Kanumera Creiche discusses Canada’s Freedom Convoy as it continues to spread across the globe.
Canada, once known as the United States’ peaceful neighbor, is going through its own populism surge. Since the 28th of January, the capital, Ottawa is paralysed by a large convoy of trucks in protest of the vaccine mandate. Driving from the West of the country, these drivers demonstrate against a measure that would require the unvaccinated truckers to quarantine for fourteen days when crossing back the border with the US. The protesters also blocked the Ambassador bridge, which is the first commercial liaison with the US. The police had to intervene and arrest 25 to 30 people on the 13th of February to dislodge them. But the situation in Ottawa is somewhat tricker with the setting up of a camp in front of the Parliament. The truckers set up tents with 200 working volunteers capable of serving up 500 hot meals per day, helped by three massage therapists, and not to forget the 2 saunas. It is a life-like village that was built, financed by crowdfunding apps that raised several millions of dollars. Although, Canadian authorities have ordered evacuation in a camp occupying Ottawa’s downtown core.
Yet it is important to see this as it is: a camp. A small minority who sparked an astroturfing phenomenon, which is the impression of a widespread grassroots movement created for political purposes. These Canadian truckers do not represent the Canadians’ position on the vaccine mandate – 80% of the population is covered by full vaccination – nor the truckers’ community. The Union Teamsters Canada, which represents 15,000 drivers does not endorse the movement. Furthermore, a survey from the poll institute Léger reveals that 65% of Canadians believe that the Freedom Convoy movement only represents a “small minority of selfish Canadians”.
The Canadian Freedom Convoy resonated in a Europe that currently experiences a populist rise with extreme-right candidates growing more powerful
So why does this movement seem to spread out to the rest of the world? New-Zealand, France, Belgium, and other countries are now facing similar movements. For instance, on the 8th of February, a convoy of 1,000 protesters met in front of the New-Zealander parliament in Wellington. On the 10th of February, the police arrested 122 people. In Europe, the Facebook group “European Freedom Convoy” consists of 47 000 members, and according to some, convoys could leave from Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, and Croatia. In France, on the 11th of February, the préfet-de-police forbade the access of thousands of freedom convoy vehicles to Paris. Instead, the movement re-directed themselves to Brussels. However, it is important to point out that the movement is not as strong as in Canada due to very different contexts. In Europe, truckers are exempt of sanitary controls at the borders and do not own their vehicles.
Nevertheless, seeing the movement spread in other countries is worrying. The protests now go further than simple anti-vaccine demonstrations. The Canadian key organisers of the movement are said to be far-right and racist individuals, and believers of conspiracy theories. Furthermore, among the protesters, some are advocates of the QAnon conspiracy theory, such QAnon’s “Queen of Canada”, Romana Didulo, who burned a flag outside the parliament. Dianel Panneton, an online hate research, wrote for the Global and Mail that the movement “included a motley array of Western separatists, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamophobes and other extremists. […] Several of the convoy organisers have a history of white nationalist and racist activism”.
Thus, the spread of the Freedom Convoy may be explained as such: individuals around the world, embracing fake news, conspiracy theories and anti-establishment values, who saw in the Canadian Freedom Convoy a successful movement, which they try to reproduce in their own country. The Canadian Freedom Convoy resonated in a Europe that currently experiences a populist rise with extreme-right candidates growing more powerful and getting a high level of votes at elections. Covid-19 conspiracy theories fortified the beliefs of already extremist individuals, further polarizing societies. The Freedom Convoy is the manifestation of an increasingly populist population around the world becoming more vocal.