Canada's 'freedom' protests resonate in US


A Canadian protest that began with truck drivers protesting cross-border vaccination mandates has turned into an occupation of the capital city of Ottawa, as demonstrators have blocked traffic, disrupted businesses and threatened local residents for 12 days.

The protests have also mushroomed into broader rallies against most public health measures like masks and vaccinations, attracting members of the far-right movement, along with former President Trump and other GOP politicians, who have warned that the Biden administration may face similar unrest.

“The Canadian truckers are heroes, they are patriots. They are marching for your freedom and for my freedom,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Sunday on Fox News.

“Those truck drivers are defending Canada, but they’re defending America as well,” he added. “The government doesn’t have the right to force you to comply to their arbitrary mandates.”

Ottawa’s mayor this weekend declared a state of emergency due to the demonstrations, and local law enforcement agencies have begun launching investigations, though news reports show frustration is mounting that there hasn’t been a tougher police response.

On Friday, Trump released a statement slamming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “far left lunatic” who “destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates,” and invited American and Canadian truckers to come to Washington “to protest Biden’s ridiculous Covid policies.”

The former president first threw his support behind the protest during a rally in Texas at the end of January.

“We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” Trump told the crowd. He criticized the Biden administration’s attempt to impose vaccine mandates, and said the Canadian protesters were “doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far.”

The so-called freedom convoy was launched in response to rules that required all international truck drivers to show proof of vaccination by January.

The Biden administration first proposed a mandate requiring all Canadian truck drivers crossing into the U.S. be vaccinated. Canada followed by announcing the same policy would come into effect on Jan. 15.

Canada is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world, and the trucking industry boasts about a 90 percent vaccination rate, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which does not support the protests.

But it soon became more than a protest against vaccines for truckers, as the convoy was joined by members of the broader anti-vaccine movement, as well as people protesting masks, lockdowns and restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Kevin Den Heijer, an Ottawa-based consultant at Canadian firm Enterprise, said the protests started with anger around vaccine mandates “and then you know, people are kind of taking advantage of that movement and forming their own narratives in there.”

“And part of that for some people is, you know, overthrowing the government and having Justin Trudeau no longer be prime minister,” he added.

In the U.S., Den Heijer said he thinks populist conservatives like Tucker Carson are trying to stoke the same anger for their own benefit, rather than to have any impact on policy in Canada.

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa, said U.S. politicians voicing support is injecting new life into the movement. However, she said the bigger concern is international monetary support, with Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly last week saying the convoy is benefiting from a “significant element”of such from people in the U.S.

Carvin said there’s no way to really tell who is sending the money, since online crowdsourcing websites are not transparent.

GoFundMe said Friday that it had removed a fundraiser for the convoy that had raised nearly $10 million because it violated its terms of service, provoking an outcry among U.S. Republican politicians who claimed it was an example of “Big Tech” censorship.

GoFundMe initially said it would redirect donations, before eventually deciding to refund them.

At least five GOP attorneys general indicated they were going to investigate the company for deceptive practices.

“GoFundMe wasn’t just a vehicle for funding this. I think it also became a symbol, right? It actually took on a new life onto itself,” Carvin said. “And if GoFundMe had looked closer at this movement, and canceled it earlier on — let’s say it only raised $50,000, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

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