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The follies of the Ottawa “freedom” convoy

By Christian Lowry, February 22 2022—

Since late January, a theatrical vehicular protest has paralyzed Ottawa.

Its goal is the removal of all public health measures, especially the requirement for cross-border truckers to be vaccinated — even though one is nearly 53 times more likely to be injured driving an automobile than to have a serious reaction to a life-saving vaccine. The convoy’s defenders present the convoy as a massive, well-supported, grassroots movement that advocates policies in the public interest. This image is a complete illusion. 

The convoy represents a shrinking constituency whose main accomplishments consist of sickening millions of people, menacing overworked health care staff, eroding the effectiveness of vaccines by hosting new coronavirus variants, threatening to overthrow elected officials and clogging hospitals upon contracting an easily preventable COVID-19.

The latter crisis has delayed or cancelled half a million surgeries as of December 2021. Canada’s life expectancy has plunged by 0.6 years — the largest annual figure in a century — as COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in the country.   

Despite endorsements from wealthy, well-connected backers like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Jordan Peterson, Tucker Carlson, Erin O’Toole, Pierre Poilievre and Joe Rogan, the convoy itself was disappointingly small. One organizer, Tamara Lich, boasted that there were almost 50,000 trucks participating. Another key organizer, B.J. Dichter, claimed the truck formation stretched was ten times longer than the Guinness World Record for the largest vehicular convoy — which Guinness representatives subsequently denied.

Yet on Jan. 28, the Kingston Police Service stated that the convoy passing through its jurisdiction included 17 trucks with trailers, 104 trucks without trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six RVs. 

The embarrassing shortfall was hardly surprising. Actual truckers can’t take weeks off work on a whim to openly travel across the world’s second-largest country to blockade its seat of government. Furthermore, a genuine tyranny — as Donald Trump Jr., Carlson and others have called it — would never allow such antics to go unpunished. 

As police breakdowns indicate, most of the convoy’s participants aren’t truckers — it has been repudiated by the Canadian Truckers Alliance and 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated. It doesn’t take a mathematician to inform them that a 15-minute vaccination appointment is simpler than a 14-day quarantine. 

As Emily Leedham notes, the organizers have been silent about longstanding, systematic issues in the trucking industry, such as wage theft, long hours, lack of rest stops and union-busting, among others. Despite claiming to side with workers whose livelihoods are being threatened by vaccine mandates, the convoy has yet to reckon with an economic system that features undemocratic at-will employment, inadequate wages, rent-gouging, housing bubbles, rising consumer prices and that forces people to choose between heavily stratified economic prosperity and public health. 

Meanwhile, opinion polls indicate that 62 per cent of Canadians oppose the convoy itself, 60 per cent support a tax on unexempted, unvaccinated people, 67 per cent support imposing more restrictions on the vaccine-hesitant. Eighty-three per cent of Canadians have received two COVID-19 vaccine doses. When will their rights emerge triumphant? 

Unable to secure widespread support, the convoy’s list of demands included the dissolution of Parliament by the Governor General and Senate, both of which are unelected and lack the requisite authority. It also proposed Parliament’s replacement by a “Citizens of Canada Committee,” whose members would be appointed by the convoy organizers, though this demand was eventually withdrawn on Feb. 8

The protest’s dismissal of Canadian society and institutions was further highlighted when convoy attendants openly urinated and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and fastened banners on a statue of Terry Fox.

While many claim these incidents do not represent the movement, those who believe their country is an undiluted tyranny naturally lose respect for its most hallowed monuments. Nazi symbolism and Confederate flags were displayed frequently and openly, including a swastika flown behind a pro-convoy MP speaking to the press. Dichter himself endorsed the use of Confederate flags, albeit not Nazi ones. While Lich disavowed all such participants, public health opponents inevitably overlap with far-right elements. 

Both Nazi Germany and the Confederacy were extremely minoritarian regimes in which tiny elites ruled over vast masses of conquered subjects. While convoy participants may not share the beliefs of either system down to the letter, their opposition to public health measures share the same hyper-individualistic worldview that spawns all oppressive systems.  

It is also impossible to learn from history without even knowing history. Ironically for those who invoke Nazi atrocities in their rabid anti-vaccine propaganda, Nazi Germany loosened vaccine regulations. They trusted Germans to immunize themselves voluntarily while prohibiting Jews, Slavs and other victimized populations from being vaccinated, intending to use vaccine-preventable disease to speed their demise.

Thus, Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, wrote in 1942, “The Slavs are to work for us. Insofar as we don’t need them, they may die. Therefore compulsory vaccination and German health services are superfluous. The fertility of the Slavs is undesirable.”  

The last nail in the coffin for the supposedly unprejudiced convoy is the fact that its members seek the end of public health policies during a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of colour.  

The future of the convoy is uncertain. Nevertheless, the convoy will make Canadians worse off. The only question is to what extent it will do so. Its grievances are minor and poorly addressed. It enables the transmission of deadly diseases. Its protest model disrupts the national supply chain and makes bustling downtown life of major cities virtually impossible.

Most importantly, it sets a precedent that any person or group can blockade Parliament or economically vital border crossings with scant popular support while weak governments do little to stop them. The convoy’s supporters claim to be on the side of “freedom” but there are many freedoms, some more important than others.

To be free, people must also first live freely of widespread, preventable threats. In the present context, only decisive action to solve the pandemic can satisfy this condition, which in turn will make possible again the luxuries whose restoration is the sole aim of the convoy. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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