Canada dispatch: Convoy protests designed to ‘undermine the will of the electorate and/or force out democratically elected governments’ Dispatches
© JURIST (Mélanie Cantin)
Canada dispatch: Convoy protests designed to ‘undermine the will of the electorate and/or force out democratically elected governments’

Law students from the University of Ottawa are filing dispatches for JURIST on the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Canada’s capital that has paralyzed the city for over a week. Here, 2L Brad Henderson reports.

On Thursday Ontario’s Attorney General successfully petitioned the Ontario Superior Court to issue an order pursuant to section 490.8 of Canada’s Criminal Code freezing donations made to GiveSendGo for the Freedom Convey 2022 and Adopt-a-Trucker campaigns. The Freedom Convey 2022 campaign has amassed more than $8.5 million (USD) in donations. This comes roughly a week after GoFundMe froze disbursements and offered refunds for a similar campaign that amassed more than $10 million (CAD) in donations.

Equally problematic to these significant sums of money in support of illegal activities and the holding of critical infrastructure and the Canadian economy hostage, are their self-reported sources. Recent analysis shows that many of these donors either remained anonymous or stated that they made their donations from foreign jurisdictions, the most prominent being the United States.

These donations, like the Convoy protesters themselves, appear to indicate a strong, generally shared, and united Canadian sentiment—which could not be further from the truth. These protests began in opposition to Canadian (and US) laws prohibiting unvaccinated truck drivers from crossing the Canada-US border, yet nearly 90% of Canadian truck drivers are fully vaccinated, a national Canadian trucking federation has strongly denounced these protests, and the CEO of Canada’s largest trucking company has stated that the mandate is not an issue for their company—the company simply keeps their small percentage of unvaccinated drivers on domestic routes.

Canadian donors and Convoy protestors alike represent a small minority—or network—of individuals, united through social media platforms in support of a common ‘cause.’ However, this alleged cause appears to have united those opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and those generally opposed to center and left-leaning governments and our governing institutions more broadly.

Those opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates have argued that such mandates infringe their rights and freedoms. Yet they often speak in absolutes with disregard to section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which subjects those rights and freedoms to reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Instead of expressing their concerns through peaceful demonstrations and challenging COVID-19-related laws through the courts, they are attempting to force their worldview on Canadians who voted less than five months ago in a federal election that placed vaccine mandates and other public health measures front and center: More than 50% of voters voted for members of political parties (Liberal and NDP) with pro-COVID-19 vaccine mandate platforms. Without minimizing the cost and other access to justice issues in bringing Charter claims forward, the protestors’ reluctance to challenge such laws may also lie in the fact that Canadian courts have, so far, often showed deference to governments on such matters.

While ongoing Canadian protests have not arisen to the level of violence seen in the US on January 6, 2021, their origins, ideological undertones, and objectives appear similar—to undermine the will of the electorate and/or force out democratically elected governments with which they fundamentally disagree.

Relative to its original size, the occupation downtown Ottawa is smaller, yet those remaining, and those supporting them from afar, appear to be taking harder lines and escalating their disruptions. These disruptions have grown from downtown blockades and widespread incidents of harassment to traffic disruptions at the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, flooding emergency phone lines, and taking over the City of Ottawa’s planning committee’s live stream on Youtube. Further, additional protests have expanded across Canada, which have now completely blocked Coutts border crossing in Alberta and the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. Combined these protests are costing the Canadian economy millions of dollars per day through disrupted cross-border trade, significantly higher policing costs, and widespread business closures.

If the state does not enforce existing laws, further petition the courts for various orders and injunctions, and/or enact new laws to stop these protests soon, the protestors will likely continue to escalate their tactics, and similar protests are likely to continue to expand across Canada and into other jurisdictions. Yet strong enforcement strategies must also avoid violence, which would likely fuel protestors’ and their supporters’ resentment towards governments, global pockets of right-wing populism and extremism, and the resulting weakening of democratic institutions and liberal democracies.