The date is Jan. 15, 2022. In the midst of a harsh Canadian winter, you decide to take a break from drinking maple syrup straight from the bottle and saying “sorey” every third sentence to flip on the news. On the screen, a handsome young anchor announces that unvaccinated American truck drivers will now be denied entry into Canada. This has technically been government policy for several months, but now the authorities will actually enforce it. While you’re not a truck driver, you’re fed up with supply chain issues and you think this policy could become annoying if the shortages continue.
One of your friends, however, is an unvaccinated truck driver. He’s heard the news and is worried his own trucking route could be cut next. Despite your warnings, your friend says it’s time he does something about this. Why? Because he’s a manly man, and no globalist, blackface-wearing prime minister named Justin can tell him how to live. The truck he drives is sitting idly in a warehouse parking lot, and it’s time he takes it for a spin. Destination? Ottawa, because this is about freedom, baby!
Crazy as it sounds, the stereotypically polite Canadian people have risen up. What started as localized protests against vaccine enforcement at the border has turned into a larger movement against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all the COVID-19 restrictions he’s rubber stamped. Canada does not often make headlines for internal instability, but the ultimate resolution of its trucker uprising could have massive implications for COVID-19-exhausted people throughout Western world.
Self-dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” truckers from across Canada began making their way to Ottawa, Ontario in late January. Their presence grew rapidly through the first half of February, prompting Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to declare a state of emergency on Monday, Feb. 7. The thousands of protesters had overwhelmed police in Canada’s capital, leaving them unable to respond to residents’ grievances. Most of the complaints alleged verbal harassment by the protesters, but plenty of Ottawans also objected to truckers honking their horns at all hours of the night.
Additionally, the Convoy’s participants have shown their actions are not limited to the Canadian capital. On the same day Ottawa declared an emergency, more than 100 trucks anchored down on Ontario’s Highway 3 in Windsor, hoping to block trucks crossing the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit, Michigan. This week-long obstruction raised eyebrows on both sides of the border, as roughly 25% of all U.S.-Canada trade crosses this bridge.
“You have a number of people … who have outwardly stated that they feel such a passion for this particular cause that they’re willing to die for it,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said of the protesters’ resolve on Wednesday, Feb. 9. “If you have people who hold that sentiment, the situation can escalate and become very dangerous for police and those members of the public in very short order.”
At the time of writing, not even a phone call between Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden has been able to completely secure the bridge. While traffic is flowing again, dozens of protesters still threaten the flow of goods crossing the border. An Ontario court has ordered them to leave the area by 7 p.m. Friday, so we’ll have to wait on any further developments.
Since the protests began, Trudeau and his allies have raised concerns about those supporting the Freedom Convoy. Indeed, several far-right organizations have backed the truckers and even advocated for overthrowing the Canadian government. And at a Jan. 29 rally in Texas, former U.S. President Donald Trump praised the Convoy for “doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far.” (Rumors of a Trump-backed trucker convoy to Washington, D.C. are already swirling, of course.)
But regardless of who Trudeau believes is out to get him, most commentators agreed on one thing by the end of last week: the ball is now in the prime minister’s court. Despite fueling the fire by getting COVID-19 and fleeing Ottawa to isolate on Jan. 31 — against the Public Health Agency of Canada’s guidelines for fully vaccinated adults — Trudeau has come back with a vengeance.
On Monday, Feb. 14, he became the first Canadian leader to invoke the Emergencies Act. Passed by Parliament in 1988, the act will declare a “public order emergency” and grant police and financial institutions the power to confront the Convoy. The enactment of the Emergencies Act has led to banks freezing protesters’ accounts, as well as crackdowns on GoFundMe and other means of financing the Convoy.
While Trudeau’s parliamentary opponents have decried the Emergencies Act as an unprecedented executive power grab, Canada’s legacy media has criticized Trudeau for not using federal police more aggressively against the Convoy. On Monday, The Toronto Star editorialized a slew of failures by local police that Trudeau’s government never addressed. These local failures seem poised to continue, as Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned Tuesday.
But nowhere does the Star’s editorial board call out Trudeau’s unwillingness to meet with Convoy leaders and reach an agreeable solution. When thousands of people disrupt daily life in a national capital, they generally have reasons for doing so. As their leader, Trudeau has an obligation to hear his people, but he seems content to “let them eat cake” by refusing to consider dropping any federal mandates.
Though American Democrats — the counterparts of Trudeau’s Liberal Party — have largely remained silent about the Convoy, their recent actions must give some hope to the Canadian demonstrators. Last week, Govs. Ned Lamont (Conn.) and Phil Murphy (N.J.) announced the end of school mask mandates, while Washington, D.C. has become the first major city to do away with requiring proof of vaccination to enter private businesses. Since the omicron variant has peaked and potential future variants seem less threatening, this is Trudeau’s time to negotiate, not double down.
Even more importantly, the Convoy’s disruption should make leaders in other highly-restricted countries rethink their policies. Particularly, Germany, Austria and Australia have all enacted various penalties against the unvaccinated. If the Freedom Convoy digs in and ultimately forces Trudeau to bend, similar trucker movements could paralyze Berlin, Vienna or Canberra. If they do, I don’t want to hear about overwhelmed police forces or economic damages, as both issues can be resolved simply by listening to the protesters’ reasonable demands. In most cases, it doesn’t require any cumbersome legislative action for an executive leader to suspend his order.
Along with the other countries I mentioned, Canada has long been an important American ally, yet we must remember its citizens do not enjoy the same degree of federalism as we do in the States. Hopefully, the recent events in Ottawa will signal the end of the national government’s pandemic power grabs and the beginning of a return to normalcy for our northern neighbors.