by Rupa Subramanya
For two weeks, the 18-wheelers, the semis, the tractors and the
pick-up trucks streamed through the snow and ice into the center of
Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
They came from across the country.
Vaxxed, unvaxxed, white, black, Chinese, Sikh, Indian, alone or with
their wives and kids. They huddled around campfires. They set up pop-up
kitchens and tents with block captains doling out coffee and blankets.
They honked (and honked and honked). They blasted “We Are the World.”
And everywhere you looked, someone was waving the Maple Leaf.
It dipped to 4 degrees. The mayor declared a state of emergency. And they didn’t budge.
truckers were scared of running out of gas—freezing to death in their
little truck beds in the middle of the night. The city threatened to arrest anyone who brought it to them. In response, hundreds of Ottawans did just that. The truckers stayed put.
They are a city inside a city whose inhabitants—there are an
estimated 8,000 to 10,000—were outraged with a country that seemed to
have forgotten they existed. This past Sunday, as if to confirm that
suspicion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has yet to meet with
Freedom Convoy leaders, took a personal day. On Monday, during an
emergency debate at the House of Commons, he called them “a few people
shouting and waving swastikas.”
I live in downtown Ottawa,
within view of Parliament Hill, and have spent the past 10 days or so
bundled up and walking around the protests. I have spoken to close to
100 protesters, truckers and other folks, and not one of them sounded
like an insurrectionist, white supremacist, racist or misogynist.
They sound like Ivan, 46, who emigrated, with his wife, Tatiana, from
Ukraine to build a new life in New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. "We
came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under
communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom.” (Like so
many truckers, Ivan refused to share his last name.)
Dichter, a spokesman for the Freedom Convoy, is vaccinated, and he
estimates that many—maybe most—of the truckers at the protest are, too.
“I’m Jewish. I have family in mass graves in Europe. And apparently I’m a
white supremacist,” he told me on Wednesday.
Ostensibly, the truckers are against a new rule mandating that, when
they re-enter Canada from the United States, they have to be vaccinated.
But that’s not really it. The mandate is a moot point: The Americans
have a similar requirement, and, anyway, “the vast majority
of Canadian truckers, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, are
vaccinated. (The CTA represents about 4,500 truckers nationwide.)
it’s about something else. Or many things: a sense that things will
never go back to normal, a sense that they are being ganged up on by the
government, the media, Big Tech, Big Pharma.
One thing was indisputable: There
was this electricity coursing through the streets, and it felt like it could
get out of control. It didn’t help when a handful of protesters sported swastikas and Confederate flags. Or when GoFundMe
shut down the convoy’s fundraiser, announcing
that donors had two weeks to reclaim their money before it was sent to
“established charities” chosen by Freedom Convoy organizers. Or when the cops
started arresting locals, including the elderly.
It is hard to capture how thoroughly
Trudeau has misjudged the moment. “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,”
he said Monday. As for the protest? “It has to stop,” declared the prime
If he sauntered down to the mess of
rigs on Wellington Street, across from the Parliament building, opposite the
mall and the war memorial, if he talked to these people for a few minutes, he
would understand: It will not stop.
What’s happening in Canada right now
is bigger than the mandates.
The convoy is spearheaded by truckers, but its message of opposition to
life under government control has brought onto the icy streets
countless, once-voiceless people declaring that they are done being
ignored. That the elites—the people who have Zoomed their way through
the pandemic—had better start paying attention
to the fentanyl overdoses, the suicides, the crime, the despair. Or else.