In the last month, we have witnessed the “Freedom Convoy” take over the streets of Canada. Trucks, pedestrians, and protestors have occupied the streets around Parliament Hill in Ottawa for weeks. Downtown Toronto and around the Manitoba Legislature came to a halt two weekends in a row. While the Convoy claims to be fighting against vaccine mandates and Covid restrictions, we know the organizers are engaging in something far more insidious. Across the country, CPTers have taken part in counter-protests and community street patrols to ensure the right-wing protesters or the police do not harass community members. CPT-Turtle Island Solidarity Network has recognized the Convoy’s organizers from previous protests against alt-right groups such as the Yellow Vesters.
Countless news articles have shown the Convoy’s connections to white supremacist and alt-right groups. Instead of repeating what has already been written, we want to share a few cautions for moving forward within this current political climate and outline ways we can counter the violence set before us by both the Convoy and the state.
1) The alt-right has grown; what will they do next?
While the Convoy calls for the removal of Covid restrictions and mandates, the key organizers have roots in white supremacist groups. Thousands of people have expressed support for the Convoy. CPT staff have engaged in conversations with friends who have posted public support for the Convoy, the same people who have previously liked and supported CPT’s Indigenous solidarity work. Of course, not all supporters are overt white supremacists, but white supremacists have been able to find welcome, home, and leadership within the Convoy.
When the Convoy descended onto Ottawa, Covid restrictions were already starting to ease—as would be expected two years into a pandemic. In addition, it was becoming apparent that vaccine mandates would soon be lifted as well since 85% of Canadians are partially vaccinated and vaccines have not proven to stop the spread of Omicron (but it does reduce hospitalizations and death to which we are incredibly grateful!). Throughout the pandemic, right-wing politicians and the alt-right have used public anger against Covid restrictions to build their base. This base will continue to follow them even when the government lifts all restrictions. The Convoy seized their moment just as things were about to open to lead their expanded base into the streets.
Now that restrictions and mandates have nearly disappeared, what will be their next rally cry? They have drawn in many new supporters due to the broad call for “freedom” and have extended the reach of their audience. We know about the racist and Islamophobic view of some of the Convoy leaders, therefore we need to be aware of what messages are being disseminated into the masses of those within the Convoy. Now that the base has grown and restrictions are being lifted, we need to be alert for their next target.
2) Policing is not the solution!
It is essential to highlight the colonial double standard of the policing system. CPTers have seen firsthand the camaraderie on the streets as police fist-bumped protesters. These are the same police who beat encampment residents and their supporters this summer in Toronto. After a day of protests and counter-protests in Winnipeg, two counter-protesters were arrested. Alarmingly, but maybe not surprisingly, the first arrests of the Convoy protests were two Indigenous counter-protesters. In November on Wet’suwet’en Territory, police used assault rifles, dogs, and chainsaws to violently arrest Sleydo’ and 33 other Land Defenders and supporters, a stark contrast to the photo ops and hugs police offered the Convoy.
We know the police have a double standard towards folks from the BIPOC community – police in Canada were created by design to uphold settler colonialism and white supremacy. Calling for police intervention and the arrest of members in the Convoy will not lead us to the abolitionist future we want. In addition, we know if we call for intervention, they will disproportionately target People of Colour. We will not police our way out of violence. We need to remain committed to defunding the police. If anything, the police response to the Convoy has reaffirmed the notion that grassroots networks keep our communities safe. It is our responsibility to build the abolitionist future we want. We need to engage in counter-protests and street patrols to ensure the Convoy knows they are not welcome and to safeguard our communities from the increased police presence.
3) We should all be mortified by Emergency State Powers
On 11 February 2022, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a State of Emergency in response to the Convoy. The state of emergency allows the government to prosecute anyone participating in a blockade with a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison for non-compliance. While Ford himself says these laws are currently temporary, he is exploring ways to make them permanent.
On 14 February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergency Act for the first time in history—giving more power to police. Banks are encouraged to freeze the accounts of individuals and organizations who fund “illegal protests” and blockades. People who suspect individuals or groups of supporting either of the two are encouraged to snitch on them to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
For the last two years, everyone has been consumed by crisis management. Many of us have become immune to governments declaring states of emergency. Under Covid measures, government members have encouraged people to shame and snitch on their neighbours who are breaking Covid protocols, literally promoting mistrust and the breakdown of healthy conversation and accountability.
It would undoubtedly have seemed outrageous for the Canadian government to enact such emergency orders three years ago. Yet, after two years of unprecedented crisis, it is not surprising that our capacity for alarm and critical thinking has been exhausted. As provinces and the federal government issue declarations and enact emergency legislation, it is easy to “roll with it.” After all, how many states of emergencies have we gone through during these two years? However, we need to be alarmed. No matter your opinion on the Convoy, these powers will make it easier to target and harm anti-capitalist and decolonial movements.
While the government currently uses these emergency protocols against the Convoy, we know that they will use them against Indigenous Land Defenders and anti-poverty organizers at some point. Combine this with the double standards of policing; its enforcement could be sweeping and vile. While some will have you believe that if you are against these emergency powers, you are somehow pro-Convoy, we want to encourage everyone reading this to think beyond the binaries. You can be politically and morally against the Convoy while also being unequivocally opposed to the Emergency Act.
So with these cautions at hand, what do we do?
· We need to build stronger, anti-racist communities that are trained in taking care of each other. We must take on the responsibility that we keep each other safe. Get trained, join patrols and check in on each other. We cannot allow white supremacist groups to infiltrate our communities and harass our neighbours. As police and government extend their reach, we must have strong communities rooted in care that are able to protect themselves.
· Our direction needs to come from Indigenous Land Defenders, and we must be willing to take risks in our support. The laws in Canada are built and maintained to uphold colonialism. Part of dismantling colonialism includes joining Indigenous-led blockades and protests that are working towards landback, and contributing financially for blockade maintenance and legal funds. This includes when the laws try to shut these movements down. If you are wondering what the difference is between this and the Convoy, refer to Professor Lesley Wood’s article.
· Defund. Disarm. Dismantle. Abolish. We must continue to work towards police abolition. In response to the Convoy, we can anticipate police requests for budget expansion. We must remain committed to abolishing the police and building stronger communities.
· Take to the streets. We must not shy away from protesting oppressive laws. We must protest white supremacy. It’s time to skill-up and get ready. Want training on how to prepare? Contact CPT and book your three-hour online “Take to the Streets” training here.
At CPT, we understand some people may be upset by this article. We are willing to keep the conversation going! If you have any concerns and want to keep the discussion alive, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that millions of people had expressed support for the Convoy.