Where did support for the Canada’s convoy protests come from?
Thanks to a data leak, we have a rough idea.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” began in B.C.’s Lower Mainland and traversed the country before converging in Ottawa on Jan. 29. The protests attracted people with a broad mix of views, including anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown and anti-government sentiments.
At first, convoy organizers used the crowdfunding website GoFundMe to collect donations. But after police reports of violence by protesters in Ottawa, the website decided to stop hosting the cause.
Organizers then migrated fundraising efforts to GiveSendGo, which describes itself as “The No. 1 Free Christian Fundraising Site.” The site’s founders recently told a parliamentary committee that it would host fundraisers for the Proud Boys or the Ku Klux Klan as long as they weren’t doing anything illegal with the money, saying that “the suppression of speech is much more dangerous than speech itself.”
GiveSendGo accepted donations from Feb. 1 to 10 before hackers illegally targeted the site and leaked donor data online. The hackers did not steal any donations.
The leaked data contains donors’ full names, email addresses, postal codes, donation amounts, methods of payment and personal comments. It does not contain credit card information.
Based on the postal codes, we are able to map where convoy donations came from and how much they gave. This analysis gives us a sense of where support for the convoy clustered in Canada and beyond.
While the data is illegally obtained, The Tyee is choosing to publish general findings that do not include any personally identifying information, which is in line with what other outlets such as CBC and the Globe and Mail have done.
Andy Yan of Simon Fraser University’s City Program helped clean the data, eliminating donations with missing or severely mistyped postal codes, which account for about one per cent of 36,202 Canadian donations. Because of this customization, the data below may differ slightly from numbers reported elsewhere.
Without further ado, here are the findings. All dollar amounts are in U.S. dollars.
Was there foreign interference? Or was convoy support homegrown in Canada? The answer: both.
Almost $10 million was raised during the GiveSendGo campaign.
While 51,666 Americans donated compared to 36,202 Canadians, Canadians donated more money.
GiveSendGo convoy donations by country
Which province or territory gave the most?
Populous Ontario garnered the most donations, with about 14,000 donors giving $1.6 million.
In second place is B.C. Over 7,200 British Columbians gave about $909,000.
Next is Alberta, where over 6,600 residents gave about $866,000.
GiveSendGo convoy donations by province, territory
There might be assumptions that B.C., generally thought of as a West Coast haven for progressive politics, wouldn’t be home to a significant number of people supporting the convoy protests.
But Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow studying disinformation at SFU’s School of Communication, argues that people with all kinds of politics can fall in with such a movement due to pandemic conditions.
“A lot of people who would not have engaged in some of these activities before moved into that direction,” said Celestini.
Pandemic-era distance from our usual in-person social circles as well as worries about employment, finances and health mandates create fear, she said. With people turning to online communities for answers, it’s a “slippery slope” to falling in with others who hold institutional distrust.
“Fear can be one of the biggest social drivers that people have for social mobilization and social activism,” Celestini said.
Where do convoy supporters come from in BC? How much did they give?
Donor data is analyzed according to “forward sortation areas” — what Canada Post calls the areas based on the first three characters of postal codes.
B.C.’s top 10 donating areas are:
- Central Okanagan and High Country, V0E ($26,057);
- North Langley, V1M ($24,465);
- West Chilliwack, V2R ($20,682);
- Omineca and Yellowhead, V0J ($19,998);
- Fort St. John, V1J ($17,786);
- Central Island, V0R ($17,725);
- South Okanagan, V0H ($15,410);
- North Island, Sunshine Coast, Southern Gulf Islands, V0N ($13,571);
- Southeast Abbotsford, V2S ($13,301); and
- Central Courtenay, V9N ($12,543).
The data reveal some income disparity between top donating areas. While the Central Okanagan and High Country donated the most, an average resident there earns less than the average British Columbian. On the other hand, north Langley, which donated a bit less, is home to workers with annual incomes above the provincial average.
That part of Langley is also where B.C.’s largest donation came from. The donor was a shooting range called the Range, which gave $18,000. The Range has been public about their donation since the data leak, saying it was their way of “peacefully participating in democracy.”
GiveSendGo convoy donations across BC
(Note: Hover over a forward sortation area for its total donations and number of donors. Use the zoom tool to have a closer look.)
GiveSendGo convoy donations across Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley
About one in two people identify as Christian in the Fraser Valley, according to the last census counting religion back in 2011. Christian support was common in the GiveSendGo campaign, with numerous people donating with mentions of God and prayer.
“The idea of Christian persecution was quite strong during the pandemic,” said Celestini, pointing to churches and Christian leaders who publicly fought restrictions on places of worship such as in-person programming, claiming it violated charter rights. They also argued that places of worship are an essential service and important for congregants’ mental health.
“For some Christians who lean conservative, there’s this idea of ‘culture war’ issues that are strongly motivating,” she said. “[According to] a lot of right-wing social media platforms, Christianity is being hurt in Canada and attacked.”
The base of convoy support in the valley also raises the question of why they left their communities to express their discontent and protest in a place like Vancouver, a socially progressive city where they would likely be unwelcome. Indeed, their attempted convoy into the downtown on Feb. 5 was met with counter-protests.
“They quite honestly see themselves as heroes,” said Celestini. “Being in places where it is very left wing or places where they think they will cause the most disturbance is because they want to ‘wake’ the most people to their position. They presume we’re all just sheeple for following mandates.”
But there’s still a lack of articulation of what it is they’re fighting for. Celestini gives the example of protesters not understanding which level of government to lobby for which pandemic restrictions.
SFU’s Yan pins the theatricality of trucks on the “politics of recognition.”
“They want to be seen,” he said. “Trucks are a force multiplier. Fifty people in trucks look a lot bigger than 500 people. It magnifies the public speech element from just an individual protester in the town square.”
The census points to large percentages of truckers in the Fraser Valley, where some neighbourhoods have as many as one in four workers employed in trades related to transportation and operating equipment.
What are donors saying in the comments?
About 62,000 of the donations — two-thirds of all donations — came with a comment.
The top words mentioned were “thank,” “freedom” and “truckers.” Following closely were “god” and “bless,” perhaps a sign of GiveSendGo marketing itself as a Christian crowdfunding platform.
Nearly 1,500 comments directly referenced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, mocking him with phrases like “Byebye Trudeau” and “Xijin Trudeau.”
Common words in GiveSendGo convoy donation comments
Seventy-nine of the 62,000 comments mentioned “WWG1WGA,” short for “Where we go one, we go all,” a phrase used by followers of the false, sprawling conspiracy of QAnon, which espouses that pedophile cannibal elites are operating a global child sex trafficking ring.
One of the convoy’s founders, James Bauder, is a far-right activist and believer in QAnon. He helped grow pro-convoy support from a base of truck drivers to include also conservative politicians and conspiracy theorists beyond Canadian borders.
Note: A previous version of this story used some community names rather than Canada Post’s names for regions. They have been updated with the latter.
Read more: Federal Politics