect” for the truckers.

Could that be why 57 per cent of respondents in a recent Leger poll thought that the convoy was not about vaccines at all, but “an opportunity for right-wing supremacist groups to rally and voice their frustrations about society”?

A bad bet by Canada’s Conservatives

With a few individual exceptions, the only party that has overtly backed the Freedom Convoy in Canada is the Conservative Party of Canada. During the House of Commons debate on the Emergencies Act, the CPC has disgraced itself. In trying to blame the government for the deeds of the occupiers, the Conservatives asked questions and then repeatedly shouted down the government’s answers. In effect, they were behaving like the worst elements of the convoy.

Pierre Poilievre, the early favourite to become party leader, has posed for selfies with the truckers, and publicly declared that he is “proud” of them. He has called them “hard working” Canadians fighting for their “freedom.”

Funny that. This is the same Pierre Poilievre who said that Indigenous blockades of railway lines were wrong, and that government had the tools to deal with them. “These blockaders are taking away the freedom of other people to move their goods and themselves where they want to go and that is wrong.”

With Canadians strongly disapproving of the Freedom Convoy, making Poilievre their next leader would put the Conservatives on a fast train to their fourth electoral defeat.

We’re not Americans, eh.  [Tyee]

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