I can still hear the horns.
I don’t know what I was expecting this day to be like when I got up, but whatever it was, I was wrong. Walking down Wellington Street Sunday afternoon, and reviewing the footage and interviews gathered by Down To The Wire over the weekend (stay tuned), felt like an endless fever dream. The experience is difficult to describe in words, and even more difficult to unpack — I’m not even sure where to start — so I just want to tell you some facts, and describe some of the more interesting things that have happened with these protests. Simple enough, and maybe through this process I can come up with a picture of what this event actually is, and who’s actually being represented.
If you’re totally in the dark, the protests, which right now involve hundreds of vehicles occupying the streets of and around downtown Ottawa, causing gridlock and making an ungodly amount of noise for inhumane stretches of time, started picking up steam around three weeks ago. This is when national headlines first heralded the coming of a convoy of truckers and their supporters, intent on bringing their displeasure with government vaccine mandates and lockdowns from all across Canada to the seat of federal power.
I was pretty well informed about the whole thing going into the official start date of the protest, January 29th. For instance, I knew that the official organizer of the so-called “freedom convoy” is an organization called Canada Unity. I also knew that Canada Unity had released a memorandum of understanding calling for, and I am not making this up, the “Senate of Canada and the Governor General of Canada” to remove power from elected officials and form a committee with Canada Unity which would run the country and go about reversing all public health measures involving mandates or lockdowns, including by ignoring the part of the Constitution Act concerned with the distribution of legislative powers. That isn’t how anything works, but it’s clear the group wants Trudeau out.
Memorandum of Understanding
Also clear, thanks to reporting by Justin Ling (whom I ran into on Bank Street today, which was cool) were the people behind Canada Unity’s ties to far-right and white supremacist ideology. Ling tweeted that CU’s founder, James Bauder, has called for Trudeau to be tried for treason; that the convoy’s Northern Ontario organizer, Jason LaFace, was linked to the anti-immigrant hate group Soldiers of Odin; and that an Alberta organizer named Pat King has said that “the only way this is going to be solved is with bullets.” Other far-right personalities have escalated similar rhetoric, one calling for “our own January 6,” and several news outlets including Global and CTV ran quotes from anti-hate experts warning about the potential for violence.
A separate GoFundMe campaign which has, at the time of writing, raised a little over $9 million, including through many anonymous donations, was reportedly organized by Tamara Lich, secretary of the Western separatist Maverick Party and a lady with ties to the Yellow Vest movement, according to a trade publication called TruckNews.com. GoFundMe has reportedly released $1 million of the money to Lich, but is holding the rest until a clear plan for the funds is presented, according to Global News.
Conservative politicians also waded into the muck before I did, with former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer having called the Prime Minister “the biggest threat to freedom in Canada,” and Ottawa-area MP and former finance critic Pierre Poilievre coming out against what he called a “vaccine vendetta” against the truckers. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney both came out in support of the protest, despite the former pledging to make blocking critical infrastructure during protests illegal, and the latter having already done so in response to tactics used by Indigenous land defenders. Kenney also tweeted some made up shit about supply chains being affected by the mandate (which America also has in place by the way) along with images of empty grocery store shelves.
In a related story, Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman tweeted a petition seeking to “reverse the mandate” and attached a picture of empty grocery shelves attributed to CityNews and dated January 11, 2022. The image was actually a stock photo from the UK, which you can buy for $36, according to a report from Press Progress.
And in another wild and wacky statement, the Canadian Trucking Association, an industry federation, denounced the protests, but said it was because it “does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges,” which is kind of a batshit thing to say because that’s where protests happen…
Finally, I’d also heard that Justin Trudeau dismissed the truckers who had been lifted up as the heart of the protests as a “fringe minority,” before promptly skedaddling out of the city, which really pissed everyone off.
So, that was my understanding of the shitshow I was walking into when I made my way out of the suburbs and toward my apartment, which sits right above Bank Street and about 12 blocks South of Wellington, early this afternoon. Again, I can’t tell you what my expectations were for the protests themselves, only what I had collected as context. I can tell you what I wasn’t expecting though: I wasn’t expecting the trucks to be spread out across all of fucking centretown, and all along Island Park from Westboro to the War museum, and down the entire Sir George-Etienne-Cartier Parkway, and across the bridge to Quebec… I wasn’t expecting the motherfuckers to carry-on with the honking and the fireworks all night like they’re torturing terrorists, and I definitely wasn’t expecting there to be no particular end in sight.
I also failed to fully take in just how much money is at play here. I saw footage of a helicopter flying over Parliament Hill that had “Fuck Trudeau” painted on it. Someone had to rent that shit. Maxime Bernier pulled up for a rally and his People’s Party of Canada set up a booth to sell merch. Crowdfunding raised millions ostensibly for fuel and food, but a large portion of its donations are anonymous and there’s much work to be done following the money.
The headline of an Independent story from tonight reads: “Ottawa residents ‘prisoners’ in their own homes as truckers vow to stay.” I guess my mistake was assuming that if the protest’s organizers had no reasonable goal beyond the amorphous and politically unattainable demand for less government in general, it would take less time for people to get bored and leave, but I see now that these people came a long way and really have nowhere to be in a hurry.
I’ll admit to being overwhelmed at first. Sitting in my apartment was like facing down a wall of noise, and my only reprieve came from a podcast that I blasted in the shower. I got pissed off — screamed some obscenities out the window, which probably makes me a lesser person or whatever, but it felt good. Felt like I was screaming on behalf of all of my neighbors’ dogs.
But the more I wallowed in the spectacle of it all, the more I was overcome by the absurd humour in it: a sea of mostly white people clamoring for freedom while inconveniencing everyone around them; families weaving between tractors, cell phones drawn and flags waving; symbols of extremist ideology cropping up among the plaid and the dart smoke and the laughing, maskless faces.
I saw footage of the Rideau Centre overrun by anti-maskers, and were it not for the adults in snowpants, it could've been a scene out of Florida. Down To The Wire spoke to a gentleman wearing a thong in January, who repeatedly called for Trudeau to kiss his ass. I got fist-bumped by a guy in a tinfoil hat. A Terry Fox statue was vandalized (now who defaces statues?) and someone told us he would’ve been an anti-vaxxer. Security drones zipped overhead, and you could spot police snipers on the ramparts. I got handed a newspaper called Druthers, which includes headlines like “Wake Up Call on Covid Vaccines: Why They Cannot Work, And Irrefutable Evidence Of Their Causative Role In Deaths After Vaccinations,” “Pfizer Vaccine: More Harm Than Good,” “Mirror World,” which is about crypto because of course it is, and a truly fucking unhinged allegory called “Drink The Damn Wine,” which encourages the reader to roleplay as an 1800s-era royal trying to evade a very clumsy poisoning attempt.
There were also some less funny parts. I watched an interview the guys conducted with a man who claimed to be representing One America News, the far-right, aggressively pro-Trump network which came to prominence when the former president began calling on its reporters to serve him up the juiciest meatball questions of all time. This man was in camo military gear, a black military-style helmet with a "MEDIA" badge on the side, and he said he’d come from New York. His army-green tactical vest bore four patches: Trump 2020, a Blue Lives Matter flag, a “Don’t Tread On Me” snake, and the roman numeral three in white, with 13 white stars encircling it, on a black background — the symbol for the Three Percenters, a far-right anti-government militia which Canada declared a terrorist organization in June. I’ll be calling OAN this week to follow up on buddy, but it’s unlikely someone with real ties to the Three Percenters would have been allowed to cross the border given the timing, and I didn’t notice any of his fellow militiamen.
Awkwardly, John and Racco didn’t notice the patch, so the interview mostly consists of this man telling our camera that the media won’t report what’s really going on, while a drunk man screams “THIS IS SO PEACEFUL” in the background. Another guy that Racco interviewed got so pissed nobody would answer him in French, he spit in our pop filter… for the second time.
Tellingly, none of us heard much love for Erin O’Toole over the weekend. One guy went on camera and told us he was protesting for the freedom to espouse right-wing nationalist views. He was around our age, and wore a bright red hat with ‘CANADA FIRST’ in big white letters. He told us he would rather Maxime Beriner be in charge. There was a lot of Bernier love going around this weekend, and some folks complained that O’Toole sounded too much like a liberal. Also one guy was just super into Pierre Poilievre for some reason, said he would come in and fix things. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that about Pierre Poilievre before.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the otherworldly footage the boys collected this weekend, so I’ll hope you take my point about the variety of people out reveling. A lot of effort has been put toward categorizing these people’s behaviour. Some of that effort is valid, for instance critics have accused the truckers of protesting against inconvenience, while true oppression still goes virtually unchecked. This is pretty true, and many protestors complained they were ‘just done’ with restrictions.
But trying to categorize a movement like this is dangerous. It was obvious to anyone anywhere near downtown Ottawa this weekend that the message of the protests had morphed into something else. Except now I’m hearing people say that the event’s being co-opted by the far-right. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This movement was organized almost entirely by elements from the far-right. If anything, the protests have been co-oopted by all the fucking randoms, who’ve seized upon their disastrously poorly defined goals and ascribed whatever the fuck values they wanted to the movement, or who were simply tired of ‘the new normal’ and wanted to feel like they were a part of something and also go skating on the canal for the first time.
It’s just chaos; everyone wants “freedom,” but freedom means something different to everyone, and nobody wants to admit they might already have freedom. The experience of listening to what these people have to say about their freedoms is like listening to a group of dudes try to explain each of their personal relationships with psychedelics to one another. You can tell that on a fundamental level, everyone knows what everyone else means and generally agrees. But when you try to dive into what’s being said, or inject any nuance, it’s like you get instantly blasted with verbal diarrhea and nobody has the self-awareness, or the media, political, or scientific literacy to articulate what they mean or even clean up after their poopy little mouths.
Also honestly, anybody who sits outside someone’s house and honks for 18 hours is undeserving of my sympathy. That shit is despicable, I don’t care what you’re protesting. Fuck. Shut the fuck up.