I normally only write about travel and cruising but today I have decided to weigh in on a current event issue.
I have read and heard a lot of information about the “Truckers Freedom Convoy” currently in Ottawa. Some is accurate, some untrue and the remainder slightly distorted variations of the truth. So let’s parse through the facts and the bullshit
We were told there would be 50,000 trucks heading into Ottawa. Anyone who examined the issue knew that was an impossibility. Statistics from various large trucking firms such as Super Truck, Manitoulin, to various affiliations such as the Canadian Truckers Association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, indicated that between 85% and 90% of what we call international (cross border), truckers are vaccinated. They got vaccinated so they would not have to quarantine which would have been the real threat to their livelihood and freedom of movement.
Looking at the number of border crossings each day is the best indicator of how the cross-border trucking industry was impacted by the mandates which came into effect on January 15, 2022. Here are a few Canadian statistics. Between Jan. 20 and Jan 26, 105,100 trucks crossed the border. Taking into consideration the last two years during that same period of time, the number of trucks that crossed the Canada/U.S. border was 110,356 in 2020 (pre pandemic) and 111,287 in 2021 which was at the height of the pandemic. If we compare the same week of 2022 and 2021, we see a decrease of 6,187 of truck movements. Is that because of the covid vaccine or the quarantine mandates?
A closer look during that week showed that the decrease in truck movements can be seen at certain border points. Those decreases coincided with problematic weather in Canada and the United States. Therefore, the decrease of 6,187 in truck movements from last year, cannot definitively be attributed to the covid restrictions as we know the decrease has a direct correlation to the routes impacted by weather.
If we look at the following week to see if we can get more accurate statistics, we see that the major US corridor into Canada was under a severe winter weather warning so clearly we are unable to make a definitive determination as to whether the vaccine mandate had a significant impact,
The “massive truck convoy” failed to materialize in the way organizers had envisioned. The projected 50,000 truckers never showed up. Furthermore, the numbers were well under 10,000 even if one takes into account trucks that joined in for certain periods of time as the convoy made its way to Ottawa. In reality, the numbers can accurately be seen in the active participant count. According to the official policing numbers, on Friday the 28th of January, at 9:35am there were 17 full tractor trailers, 104 tractors with no trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and 6 RVS in the convoy as it arrived in Ottawa.
When vehicles arrived in the nation’s capital, the organizers put the large trucks with trailers or tractors in front of the parliament buildings and along Wellington. Great photo op and it looks impressive if you are taking photos from either the Chateau Laurier or the Supreme Court building. Some of the feeder streets were blocked as well by vehicles arriving from the east (Sussex and some other Byward market streets).
Soon, additional vehicles were arriving from various local points (within 150km), and they were fed to the large parking areas just outside the city. Three large parking lots were designated to hold the trucks but only one was used and it was less than ½ full.
For those of us who live and work in Ottawa, we are used to protests. I used to live and work within blocks of Wellington street, and currently, my office is on Metcalfe within a few blocks of the parliament buildings. The street is blocked off by the police, not by protesters but given there is a restaurant not too far away doing take out service, there are always protesters on the street. Some polite and friendly, others just being assholes (yes I am referring to the trucker” who yelled “Take your fucking mask off bitch”).
I have seen 30 years of demonstrations. Big, small, noisy, quiet, passionate, angry, calm and running the gamut of emotions and sizes. I used to eat my lunch on parliament hill and I became familiar with some of the repeat players who show up for all demonstrations. Some of them are back again and if we had a pro vaccine mandate protest that promised to be contentious, I know they would be active participants in that as well. I call them the "usual players".
I know what a large demonstration looks like. I know what a small protest looks like. This did not even come close to making my list of top 10 demonstration by participants. The farmers protest, at over 40,000 participants, although not the largest, remains my all time most impressive protest and yes it did block a huge number of streets. But in typical Canadian fashion, they came in, made their point and left. They had my full support. They still have my full support. Reasonable people make reasonable arguments.
In case of this protest, the police directed the trucks to Wellington Street in front of the parliament buildings. I know this action has come under a lot of criticism but in fairness to the police, they have done this before and at the end of a weekend, the protesters normally go home. I can’t say for certain, but I believe the police may have thought that something similar was going to happen. This is Ottawa, it is winter, and it is cold.
Many of the vehicles and people did leave at the end of the weekend but about 250 – 300 vehicles of varying sizes stayed (that number fluctuates as some come and go).
On the first weekend, the protesters were joined by various groups, some anti Trudeau factions showed up (between 2500 – 3000), a smaller number of white supremacists, several hundred separatists, and the usual small number of anti abortionists. There were also a number of protest tourists (such as university students) who were just there to look around and join in the festivities. The organizers had arranged to have 13 port-a-potties put on site. Estimates from different sources are that there were between 7,000 and 15,000 people in total.
Looking at the crowd, I will be generous and put it at 10,000 but because it was bitterly cold, there was constant movement of people into areas away from the parliament buildings in order to get warm. One trucker claimed there were two million people there while some policing figures were that there were 5,000.
The Rideau Centre became a gathering spot as it was warm, has a food court with public washroom facilities and there is a liquor store. Masks are required to be worn in the building but many of the people entering refused to wear a mask and security soon were overwhelmed. A decision was made to close the Rideau Centre. It has been closed since then. People who work there have been without work now for 15 days and counting.
There are reports of damage to the Rideau Centre washrooms and angry confrontations, but I was not there and the stories I have heard are hearsay. As such, I cannot attest to their accuracy. I can however speculate that if the protesters who were there had been orderly, there would have been no need to shut the Rideau Centre down and keep it closed. Those are businesses who have weathered previous protests and many Canada Day celebrations that sported massive crowds. That centre has welcomed, and accommodated huge masses and frankly, if the people who went in there had indeed been orderly, I doubt the Centre would have been shut. They are in the business of making money and that does not happen when stores are closed.
With the Rideau Centre closed and other retail places in the downtown corridor following suit, the protesters had little choice but to stay in the streets or their vehicles. They started urinating in the streets and on the property of people living in the area. Yelling and horn honking was ubiquitous. I give the protesters who remained on the hill credit; it was bitterly cold and they were tenaciously dedicated to delivering their message to anyone who would listen. It soon became clear that the participants were somewhat divided in their goals.
I am going to take a quick moment to comment on the racist signs. They generally appear at all demonstrations. A few trucks did have some symbols associated with the Nazi regime, but it was very few. I can say that most demonstrations, that attract certain groups, will have racists signs and this protest is no different. They are never acceptable. It is however incumbent upon the organizers and participants to get these people out of their midst because the agenda of any protest will be hijacked by racists messages. Those types of signs are incendiary. They will always be covered by the press (both right and left wing).
Additionally, the desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown soldier has happened before and unfortunately it will happen again. It makes me incredibly angry that every event (be it a protest or Canada Day), will generate idiots who will jump on the monument. I cannot say whether the specific incident that took place this time was by a trucker or one of the many “protest tourists’ but that type of behaviour is always condemned and always reflects badly to whatever activity is being held be it a protest of other event. I have seen protests that have had “guardians” look after the tomb to ensure people did not desecrate it and thereby draw the ire of the general population. The truckers did not do this and as such the idiot dancing on the grave will rightly, or wrongly, be associated with the truckers.
The first weekend passed and the trucks on Wellington remained with horns blaring. As mentioned, some participants left and the crowd size was significantly down. The convoy was reduced to about 250 vehicles. The horn blaring continued as did public urination, fireworks and yelling. The locals started to become more vocal about the disruption to their lives. Unlike previous protests, the nucleus of this protest remained in place on Wellington street with various protesters visiting business on the feeder streets.
Protesters that I have observed, have espoused various agendas, not all of which is to merely end vaccine mandates. There appears to be no clear path to negotiation when the agenda items of different participants are all over the map. I am not talking about the Trump 2024 signs which really were only a few. I have seen anti masking, anti all vaccines, anti Trudeau, anti abortion, anti trucking regulation, and anti government signs. Let's not forget the "jail policy makers" slogans espoused by Paul Alexander et al. I confess to being partial to the help save cats sign.
The general theme is dissatisfaction with the current situation but the solution to that dissatisfaction is where the differences lie. There is no one size fits all solution.
To protest is a right. To hold differing opinions relating to governance is a normal state of affairs in a democracy. To illegally block roads for long period of time and engage in bullying behaviour is NOT acceptable.
I was at a meeting the Wednesday after the convoy arrived in Ottawa and one of the participants said “If the truckers ever figure out that they can do more harm with twenty trucks blockading a border crossing than they can blocking Wellington street, they will move on.” Somewhat prophetic indeed. It was not too long after that meeting that the Coutts Alberta and then the Windsor border crossings were blocked. Less than 50 trucks brought a huge amount of cross border trucking to a standstill.
The sad part of the current state of affairs is threefold.
1. More Canadian people have now been adversely affected by the truckers blockade than truckers have by the mandatory vaccine mandate.
2. The truckers are engaging in a little self-fulfilling prophecy by blocking border crossings and pointing to supply chain issues. Issues they created.
3. As opposed to a ground swell of support for the truckers, the opposite is now occurring with various unions now speaking out against them.
Some of the Ottawa protesters made the journey to Windsor. Once again, the usual players are jumping onto the band wagon. We will continue to have pop up protesters and blockades around the country and the estimation is, that a small percentage of the population has learned how to hold the large proportion of the population hostage.
As for Ottawa:
1. The right to protest does not extend to blocking streets for weeks on end.
2. Protesters can still protest on the hill if they want to continue but not block streets.
3. If you enter a business, act responsibility and respectfully.
4. Regardless of your vaccine mandate position, if you fail to condemn the illegal actions of people, you are encouraging it.