January 15th, 2022, marked the beginning of a month of protests in Ottawa, Canada. On this day, Canada began imposing stricter travel restrictions. The most decisive was that truck drivers must now be fully vaccinated to travel the Canada-U.S border. While this measure is understandable given the spread of the Omicron variant, the new measures sparked a fierce protest among truck drivers. The drivers were joined by a loose coalition of anti-vaccine and anti mandate protestors who travelled to Ontario from across western provinces and converged on the capital Ottawa.
The movement, self-labelled as the Freedom Convoy, brought an estimated 3000 trucks and 15000 protesters to the city’s downtown core. While Canadians have the right to protest freely and peacefully, numerous reports have indicated the presence of a variety of hate symbols, including confederate flags and swastikas. The movement has since been praised by former president Donald Trump and numerous far-right figures. Further reports have indicated that the convoy has been cutting off businesses in the downtown core and that some have been harassing citizens, and health care workers in the area.
The situation has drawn a sharp division among many Canadians, with the narrative of standing up for the future of the Canadian economy and working-class citizens versus public health measures. Political parties have spoken out about the convoy. The Conservative Party’s interim leader, Candace Bergen, has spoken publicly in favour of the Freedom Convoy, but after criticism has maintained the party line against the movement. The Green Party of Canada’s interim leader, Amita Kuttner, released the statement:
“As the pandemic drags on, we recognize that many people are struggling while many more are tired and frustrated. But that does not justify this display of hate and anger in Ottawa. This is a time for Canadians to work together to minimize further sickness and death and to ensure that the lessons of COVID are learned and acted upon.”
The leader’s comment strikes the tone of pandemic fatigue felt by Canada. It also underlines the important fact that this virus continues to threaten the population. Lawmakers need to continue to walk the line between public health and the public view of vaccinations and mandates.
The issue at the centre of this movement is that it has moved past being a simple protest. It has disrupted and hurt local citizens while going against public health guidelines. The ongoing event has drawn international eyes, and the protestors unmoving presence has led Ontario to declare a state of emergency on February 11th. The protest, though it may be nearing the end, has led others in Canada to further drastic actions, including the Coutts Blockade on an international border. These ongoing protests require further monitoring while tensions in Canada are increasing.