This would have been in yesterday’s weekly post but I ran out of time, so I only got to it today. It seemed substantial enough to post on its own rather than wait a full six days, so here it is.
Reports are in from Canada. Looks like we got us a convoy. [NOTE: This post has been extensively edited to reflect that what previously was a convoy is now more like an occupation akin to the old ‘autonomous zone’ in Seattle, and conflicting reports about exactly what to make of these protesters commenters have shared with me.]
Many truckers do not like vaccine mandates.
This makes sense. The big benefits of being a trucker are:
- In particular, freedom to go and work where you want, when you want.
- Even more in particular, freedom to not interact with other humans.
If there’s one group that both has no need of vaccine mandates, since they spend their time alone, and also likely not to take kindly to vaccine mandates, it would be a trucker. As far as I can tell, the whole advantage of being a trucker, other than getting paid for doing something other people don’t want to do, and something something about the joys of the open road, is to have and frequently use full f*** you rights without the need for f*** you money.
Truckers are also both vital to the supply chain and therefore the economy while being in short supply, and also are mostly physically large people in possession of a large number of very large trucks. And those who don’t want to get vaccinated are facing a lot of restrictions that no longer make physical sense:
‘I can travel freely through the border, and not be in contact with anyone. Yet I’m locked into my own country right now,’ he said. ‘I can’t go on a holiday. I can’t go to a restaurant, I can’t go bowling. I can’t go to a movie. You know, these are things that it’s just gotten out of control.’
They also are not happy about no longer having an exemption to quarantines and tests for crossing the border if they’re not vaccinated, but that seems like it shouldn’t matter much in practice given the United States won’t let them in unvaccinated at all. Not that any of that makes any physical sense at this point, of course, it’s purely punishment.
It is not terribly surprising that they decided to let their discontent be known and started a convoy to head to Ottawa to peacefully protest, with lots of emphasis on how violence would be counterproductive. Also there’s another group of trucks blocking a border crossing. So of course everyone is loudly supporting the people’s right to peacefully protest for their freedom against government policies that they see as oppressive, whether or not they agree with the protesters.
Except no, of course not, that is so completely not how any of this works. It’s more of a Russel Conjugation. I heroically stand up to oppression, you protest, he’s an enemy of the people. I peacefully protest, you are mostly peaceful, he’s rioting. With one of a very large number of very large trucks. Different versions of that conjugation are appropriate at different times.
Prime Minister Trudeau was having none of it from the start.
In a list of demands, the organizers of the Freedom Convoy are calling for an end to vaccine passports and for the federal government to respect the rights of the unvaccinated.
Trudeau hit the brakes on their demands.
‘What we are hearing from some people associated with this convoy is completely unacceptable,’ he said.
‘We know the way through this pandemic is to get everyone vaccinated.
‘The overwhelming majority, close to 90 percent of Canadians, have done exactly that.’
Somehow getting that last 10 percent vaccinated is ‘how we get through the pandemic’ rather than the 90 percent making a further mandate unnecessary. Ergo, by his logic, Canada will never get through the pandemic. He also presumes that anyone vaccinated must be in favor of a mandate. Even assuming that, among truckers this does not seem all that fringe?
As many as 32,000, or 20 percent, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads due to the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates.
He refused to meet with them, and he referred to them as racist to justify this. At first I assumed this was purely on priors, but it turns out he was saying some of them were waiving swastikas. At first I didn’t have confirmation of that and assumed it wasn’t that commonplace. I’ve seen multiple sources refer to knowing of exactly one (1) confirmed swastika and one (1) confirmed confederate flag. A commenter claims it’s more than that:
There are significant amounts of white nationalists (the ‘organizer’ is a prominent one) and there are significant amounts of swastikas and confederate flags. In the first weekend, they pissed on the national war monument and defaced statues, because that is going to win them hearts and minds.
They say they aren’t leaving until they meet with the governor-general and the senate and form a new government, which is not how any of this works. I think they said they would settle for hanging Trudeau. They’ve also been digging in.
What ‘significant’ means here is unclear, and it only takes a handful (or in some cases one person) to disrespect a monument or deface a statue, or to be the source for the swastika claim. Some would argue that even one is ‘significant.’ In any case, the charge of racism is being used to treat everyone involved as scum and all claims involved as illegitimate. But I also have multiple commenters saying these were nice folks who would very much not have taken kindly to seeing a Nazi flag, including vouching for this write-up.
The linked-to thread about digging in is also worth checking out, it’s got pictures (so it clearly did happen) of cranes and portable toilets and other things they’re constructing in the streets, and the map I saw earlier no longer applies, they’re blocking off downtown Ottawa.
This all gives different context to a widely-circulated cartoon from a cartoonist at the Washington Post calling a peaceful protest against restrictions on movement ‘fascism.’ You can be raising valid points about unnecessary restrictions, and yet also some of those same people can also be things one can label fascist for other reasons. And you can use that to not have to address the complaints. Exactly how much of one versus the other is impossible to say, but if it was a ton of the vile stuff we would have a lot more photographs.
My best guess based on all of them together is that most of the protesters who came for the weekend were there to protest unnecessary restrictions and hand out free pizza, but a small minority of the ones who stuck around after are somewhat different and have views the weekend crowd very much would not endorse.
Trudeau also said this, which is kind of chilling to the extent it’s talking about the vaccine mandates, not as chilling to the extent it was referring to hanging Trudeau or actual overthrow of the government, depending on the true ‘list of demands.’
“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country,” Mr Trudeau has said.
Opposition to mandates being an ‘unacceptable view’ is quite the unacceptable view of its own. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. But demands to hang the prime minister do qualify, especially given the person talking is the prime minister.
Here is the Premiere of Saskatchewan expressing some of the vaccine-related ‘unacceptable views’ and pointing out that the rules don’t make any sense in terms of physical prevention of Covid.
Trudeau later felt the need to move his family to an undisclosed location due to security concerns. Jordan Peterson’s video is great to listen to simply because of the glee in his voice and is also so much better with the Canadian accent.
Eight days after arrival of the convoy in Ottawa, the police left them along for days, and now they’ve dug themselves in blocking access to downtown. As a result, there are headlines about how using the military to end the protest is ‘not in the cards right now.’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that sending in the army to end the anti-vaccine mandateand anti-governmentprotest that has paralyzed the nation’s capital for nearly a week is “not in the cards right now.”
“One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military in situations engaging Canadians,” the Liberal Party leader said during a virtual news conference. “It is not something that anyone should enter in lightly. But as of now, there have been no requests, and that is not in the cards right now.”
All of this, especially the ‘but,’ is exactly the thing you say right before sending in the military gets added to the cards. How are the headlines so consistently some form of bullshit? It’s uncanny.
When I read this quote from The Washington Post I thought it was about the vaccine mandates, and thought it sounded like not letting citizens protest decisions they disagreed with.
“Having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a nonstarter in a responsible democracy,” Trudeau said.
This sounded like it was calling the protesters rebels potentially guilty of treason, which seems like quite a bit much except insofar as they are demanding the separation of the head from the head of state. That would be a good reason to draw a distinction with other protests:
Several Conservative Party lawmakers, including former party leader Andrew Scheer, have cheered the demonstrators. When Indigenous groups blockaded railroads in support of an anti-pipeline protest in British Columbia in 2020, Scheer criticized Trudeau for caving to “radical activists” and for not pushing the police to end the “illegal” protests.
Still, even the ambiguity here is chilling.
In any case, if the statements above aren’t the thing you say right before or as the act of putting military action on the table, this definitely is:
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, under criticism for his response to the protest, said Wednesday that “there may not be a policing solution to this demonstration” and that he and other commanders were “looking at every single option, including military aid to civil power” to end it.
I love that they are citing elements ‘from the United States’ as a reason to potentially justify action against the protest. Tough but fair.
While the number of demonstrators in the city totals roughly 250 people — down considerably from the thousands who gathered over the weekend — hundreds of vehicles, including big rigs, are still blocking critical arteries in the downtown core.
Police say they expect more demonstrations this weekend. They say a “significant” element from the United States has been involved in organizing and funding them.
Several local officials have called it an “occupation.”
Earlier, the truckers were blocking off the Parliament Building and a few other blocks. Plus, in what is hilarious to us because we’re not there and don’t have to suffer through it, constant honking of all of their horns, although I believe never after 6pm.Now their numbers are reduced enough that the horn issue at worst less bad, but they’ve moved to another phase and are blocking off downtown. That’s not something that can be allowed to continue for long.
Normally, if it was already down to 250 people out of thousands (and in the original ‘estimates’ of course, tens of thousands), it would seem like one does the same thing one does with most protests and waits for everyone still involved to get tired of it and leave. Normally it doesn’t take that long. But this time, we have strong evidence that they’re physically digging in, and this isn’t some off-to-the-side zone can be written off for a while, there’s too much economic damage. Assuming my source is accurately reporting the scope of the problem, if the police can’t handle it, someone’s going to have to, and soon.
This is a strange example of Bounded Distrust. This kind of event can allow you to learn what the rules of engagement are for various players at this time by watching what they say. American sources if anything are downplaying the right-wing angle and treating Trudeau’s remarks as pure attempts to stifle legitimate descent, even if they don’t point out this is what they are doing. One comment suggests that this is because they prefer to paint the American far-right as special, which makes at least some sense.
My presumption is that this convoy will not end up having a substantial influence on Canadian policy once it is cleared out, and that it will probably get cleared out without much trouble once the government decides to do so. Pissing off and punishing people like these truckers was the whole point to begin with, so them protesting isn’t a sign that the policy isn’t working, although it is a sign it worked a little too well. The tide was already turning against restrictions, so many should be lifted soon, even if the vaccine requirements hang on for a while. And I’m confused whether this would even make those get lifted faster or slower on the margin.
There are reports that an American Trucker convoy is coming and I’ve seen pictures claiming one in Germany and elsewhere as well. I don’t expect much to come of those either, but I will be interested to see Biden’s reaction, especially in terms of rhetoric. If he echoes Trudeau’s statements, I’d expect that to become quite the thing, whether or not he is indeed facing a similar situation.
Alas, in addition to disputes about what happened factually, we know even less about the counterfactual in such situations.
This seems to have taught police a lesson. Protest is one thing, but when people are starting to fortify in massively economically disruptive ways, that’s the time to realize this won’t go away in reasonable time on its own and step in and say enough, before it gets far more dangerous to do that.
This weekend is going to see more convoys going to Toronto and Quebec City. Thankfully, both Toronto and Quebec seem to have learned a lesson from the utter failure of leadership in Ottawa and are taking steps to prevent them from digging in, so we will have to see how this goes.
Mostly I see this as creating clarity around the response to protest. Trudeau was remarkably direct and honest with his perspective. One place these events might turn out to matter is that there will always be a next time. There will be those, on various sides, who will be happy to show us the receipts from this round.
In hindsight, after way more detailed edits than I want to ever need to make on a speed premium post, it was a mistake to go this deep into the question, as regardless of which details are correct the questions being examined are a lot less about Covid-19 a lot more about a partisan political battle. I learned from doing it once, but I’m going to strive to not do it again.
Thus, I am committing to not editing or commenting further unless I discover clear and meaningful factual errors.