If you type ‘protest against everything’ into your browser, your results will be filled with links to Occupy.
It’s been a decade since Occupy launched as a lefty protest against Wall Street. It quickly became a progressive uproar against all corporate control.
The recent trucker crusade to Ottawa seemed eerily comparable. Only this time it was a right-wing outcry against everything that annoys them.
The crusaders were a motley crew. Organizers included a right-wing nationalist threatening to blockade MP’s homes. A QAnon follower who thinks PM Trudeau should be tried for treason. A BC-based political activist running a sketchy GoFundMe Campaign. Protestors included anti-vaxxers, folks waving nazi flags, and wanna-be rioters who insist they will blockade the capital until Trudeau is removed from office, and all vaccine mandates are withdrawn.
This whole protest started as a trucker convoy against new federal regulations requiring truckers coming into Canada to be fully vaccinated or face PCR testing and quarantine requirements. But it quickly expanded. Many were there to protest against masks, business limits, and any sort of COVID restrictions. Many crusaders chanted and carried signs against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, multiculturalism, and anything else that pissed them off.
Perhaps the Ottawa crusaders were inspired by the recent anniversary of the insurrection down south. Some protestors—too many—called for overthrowing the government, hoping for a True-North version of the Washington DC riot. They chanted similar slogans about ‘freedom’ and taking back the government.
After two years of COVID, people are frustrated. So what began as an overzealous uproar against the closing of a long-overdue loophole turned into a right-wing protest against science, government oversight, and any collective responsibility for each other.
Like Occupy, the Ottawa protestors advocated for no clear policy changes. They had no manifesto. Despite repeated references to the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even the crusade’s spokespeople seemed confused about the different powers of federal versus provincial governments.
But like Occupy, people are pissed. And they want someone to blame.
As with January 6th, extremist groups are using the uproar as a recruitment tool. The Facebook page of one of the more extremist organizers now has over 200,000 followers.
And just as Republicans have cozied up to the rioters in the US, Canadian conservative politicians supported the convoy even though Pat King, one of its lead organizers, has been quoted promising “the only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets.”
Normally, a threat of political violence like that would send politicians running.
But times, they are a-changing. And not for the better.
When Occupy was generating headlines, few progressive politicians embraced them wholeheartedly. Fewer still showed up to be photographed at the camps.
In contrast, many conservative politicians cozied up to the convoy and the protests.
- When the convoy rolled through Saskatchewan, Conservative MP Jeremy Patzer (Cypress Hills-Grasslands) was there to shake King’s hand and snap a photo.
- On Twitter, Glen Motz, the Conservative MP (Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner) seems to be encouraging the illegal blockade of critical infrastructure.
- Randy Hillier, the Ontario MPP (Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston) must have missed the chaos from January 6th because he called for the Parliament Building to be opened up for protestors.
- Even Donald Trump chimed in with support.
As usual, the now-ousted Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole tried to have his cake and eat it too. He met with convoy leaders, but then tried to distance himself from them.
Other Conservative MPs had no such qualms.
MPs Lianne Rood (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex) and Michael Cooper (St. Albert-Edmonton) showed up to stand with the protesters. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Carleton), the frontrunner to be the next leader to replace O’Toole, stood on a highway overpass to film a promotional video with the convoy rolled into town behind him. Poilievre later tweeted, “Bright, joyful & peaceful Canadians championing freedom over fear on Parliament Hill.”
While there are lots of similarities, there are a few big differences from Occupy.
First, angry truckers in massive trucks convoying across Canada’s highways certainly deliver better visuals than some grad students carpooling to a DIY urban campsite. Islanders are familiar with trucker protests from back in 1994 when 15,000 angry forestry workers in 300 trucks and buses gathered on the legislature lawn in Victoria to protest against the CORE land use planning process.
Second, while Occupy seemed like an informal meetup of hippies and policy wonks, the Ottawa crusaders were their mirror opposites.
Third, unlike Occupy, the recent ‘protestors against everything’ wrapped themselves in flags. The symbolic use of the Canadian flag, singing of “O Canada,” and Freedom-filled language was good theatre.
That said, the frequency of Confederate flags, Nazi symbols-slogans and other white supremacist symbols and chants probably undermined some of the sentimental power. So did the desecration of Canadian historical monuments like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the National War Memorial and the Terry Fox statue.
Urinating on a memorial to dead soldiers isn’t a good look. Neither is harassing the staff at an Ottawa soup kitchen and homeless shelter. It’s just mean and un-Canadian.
Finally, the trucker’s convoy has WAY MORE MONEY than Occupy ever had. One GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $9 million. Folks with libertarian tendencies either have way more disposable cash than those protesting capitalism, or they’re just more generous.
While the recent Ottawa crusade is unlikely to produce any real change, it is still very dangerous.
It adds fuel to an already unhealthy polarization in Canadian politics. And the inevitable lack of impact on policy is likely to further piss off those that are already spitting mad.
Further inflamed by extremist elements deeply entrenched in the Canadian online community this could quickly become a recipe for radicalization and violence.
We’ve already seen radicalized extremists resort to violence in Canada against politicians and marginalized people they hate. Hopefully, these Ottawa protests don’t hatch a bunch more.