The Canadian Truckers’ Convoy: Be careful about what/who you advocate for

Have you ever found yourself stepping in to support someone who has appeared to be the victim only to be rather embarrassed when the facts come out?  It’s important to take time to check the facts.

Over the last few weeks, the Canadian Truckers’ Convoy have been presented as heroes fighting for freedom. Their protest against being subject to cross border vaccine mandates with the US seemed like a just cause. Many people who see the need for COVID vaccines are understandably concerned about the implications for liberty of mandatory vaccination being introduced. The protests widened into a response against COVID measures in general. Again, that’s understandable. Here in England most measures have been lifted but in other countries they seem to have been going on longer than necessary.  You can understand the frustration and the anxiety as well.

Then this week, the Canadian Government have been cracking down in order to remove the protestors and have been relying on emergency powers to do so.  Quite a few people have stepped in to protest this. It seems that the truckers are the victims. Take this quote from Ella Whelan in the Telegraph

In short, the Canadian government has granted itself the power to strip citizens of their money, their transport and their kids. Several organisers have been arrested, despite the fact that bar a few fringe incidents, the vast majority of the thousands-strong convoy has maintained a peaceful (if disruptive) approach to getting their voices heard.

‘Liberals’ are conspicuously silent on Canada’s descent into tyranny (telegraph.co.uk)

Ella in fact insists that the Canadian Government are acting a little bit like Fascists. 

So, shouldn’t we be stepping in to sound the alarm and to join the protest against authoritarianism? Well, perhaps but first of all it might be worth doing a bit more of a dig into the story.  The first thing to point out is that the Canadian Government are not suddenly handing themselves authoritarian powers in some assault on democracy and the rights of the individual. 

Democratic countries can and often do have measures on the statute book in order to help them to respond to crisis situations.  Indeed, I’ve argued previously that the UK would do well following COVID to consider new legislation giving clear guidance in advance of how they should use emergency powers in a crisis whilst ensuring such measures are time limited and that they remain accountable to MPs and the courts.

In the Canadian case, this act has been on the statute books since 1988 and is a successor act to the previous “War Powers Act.” It sets out when a Government can use emergency powers and the limitations of them including insisting that measures taken are still governed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Bill of Rights. [1]

So, it is legitimate and reasonable to ask whether or not this is an appropriate, necessary and proportionate use of such powers. Indeed, those are the very things the Canadian Parliament will want to debate. It’s worth observing that consultation with provincial government is required too.  However, questioning whether Trudeau’s response is proportionate and necessary here is very different to claiming that he has somehow trodden roughshod over liberty and democracy.  Indeed, one might observe that the Act could justifiably have been relied on during the pandemic which kind of indicates a reluctance rather than an eagerness to rely on it.

Secondly, we should stop and ask whether it is right to suggest that Trudeau is acting to crush a protest or doing something different.  The Trucker’s protest began back on the 29th January when convoys began to converge on Ottawa. Since then, they have been involved in blocking roads, affecting commerce and disrupting civilian life.  Imagine if this were the permanent state of affairs for a month in Birmingham, Manchester or London.

So, this is not about stopping a protest. Those wishing to demonstrate have had nearly a month to make their voices heard.  Rather it is about responding to what amounts to a use of physical force to disrupt life in order to change policy. The Truckers are seeking to use their strength and power to enforce their views.  There hasn’t been a rapid crack down.  At some point, the police need to be able to act to enable Canadian citizens to get back to normal life.  In that sense it’s similar to the calls that many made (including some of the same people now attacking the Canadian Government) for the police here in the UK to deal firmly with Extinction Rebellion protestors.

Thirdly, it is worth looking at the character of the protests and the protestors.  There have been frequent reports of people bringing confederate flags and swastika banners to the convoy. Now, that does not mean that every person associated with the protest is guilty of racism/fascism. However, we cannot be ambivalent about how such symbols affect the tone of these events moving them from protest to intimidation.  Nor, I’m afraid can we absolve people of responsibility if they continue to stand with those who hold banners. You cannot set things into motion, you cannot walk with and you cannot play down the presence of those who stand among you and promote evil.

Fourthly, I’d encourage you to check a bit further into what the organisers of the protest stand for. Here for example is Pat King, one of the organisers pushing conspiracy theories associated with White Supremacy racism.

Fifth I would urge us to check our rhetoric. A lot of us have been uncomfortable with various COVID measures. However too frequently these are referred to as totalitarian. This is rather offensive to people under genuine totalitarian persecution. In this case the truckers lost an exemption in cross border vaccine passports. The aim of this vaccine requirement is to reduce the risk of COVID spread. Now I suspect in the context of Omicron that the measure is increasingly redundant but wasn’t completely illogical in it’s intent. Further vaccination status isn’t a novel requirement to COVID but used in other areas of disease control. So this is hardly an example of totalitarian drift. Yet it has long suited certain political elements to play the narrative that way especially in North America. We need to be alert to the political narrative s our language gives fuel to.

Conclusion

It’s crucial for Christians speaking on this issue to be clear that we stand opposed to that broader agenda associated with key leaders in the Canada Truckers’ Convoy.  We also condemn unequivocally the display of swastika flags. It should deeply concern us that this protest has become a cause celebre for the far right and alt right around the world.

We may also wish to express concern about the appropriateness of how powers are being used. Was the Emergency Powers Act necessary here as opposed to for other protests. I’m not sure but then I’m not trying to go about my life in Ottawa. If I were a Canadian citizen I might feel very different.   We may also disagree with vaccine mandates and ongoing restrictions around the world and even still in the UK (Scotland/Wales) when these seem increasingly unnecessary as demonstrated in England.

However, we need to get our facts right. There is a huge difference between a democratic government using existing statutory powers to respond to a state of affairs that has been running for a month and brutal, tyrannical regime moving to shut down any dissent or protest. 


[1] Emergencies Act – Wikipedia

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