Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 481, 9 February 2022

Canada: Freedom convoys and a new wave of protests
Sarasi Ganguly

In the news
On 8 February, thousands of truck drivers in Canada, with heavy vehicles and rigs, blocked the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest route connecting Detroit to Windsor, Canada. On 7 February, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the city over the protests against vaccine mandates. Mayor Watson suggested that the emergency was needed for police to control the protestors who are being called “volatile.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement: “Canadians were shocked and frankly disgusted by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital.”

Issues at large
First, the state of COVID-19 protests in Canada. The protests started in January when the Canadian government imposed a vaccine mandate, compulsory covid testing and quarantine on truck drivers entering Canada through the US-Canada border. A convoy of truckers protested this move, calling it a violation of rights. Under the banner “Freedom Convoy,'' a thousand truckers marched towards Ottawa from Vancouver. Reports of constant honking of truck horns, damage to monuments, and racial attacks followed. Small businesses and soup kitchens have been affected by the protestors who are threatening to close down shops or prohibiting people from commuting in peace. 

Second, the copycat protests. Freedom Convoy attracted the support of numerous civilian groups, right-wing supporters, and anti-vaxxers, who made their support clear by joining the protesting drivers in Ottawa, a week later. Freedom convoy had used the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to fund their protests, which raised a total of CD 10 million. After the unlawful activities in the protests, GoFundMe has seized the funds and promised reimbursement to all who paid. There are similar attempts in the US, Australia and New Zealand. Protesters in New Zealand have marched up to Wellington in solidarity with the Freedom Convoy. Small and large vehicles drove around the cities with banners of “Unvaccinated Lives Matter ''and “Give us back our freedom,” echoing their support of the truck drivers who are demanding freedom from the government mandate of vaccines. 

Third, the state response. The government took a strong stand against the protestors for blocking key roadways and disrupting civilian life. The Ottawa police mentioned no off-days for their officers in light of recent events. The protest has been declared “unlawful.” Eighty criminal investigations are underway, thousands of litres of petrol have been seized, and a hundred trucks have been reported to contain children in an unsafe environment. 

In perspective
First, the use of trucks and heavy vehicles is a new addition to the ongoing wave of Covid-19 protests. The Freedom Convoy protesting against compulsory vaccination and health mandates can indicate state failure to raise awareness about Covid-19 as an ongoing problem. 

Second, the Canadian protests are giving way to protests in Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Referred to as the Copycat protests, they consist of anti-vaxxers, right-wing political and extremist groups, religious groups that do not agree with state-imposed health mandates and similar conservatives. 

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