Ian Profiri is JURIST’s Staff Correspondent for Canada. He files this dispatch from Calgary.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart released a statement Friday evening clarifying his and his city’s position on the copycat “Freedom Convoy” protests that materialized in major cities across Canada this past weekend in the wake of ongoing protests in Ottawa.
“As the Mayor of a city with over 95 per cent vaccination rate, my message to the convoy is this: Vancouver doesn’t want you here. Make your point and then go home.”
If any statement has summed up the material position of the majority of the population of Canada at this present moment in time, it is Mayor Stewart’s. So-called “Freedom” protests have honked their way across busy downtown corridors from Edmonton to Toronto, attracting a wave of vehicular idolatry and calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s resignation, as well as significant push-back from locals in the form of frustrated, impatient, and often spur-of-the-moment, counter protests.
What started as a drive across Canada to the home of Parliamentary power in Ottawa to protest against the Canadian federal government’s refusal to reimplement a national vaccine exemption for cross-border long-haul truckers, has now devolved into a cacophony of complaints aimed directly at Trudeau, anything considered “liberal”, and vaccine-related mandates.
However, it seems the protestors voices have yet to find a common, coherent, or practically attainable objective amongst the clamor.
The majority of vaccine-related mandates – the requirement to wear mask indoors or limit the number of individuals inside a building, for example – are under the direction of the provincial Premiers and their Chief Medical Officers; not Trudeau.
The calls for “freedom,” usually accompanied with some haphazard reference to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would necessarily impinge upon the freedoms of others to live without the constant fear of illness or death. This has been proven time, and time, and time again when mandates are lifted, and reinforce the idea that the protestors are constructors of their own ills.
(Technically, Freedom of Expression, under section 2(b) of the Charter, is being correctly utilized by the protestors to express their opinion that Mobility Rights, under section 6, are more important than the right to Life, Liberty, and Security of the Person, under section 7. The argument frames mobility as unduly constricted based on the current risk of viral spread. The argument necessarily implies that the virus is no longer a threat to Canadians. This is obviously rubbish. Canada is currently experiencing another Covid wave, and whenever restriction have been lifted by the provinces, infections and deaths increase. This would likely continue considering the strain our hospitals are under and that the virus unceremoniously affects the unvaccinated disproportionally. But I hardly believe that protestors have been following this line of thinking).
And, probably most discouraging, there are ample calls amongst the protest’s supporters for Trudeau to resign, be tried for treason, and even be imprisoned for his apparent crimes; democratic elections and due process be damned. I guess Canada couldn’t let the rest of the world have all the fun flirting with totalitarianism and decided to adopt some of the rhetoric for ourselves.
Of course, it is just rhetoric. Trudeau hasn’t done anything illegal, and certainly hasn’t done anything unconstitutional so far as the government’s Covid response is concerned. Under section 1 of the Charter, “reasonable limits” may be applied in a narrowly confined list of situations. It is probable that any restriction on rights that is narrowly related to controlling the pandemic or reducing the strain on our healthcare system would qualify. But this hasn’t stopped certain conservative politicos from latching onto the idea.
Convoy darling Pierre Poilievre announced his bid for party leader of the Conservative Party of Canada Saturday by releasing a campaign video with the tagline “[s]ign up now to help me replace Trudeau & restore freedom.” In it, Poilievre remarks that he wants to make “Canadians the freest people on earth.”
The fact that he did this on an easily accessible social-media platform that almost every Canadian is aware of, stating, under his own power, a message that has been reiterated by individuals that trekked across Canada, who then shouted and honked at Parliament, all without having to evade the RCMP, and without a single person in power ordering his immediate capture, must have been lost on him.
Rather unnervingly, and adding to the mess that the so-called “freedom” protests have become, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that he has begun looking into GoFundMe’s decision to reimburse donors to the Freedom Convoy fund. Paxton states the “BLM-backing company went woke, froze the funds, & failed to deliver to Texans’ money . . . Texas donors will get [j]ustice!” While the funding of domestic political activities by foreign citizens is not technically illegal in Canada, a tweet is an interesting way to admit that Texas citizens are directly responsible for contributing to the political upheaval within a neighboring friendly nation.
Meanwhile, Canadian cities have been dealing with convoy supporters in their own way. Vancouver residents staged a counter-protest that rivaled and even stalled a “Freedom Convoy” support protest. Québec City officials order a parking tolerance allowing the protestors to set up shop on Rene-Levesque Blvd. over the weekend; the order has since been revoked, and while tickets were common in Québec’s capital city, the protestors have since moved on. Toronto, similarly, had marked off the areas in which the trucker protestors could congregate; counter-protestors lined the parameter of the convoy’s allotted path. By evening all was quiet – Toronto’s peace remains in stark contrast to the occupation in Ottawa.
The most visceral support for the Freedom Convoy and its protestors emanates, however, from Alberta. Continuing their form from a week prior, some 1500 protestors on foot, horseback, and truck, cascaded through downtown Calgary. Similar scenes unfolded in Edmonton. One of the more memorable scenes from the weekend involved a line of several dozen full-sized tractors lining the street outside MacEwan University.
Local businesses downtown have been hurt most by the protests as potential customers have been avoiding the area for fear of how the protestors might act. As well, it appears that protestors have been harassing staff over mask-mandates and vaccine requirements. Again, all in the name of “Freedom.” The Royal Alexandra hospital, which is located just North of downtown Edmonton, advised their staff not to arrive in scrubs because of fears that they may be targeted by the protestors.
In rural areas of Alberta, protests against vaccine mandates have taking place at local schools. Although largely peaceful, protestors in Dunmore, a small city just outside Medicine Hat, worked their way into the school chanting “no more masks” while threatening students and staff as they locked themselves away in their classrooms. The protestors were eventually removed by local RCMP but no charges have yet to be filed.
In Coutts, where “Freedom Convoy” protestors continue to barricade the border between the US and Canada, the mayor of the village went to speak with the barricaders. Mayor Jim Willet remarked that the protest has hurt his community dearly, both emotionally and financially, as the blockade continues to stall millions of dollars-worth of goods from crossing through, and the reasons for the blockade’s existence have split his village. “It’s almost like you’re being held hostage.” As of Sunday evening, there has been no official response from the provincial government of Alberta regarding the actions of the protestors.
Late Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the city where this all began. The ongoing protests there have now gone on for over a week, polarizing the Canadian conversation surrounding vaccines and freedom.