What does the trucker convoy hope to accomplish?
As the convoy of truckers and their supporters descends on Ottawa for what’s set to be a weekend of protests and potentially prolonged gridlock, what is the group looking to accomplish?
Initially fundraisers said that truckers were planning to drive to Parliament Hill to protest against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate introduced Jan. 15 by Canada on cross-border truckers. As the convoy picked up steam, it has expanded to become a much broader vehicle for people to express their outrage at the federal government and pandemic restrictions that they feel curb their freedoms.
The “freedom convoy” and its organizers have expressed that their intention this weekend is to take their fight “to the doorsteps of our federal government” and demand it ends “all” mandates against Canadians and “respect the rights of those who wish to remain unvaccinated.”
In a statement posted to the convoy’s Facebook page, organizers said that they think the federal government has “crossed a line” when it comes to implementing COVID-19 vaccine passports and mandates. They want to see all “obligatory vaccine” programs terminated.
However, public health orders and proof of vaccination systems are largely provincial jurisdiction.
A group called “Canada Unity” is also backing the convoy and helping to organize support among people who are opposed to “unconstitutional” COVID-19 rules. It has a “memorandum of understanding” on its website calling for the Senate and Governor General to join them to order the revocation of COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
However, the document could not be used to leverage the unilateral revocation of pandemic policies and override federal or provincial lawmakers, despite the group’s belief.
Most federal politicians and their staff are already being warned to avoid the parliamentary precinct while the convoy is in town because of the security risk. As well, neither House of Commons nor Senate will be in session as the winter sittings have not yet begun.
Other supporters of the convoy and what police have suggested may be separate groups have indicated their intent to come to the city with more sinister ideas. Organizers have been calling for peaceful protests, but there have been multiple suggestions the situation could escalate, which police say they are preparing for.
For example, some people claiming to be affiliated with the convoy have discussed online overthrowing the government and going after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other MPs. One person said that “the only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets,” and it has been suggested that the event on the Hill could turn into Canada’s version of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Convoy organizers have decried the attention to these threats, saying they are being made by some extremists, and have said any indications that they are “‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are categorically false and an attempt to smear this movement.”
They say the event is meant to show support for the truckers who have spent the entire pandemic as essential workers delivering food and supplies, though as one trucking industry head has said, “it’s kind of ballooned.”
“Some people not even involved with the trucking industry have grabbed on and kind of become organizers, and changed the message,” said Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, in an interview on CTV News Channel.
“There's a lot of men and women out there who have worked hard throughout this entire pandemic… including some that will be in this convoy. But we're losing our message here if we're associated with this kind of language, and it's tarnishing the image of the entire industry,” he said.
There have been suggestions that convoy participants will stay in the capital beyond this weekend, to continue putting pressure on the government to meet their demands.
Multiple police forces are involved in planning for and responding to the protest, and Ottawa police have warned there will be consequences for “persons engaging in criminal conduct, violence and/or activities promoting hate.”