Anti-Vax Canadian Truckers Set Off Transborder Demagoguery

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A “Freedom Convoy” of trucks protesting vaccine mandates rolled through downtown Vancouver last Saturday, a week after downtown Ottawa was occupied. The convoy was met on the streets by counter protesters and a tart message from Mayor Kennedy Stewart: “Vancouver doesn’t want you here. Make your point and go home.”

The message from His Worship drew far-off attention from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.  Conservative media in the United States has lionized what began as a caravan to Ottawa by a minority of truckers, with mounting evidence that money to finance anti-vaccine protests is coming from south of the border. “Vancouver doesn’t want truck drivers there,” Sen. Cruz Tweeted. “Folks might feel differently with empty shelves.”

The Lower Mainland of British Columbia did briefly have supplies interrupted, but that was caused by the floods of mid-November.  Mayor Stewart had a message for the caustic Texan: “Can someone tell Ted Cruz our store shelves are fine thanks to the 90 percent of Canadian truckers who are fully vaccinated?”

Lines of honking trucks make for great TV, and they have made it impossible for Ottawa residents to sleep and shop downtown. Off-camera, the story is different.  As veteran Global TV pundit Keith Baldry noted, at most 3,500 people were protesting and counter protesting in downtown Vancouver last weekend. Meanwhile, on that Saturday, 50,000 people were vaccinated or received booster shots.

Resistance to vaccination in the Great White North is far less than in the states. As of Wednesday, 90.3 percent (4.5 million) of eligible people aged 5 and older in British Columbia have received at least one shot in the arm, and 84.8 percent have received their second dose.  The figures for eligible adults: 93.4 percent and 90.8 percent. Vaccine passports, required for indoor dining and gatherings, have been supported by “the vast majority,” British Columbia Premier John Horgan said Wednesday. The province this week extended vaccine mandates to dentists, chiropractors and other regulated professionals.

Nationally, the right-wing Peoples Party of Canada, running on an anti-vaccination platform, scored just 5 percent of the vote in last September’s Canadian federal election. Voters returned the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, albeit with a minority 160 seats in the 388-member House of Commons. The conservative premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, slowest to act on the COVID-19 pandemic, show up in polls with the country’s lowest approval ratings.

The dissident truckers have been joined in Ottawa by a variety of right-wing advocates: Confederate flags are seen as well as Trump 2024 signs.  (Trump hailed the trucker protest in a Texas speech last weekend.) Protest leaders have demanded not only removal of all vaccine mandates, but that Trudeau’s recently reelected government be replaced.

Trudeau has not called in Canada’s military to remove protesters camping out in downtown Ottawa, insisting that dealing with the now-stationary convoy is the responsibility of local and Ontario Provincial Police.  He has an historical reason to be hesitant.  The PM’s father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, evoked Canada’s War Measures Act and called out the military in 1970 when French Canadian separatists kidnapped a Quebec cabinet minister and a diplomat. That action remains controversial to this day.

Still, Trudeau has taken a tough line: The anti-vaccine protests, which have spread to two much-used border crossings, defy the Canadian motto of “peace, order and good government.” In parliament the Prime Minister declared:  “I want to make it very clear: We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless.  We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”

Tough words, but a limited number of protesters can do unlimited economic damage.  Between 50 and 75 vehicles, and 100 or so demonstrators, have blocked the busy Ambassador Bridge which leads from Windsor, Ontario, into Detroit.  The bridge carries a quarter of trade between Canada and the U.S., and the two nations are the world’s largest trading partners.

“It is already having a huge impact on Canadian industry and Canadian workers: We’ve seen the criminal acts of thuggery and the obnoxiousness that they inflicted on the people of Ontario. Now they’re blocking our ports of entry,” cabinet minister Bill Blair said Wednesday.  (Blair is a former Toronto chief of police.) A similar blockade, at Coutts, Alberta, has resulted in hours-long delays at a border crossing that carries agricultural exports between the two countries.

“Illegal occupation and blockade happening in Ontario must stop,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a Conservative, declared Wednesday. But how? Auto industry groups and the city of Windsor are seeking a court injunction. It seems, however, that only intervention by the Ontario Provincial Police will lift the bridge blockade. Friday, an Ontario judge ruled that protestors at the international crossing could be forcibly removed.

Conservative media and politicians in the United States have been wetting themselves over north-of-the-border protests.  It’s almost reminiscent of the New Left in the 1960s, taking pleasure at disruptive protest even with no clear end and objective.  Saskatchewan and Alberta are set to remove mandatory mask mandates, but vaccination is supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians.

The trucker protesters are “heroes” and “patriots” who are “marching for your freedom and for my freedom,” Sen. Cruz declared on Fox News. Tucker Carlson has pronounced that there is “no more fearful despot in the world than Justin Trudeau.” Fox viewers have not been treated to such scenes as protesters dancing atop Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or protesters carrying tire irons at the Alberta border blockade.

Ex-President Trump has weighed in again, decrying Trudeau as a “far left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.” Once more seeming to encourage disruption, Trump in a statement invited Canadian and American truckers to Washington, D.C., to protest “Biden’s ridiculous COVID policies.” (Canadian truckers entering the United States must be vaccinated, by the way.) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas AG Ken Paxton have announced they will investigate GoFundMe for cutting off donations to the Ottawa protest.

A basic truth remains: The Canadian protest lacks public support.  A higher percentage of Canadians have been vaccinated than those south of the 49th Parallel.  Architects of COVID-19 response, such as B.C.’s Premier Horgan and provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, continue to get positive marks in opinion surveys.

The disruptions demonstrate an age-old truism. The empty drum bangs loudest. Still, transboundary demagoguery is in the air.  “Justin Trudeau does not like truck drivers: He thinks they’re revolting,” Tucker Carlson charged with no supporting evidence. The fact is, as a young man, Trudeau worked as a tavern bouncer and river guide, and as an adult MP decked a beefy Conservative counterpart at a charity boxing match. He takes on all comers when the House of Commons holds Question Period.

The betting here is that if Tucker Carlson ever found himself in the ring with Justin Trudeau, jousting verbally or with boxing gloves, Trudeau would send him down for the count.

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Arrest and jail; five years each is a good start. Do not brook with this kind of behavior. Their freedoms only go to the end of their noses. Beyond that point they infringe on everyone else. Tom Friedman put it well- everyone has “rights” and no one has responsibilities! Time for this to STOP 🛑

  2. It is stunning to me that the Left, broadly, has found itself on the opposite side of the biggest worker uprising in North America in my lifetime.

    Some are erroneously casting this as an anti-vaccination protest. It’s not — about 90% of truckers are vaccinated.

    Support the truckers’ position or not; support their tactics or not. It’s a 2×2 grid. Put me down as supporting their position (end mandates), but not the shutdown tactics. Support the truckers’ position or not; support their tactics or not. It’s a 2×2 grid. Put me down as supporting their position (end mandates), but not the shutdown tactics. I felt the same way about highway shutdowns here in Seattle, which we’ve no doubt not seen the end of. Will those who justify the highway shutdowns here be consistent?

    “The science” as we like to say, as though it’s singular, is now very much in line with the idea that mandates might not have ethical justification. What’s that? Well, there is more and more evidence that vaccination neither durably nor significantly reduces transmission. Vaccination IS a good idea for the vast majority of us, but it’s more about self-care; the idea that vaccination would stop the spread is now incorrect at this point. Multiple credible large-scale studies and empirical observations of highly-vaxxed nations have now shown this. Thus, the moral basis for mandates is really gone. It’s about advisable self-care.

    I think the prime minister is handling this poorly. And it should remind us that mandates do have major (major!) downstream costs — they’re not free. A lot of technocrats think “What’s the big deal? Just get vaxxed.” But people like liberty; it’s at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. That governmental leaders didn’t think much about the cost of mandates is evident. There are some people for whom being ordered to inject something (or pay a penalty in their livelihood) crosses a line.

    Why are the truckers doing this? This excellent essay is worth a read. It’s about far more than the mandates: https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/what-the-truckers-want

    The protest is also about the forces arrayed against the salt of the earth that keeps our economy running. Have you applauded Big Tech censorship and deplatforming of narratives that go against the Blue Stack? You’re part of what they’re protesting. There is a Blue Stack that elites control and the red/purple has noticed. What’s the Blue Stack? Read this excellent piece:

    https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/blue-stack-strikes-back

    The Red Stack is everywhere in society, and it brings our grocery store things. It fixes our plumbing and raises the beef we eat. Stop being awful to them, lying about them and denigrating them just to score political points. Maybe listen to them without looking for the isolated MAGA or QAnon links so you can toss their views out with the basket of depolorables? Maybe allow their voices and perspective to be heard and respected and responded to in Blue media?

    Or, we could just continue to cleave our society. How’s that working?

  3. Steve: What you celebrate as a “workers’ protest is, in Ottawa, a gathering of Canada’s political far right, marginalized in September’s election, with financing from south of the border.
    It is a small “c” and capital “C” Conservative premier in Ontario, Doug Ford, who is moving under a court decision to dismantle the Ambassador Bridge blockade, in which a small number of people have had a big impact.
    During early summer of 2020, returning from Whidbey, signs on I-5 would warn of demonstrators on the roadway. I would exit at Montlake and drive to Seattle digs via Lake Washington Boulevard.
    The blockades at Windsor and Coutts haven’t just forced detours by returning islanders. They have disrupted auto manufacturing in both countries, idled assembly lines, and interrupted beef exports. “Workers protests” have disrupted workers, the vast majority of them vaccinated. As the right has ceaselessly lectured in this country, disruptions have consequences. Trudeau is being condemned for pointing this out.

    • No doubt if they were all far-right, that’d make it easier. But what’s the evidence a plurality feel that way? The “What the Truckers Want” essay does a nice job profiling them, after the journalist literally talked to over 100 of them.

      And Jonathan Kay, Canadian Op-Ed writer who has over 60,000 followers on Twitter, has been asking for more than a week for photos/examples of far-right extremism among the truckers, and there seems to be a paucity of evidence for that so far, other than perhaps one or two examples among many thousands gathered:

      https://twitter.com/jonkay/status/1491130868253233152?s=20&t=q_MRT7Cej_eBJc2EgvCqHw

      I agree the blockades are highly disruptive. Like the May Day, WTO and BLM protests here, I don’t condone shutting highways down. I agree with the message that we should end the mandates and move toward informed choice, but I do not agree with their tactics.

      We should ask though where the permission structure came from to shut down highways in the first place. We tolerate it. We’ve condoned it as a means of peaceful protest; one only need go to AOC’s Twitter feed to see her justifying any form of protest, including far more violent ones, and sometimes necessary.

      Trudeau has decided to go down the path of maligning those who want the mandates to end, without evidence. That was a huge mistake. “They don’t believe in science. They’re often misogynistic, often racist. But they take up space… Do we tolerate these people?” He talked about them “holding unacceptable views.”

      Bill Maher:

  4. The Time Machine, a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, was published in 1895

    The Eloi class in The Time Machine, as differentiated from the Morlock class, was supposedly more evolutionarily advanced.

    Fast-forward to 2022, disparate classes (groups of people) are ‘otherizing’ one another relentlessly. One side insisting that ‘you must accept (believe) the narrative’ and the other side becoming increasingly skeptical and resistant.

    • Agree completely. The “othering” and cleavage of society into Blue Stack and Red Stack is absolutely what’s at the heart of this. The mandate to “get vaccinated or lose one’s livelihood” is just one straw on the camel, but for many of these truckers and under-appreciated essential workers, the bigger picture is the feeling of being isolated and denigrated and bossed around and lied-about and de-platformed by a group of elites. Those of us in the Zoom class have over-used credentialism and authority, and need to admit that we’ve been wrong about a lot of interventions. That will do far more than a thousand tow trucks on the bridge.

      As Zaid Jilani writes:

      “The blue stack presents America’s elite with something they’ve always craved but has been out of reach in a liberal democracy: the power to swiftly crush ideological opponents by silencing them and destroying their livelihoods. Typically, American cultural, business, and communication systems have been too decentralized and too diffuse to allow one ideological faction to express power in that way. American elites, unlike their Chinese counterparts, have never had the ability to imprison people for wrong-think or derank undesirables in a social credit system.

      But the alliance between the media, progressive activists, certain government officials and bureaucrats, technology firms, and other powerful institutions like business and banking now allows them to shape events through what Tablet’s Wesley Yang has called the vertical messaging apparatus. When a politically inconvenient story appears at an inopportune time—one about, say, the corruption of the Democratic presidential candidate’s son—the blue stack takes unified action to quickly suppress it.”

      The red stack has noticed, and this protest is but one manifestation of it.

  5. If the National Post guy has missed extremism in Freedom Convoy, he ought to talk with Global TV, CBC and Toronto Star reporters who have faced physical intimidation. Or watch films of Canadian flags desecrated with swastikas. Or desecration of Terry Fox statue on Parliament Hill.
    Nor is smokescreen about “elites” convincing. Teamsters Union’s outgoing President James R. Hoffa was heard from earlier today.
    Mr. H said Ambassador Bridge blockade has kept union workers off shift at auto plants.
    The blockade has obstructed Union truck drivers trying to carry cargoes between the world’s two greatest trading partners, on the busiest border crossing.
    The left leaning New Democratic Party, a major voice of labor unions in Canada, has fiercely criticized PM Trudeau for not acting more decisively against the occupations in Ottawa and Windsor.
    The Freedom Convoy protests mirror excesses of far left, and its self-indulgence. Both seem to draw fellow travelers.

  6. A question, Joel: Have you been to Ottawa? Walked around there, on the ground, in person? Talked to protestors there? Talked to anyone there?

    Or is this just your take on things after watching your favorite TV news shows?

  7. Peter: We only get CBC-TV here in Seattle. It would be irresponsible to rely on one source, and CBC has been excluded from protesters’ briefings.
    I did my masters degree on Canadian government, and began covering Canada for Seattle Post Intelligencer in the 1970’s. The years of experience have given me a wealth of contacts, including folks based in Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto.
    Have read their dispatches, used new media to contact them, received government statements, party statements, watched House of Commons question period, and of course Fox News programs (the demonstrators love Fox).
    Ottawa is damned cold this time of year, and I’m cooped up by health issue. Still can access many news sources and persons, and hope again someday for spring walk down Rideau Canal in Ottawa. And dine with friends in restaurants forced to close by the protests.

    • Your ability as an opinion writer (yours) is unparalleled. Your argument though, is right out of the 1960’s extolling protests as antigovernment and in need of investigation by J.Edgar. At that time, closing the freeway was honorable as a lot of us didn’t want to do what our government mandated, and let it be known.

    • As I suspected, you are merely commenting from afar. I too went to Ottawa decades ago, but unlike you I do not claim that gives me any special insights.

      I hear that the protests are spreading to the border here just east of Blaine. I suppose I could suggest that you go talk to people there, but I doubt you would. Much easier to denounce people when you never have to look at them directly. And they are all just a basket of deplorables to you.

  8. Pawns. Is it “othering” the truck drivers to observe that someone’s taking advantage of their lack of critical thinking? The Ted Cruz’s of the world care about you, boys, about as much as Vlad the Impaler cared about his subjects.

    I don’t mean to propose that the people in charge in Ottawa and Washington DC are selfless martyrs to the welfare of humanity, but they have a motive to fix things. Cruz et al. have a motive to break them, and they’ve been doing their damndest. Now they have enlisted big boys in big trucks. What next?

    Arguments over what we get, in terms of public health, out of vaccination, are really somewhat beside the point. A dedicated person can usually find some published research to support any view, and I don’t find that compelling, but our public health agencies had fairly sound reasons to believe that thorough vaccination was the way out, and it would have been derelict for them not to have acted on that. The people who support resistance against that are in the main selling their country out for political purposes, and it’s ironic that they seem to find their most willing pawns among people who I suppose pride themselves on their patriotism.

    • I’m not particularly swayed by the rhetorical “let’s look at who your position is associated with” forms of argumentation. They are usually a means to avoid discussing/debating the central issue itself. Hitler loved dogs, after all — it doesn’t mean that dog-lovers must therefore defend any of his panoply of atrocious ideas.

      Putting aside the tactics of highway shutdowns, which I neither support here nor do for other causes, the two sides of this immediate controversy are those who (a) support vaccination mandates and (b) those who do not.

      Many of us who oppose vax mandates do in fact support vaccination, and are fully vaccinated and boosted ourselves. A good 80-90% of truckers are in fact vaccinated, including the majority of those truckers in Canada. So what really separates our viewpoints is what penalties we believe society should impose if people choose not to get vaccinated, or who cannot, for whatever (rare) reason. Now, I happen to personally know a 20yo, close to my family, who has been explicitly advised by her physician not to get any more vaccination after her first, because she had one of the extremely rare myocarditis reactions and was hospitalized in the ER at 3AM, and stayed there for two days. She was very happy to get vaccinated beforehand, but has been explicitly advised not to get a second shot. These are very rare cases, but they do exist. Should she too be shut out of society? What penalties and liberties should society take from her?

      Months ago, I could see the moral argument for vaccine mandates, when we were all hoping it’d reduce transmission greatly. But the moment it became empirically clear, through multiple large-scale studies, that vaccination neither durably nor significantly reduces transmission to others was the moment that the ethical foundation for imposing penalties on those who choose not to get vaccinated collapsed. Here’s one good review from Nature — we’ve known this since October, and multiple studies have now corroborated these findings:

      https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02689-y

      Israel, one of the highest-vaxxed nations in the world, now on its fourth shot, went through a massive Omicron wave, just like we did.

      If vaccination neither significantly nor durably reduces transmission, what’s the moral argument for forcing people to inject and penalty of liberties or the livelihood? Isn’t it rather a matter of sensible personal care, worthy of ad campaigns and informed consent? Do we wish to hand this power over the federal government? Would you like a President Ron De Santis or AOC or whomever to have the power to take away liberties if you choose not to inject the next pharma product? As for me, I no more want the federal government to be empowered to force us to get vaccinated as I want it to force us to work out at the gym or have a sensible BMI. I am sympathetic to those who advocate for liberty — “my body, my choice” applies to more than one scenario, in my view, especially now that we know that it really doesn’t greatly reduce transmission to others.

      Do not misinterpret any of this as anti-vax. I support vaccination, and in the vast majority of cases it is the absolute right thing to do. The data is very clear that it reduces the most severe outcomes. Please consider it. But informed consent is the way to go.

      • Part of the problem is that the well from which we might dip out some sensible personal care and informed consent, has been poisoned. Good sense generally isn’t a factor in the decision not to get vaccinated. I think this is part of the reality behind the “freedom” nonsense – if we as a society had some way to pretend we respected their reasons but just couldn’t practically accommodate them, their “freedoms” would be no issue, but of course we don’t respect them, and they can’t miss it.

        Didn’t read your Nature article – I have a very low opinion of the “do your own research” thing. The CDC’s web site says “Vaccinated people can still become infected and have the potential to spread the virus to others, although at much lower rates than unvaccinated people”, and to me that’s where we look before making public policy. If you think it’s time to change policy, talk to the CDC.

        • Note that the CDC statement does not mention timeframe at all. It turns out, the dropoff is quite significant — by 12-15 weeks, those who are vaccinated and those who are not seem to be roughly as contagious.

          And maybe I’m a little too jaded, but the CDC hasn’t had the most glowing track-record of being unimpacted by political influence. Emails show, for instance that their guidance on school reopenings were significantly influenced by teachers unions, in some cases using these statements word for word. I wasn’t aware that AFT and NEA were scientific bodies.

          Note that in the very statement you provide, the CDC does not indicate how durable that reduction is. It turns out, not more than a few weeks — after 12 weeks, those who are vaccinated about roughly as contagious as those who have not been — and that was with the significantly less infectious alpha an delta strains (See NEJM study below for specifics; look at the charts.)

          Empirically, this conclusion matches up — it explains why we are able to observe high-vaxxed nations like Israel still have massive Omicron waves. Conversely, if vaccination DID durably stop transmission, high-vaxxed nations would not have these waves.

          Yes, the CDC is largely correct, and their guidance should get some deference in policymaking, but they have really taken way too long to update their guidance, and have been far too prone to political influence. For example: for many months they recommended 6 ft distancing in classrooms. Multiple studies showed that there was no empirical difference with 3 ft. It took months for them to ingest that into their recommendations. Or surface transmission. Or plexiglass. Or aerosol transmission. Or the efficacy of cloth masks. The CDC has been incorrect about all of this. European agencies have been quite a bit more transparent, and often quicker to update their guidance.

          These two articles are worth a read. New England Journal of Medicine and Nature. I know you may not wish to click through, but I imagine others will.

          Both are large-scale, and credible. Both show that the effect of vaccination on transmission is neither significant nor durable. In particular, look at the charts in the NEJM study.

          https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2116597

          https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02689-y

          So, putting aside whether one should follow either the UK, Swedish, Norwegian or the US health agency guidance (which are widely different on this matter), it at least behooves us to ask the question — if vaccination does not durably reduce transmission, what is the moral basis for stripping livelihood and opportunities from those who choose (for whatever reason) not to get vaccinated?

          • You’re not getting it. We aren’t putting aside whether we should follow the US health agency – we CAN’T put that aside. We need to base policy on science as provided by our science authorities, and that’s them. It doesn’t behoove us to ask questions that are irrelevant in the light of that reality.

  9. Peter: I suppose Sen. Cruz and Fox News hosts are not “commenting from afar.” In attacking me, you are throwing smoke screen over points made and borne out.
    1) The protest never had widespread support among Canadians; 2) it has lost that support with counter protests, demands from Conservative Party for immediate end to protest; 3) the “truckers” protest demanded replacement of a recently, democratically elected government; 4) money was coming from U.S. 5) jobs of auto workers on both sides of border were jeopardized by Ambassador Bridge occupation.
    I’ve tracked all these developments by email, phone, zoom calls, watching parliamentary debates, conservative media (National Post) liberal media (The Star). A much better perspective than just quote mining from protesters. And that might have been unproductive given how media outlets were being treated.
    I would confess toward being predisposed toward elected governments, Union workers, non-Astroturf protests, and public health measures taken for the community’s good.

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