In the past few months truckers looking to cross the border between Canada and the United States have faced strict vaccine mandates enacted by both the American and Canadian governments in the name of public health. While these mandates have been in place since the start of the pandemic and the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, thousands of truckers have taken to the streets in protest.
In January, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Ottawa to protest against the Canadian government, demanding that Prime Minister Trudeau repeal the vaccination requirement for those returning from travel within the United States.
Since the protests’ start in January, the protests have grown beyond general grievances with travel restrictions. Protesters have dubbed themselves the “Freedom Convoy,” and have begun criticizing the Trudeau administration for all vaccination requirements, such as those in public spaces like restaurants and gyms. Now, the movement is the “freedom” to choose whether or not to be vaccinated.
In addition to their demands against vaccination requirements, protestors are also pushing other political interests. Several symbols of the alt-right, as well as blatant symbols of Nazism, have been touted by the protesters.
Currently, there is mounting concern over the global spread of far-right ideologies. In the United States, white supremacist groups are on the rise. Meanwhile in Europe, the National Socialist Underground (a neo-Nazi organization) is gaining traction through assassinations in Germany and other outbreaks of violence across the continent. These causes have also attached themselves to contemporary struggles amid the pandemic. In the case of the “Freedom Convoy,” far-right ideology is rearing its ugly head through these disruptive demonstrations.
As the protests escalate, growing unrest has found some protesters calling for an attack on the Canadian Parliament, harkening back to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection attack on the U.S. Capital. As a result of these threats, Trudeau and his family were escorted from their official residence in Ottawa on January 29th to a safe house.
In early February, after over two weeks of demonstrations, Trudeau made the significant and unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, which allows the Canadian government to temporarily suspend the people’s right to assembly and protest.
While the act also allows for military use, Trudeau assures Canadians that he believes that will not be necessary in this instance. The Canadian government also used this act to financially restrict the protestors by freezing GoFundMe donations and tackling cryptocurrency transactions. For some Canadians, this move is welcomed, and reflects similar actions taken by other governments in the past few months.
But the “Freedom Convoy” has spread beyond Canada, and has even spread to other continents. A wave of copycat convoys have been introduced across Europe, with European governments responding similarly to the Trudeau administration. In France, protesters are facing strong opposition from the government in the form of strict policing, tear gas and other dispersal tactics. But undeterred, French protesters now plan to march on to Brussels, seemingly gaining more steam and support wherever they go.
The reinvigoration of the alt-right from the Ottawa trucker’s dispute has disappointed many of Canadian truckers who advocate in favor of better labor conditions. Truckers have reported that not only have these protests caused massive delays for their deliveries, contributing to the already worsened supply chain crisis, but they have also harmed their reputation and work. Many truckers claim that those protesting are not a majority, and that the longer routes that they must take due to blockades have seriously impacted their working conditions.
But the battle cry of the convoys is loud and has become about more than vaccinations or freedom. Now, these groups are vocal about criticizing the very existence of the current system. As reported by The Washington Post, the goal of many in these protests is “to cast doubt on democracy itself.”
With hundreds of thousands of people beginning to organize via social media, and many still taking to the streets, this remains a delicate situation for democratic governments. Often, the content of these protests has devolved into hateful and dangerous speech, with some groups even leaning into terrorism . But the response of many governments — such as stripping citizens of their right to assembly, as well as attacking them with tear gas — calls into question where the attacks on democracy are coming from, and if both sides are coming away with blame.
Now, the question on every official’s mind, as the protests surge towards Washington, D.C., Brussels, and other major cities, is how many democratic practices must be sacrificed to preserve democracy itself? By forcefully shutting down protests, are democratic governments only supporting the notion that democracy is an inefficient system? Or must they be shut down in order to protect society from the intolerance and hatred being spread?
With the demonstrations now stretching into a months-long protest and reaching Sacramento, democratic governments around the world are grappling with this paradox as the protests continue to march on.