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.
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.
So 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 minister.
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.