Truckers can’t be choosers

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

Since late January, Canada has been fraught with obstructive protests from truckers, enraged at the onset of “vaccine mandates” intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. Originating in Ottawa, the so-called “Freedom Convoy” has expanded greatly to other provinces such as Ontario and Alberta; each protect “forcing” truckers entering Canada from the United States to be fully vaccinated. Though initially brushed aside by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as little more than a “fringe minority” of disgruntled citizens, the protests have persisted now for three consecutive weeks. 

The consequences of such widespread protest have been palpable. After a week of protesting on the Ambassador Bridge — which connects Detroit with its international cousin Windsor, Ontario — the automotive industry suffered losses of more than a quarter of a billion dollars. Sustained blockades have resulted in slowdowns, shortages, and the complete shutdown of a Ford plant. Two border crossings between Canada and the United States have ground to a complete halt, and the overall economic fallout from these trade disruptions has reportedly reached a daily total of $300 million. The protests have not merely taken the form of blockades along critical roads, but have now extended to the harassment of citizens and the forcible closure of numerous businesses. 

Three weeks since the Canadian truckers rallied together against safety measures — and for the first time in half a century — Canada announced a national emergency, following Ontario’s province-level declaration in response to the prevailing protests. Trudeau noted that the declaration was “about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs and restoring confidence in our institutions.”

It is not difficult to imagine the tactics which the protesting truckers used to maintain this near-month of momentum. Though a strong majority of Canadians have expressed opposition to the protests, the disgruntled citizens have found international support from right-wing media outlets such as Fox News. Such outlets have generated a deluge of coverage, painting the blockades as necessary moves towards achieving the freedoms that have, seemingly, been forgotten by the Canadian government. Elon Musk — a billionaire bastion for paradoxically advancing both fresh technologies and stale opinions  — as well as former U.S. President Donald Trump, were among the most notable Americans to announce support for the ongoing demonstrations.

The protests have also been assisted by a persistent wave of funds from sympathetic donors. Though the crowdfunding website GoFundMe notified donors it would freeze donations to the cause, passionate onlookers have instead supported the protests through Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo. The platform promised to defy a Canadian court order to halt the distribution of funds to protestors. Over $8.7 million had been raised on the site, in addition to the $8 million frozen on GoFundMe. Despite the protests primarily presiding within Canada, Republican U.S. lawmakers and attorney generals have sworn to investigate this freezing of funds. 

It seems a futile effort to discuss and deliberate over the implementation of vaccine mandates, almost two years into a pandemic that has taken nearly six million lives globally. There will be little that could be written over the course of a thousand words that may sway any reader in support or in defiance of mandates that, at their core, serve to benefit the population. The qualms with requiring vaccines could, of course, be similarly extended to an obligation to put on a seatbelt when riding in a vehicle or to not yell “fire” within a crowded theater — given the potential to incite a harmful panic. Of course, not all federal impositions can be accepted as ones that are “for the good of the people,” just as vaccine mandates cannot be condemned solely by virtue of them restricting some of our actions as citizens and human beings. 

We could discuss all of that, but it would be meaningless. It is doubtful that any words could be exchanged with the protesting truckers, or any of those sympathetic to such a cause, in an effort to assuage their concerns. Agitative demonstrations such as these, whether one may believe in their motivations or not, are ultimately only resolved by how their movement draws public sympathy. 

And whether directly or otherwise, the protesters may now delude themselves into believing that the fruits of their labor have paid off. Ontario is set to lift its mandate that people show proof of vaccination to enter public spaces on March 1; Premier Doug Ford declared that such a move was solely because it was deemed “safe to do so” rather than as a response to ongoing protests. Just this week, Alberta also ended its mask requirements for school children. 

At face value, the very act of protesting can be a noble one: a call to raise awareness to prevailing concerns from an unsatisfied sect of the populace in an effort to inspire change. But just as one can determine for themselves what they perceive to be necessary or immoral mandates, one can also find some protests justified and others as little more than a pointless, potentially debilitating, demonstration. The right to protest should rest within all persons, but one could never demand another to support its cause.

Though the protests originally began as a rally against vaccine and mask mandates, the purpose has quickly expanded, comprising many woes stemming from far-right ideologies. Though some may argue that the far-right movement is significantly weaker in Canada than what might be found in the United States, the reality is that many of the demonstrations were littered with Nazi symbols and Confederate flags. A rise of far-right protests in Canada, one that is widely broadcast internationally and touted by conservative outlets as an increasingly popular movement, may serve as a method for radical extremist beliefs to be easily spread. Even if the demonstrations may ultimately amount to nothing, the motivations that incited such lengthy protests can linger long after the truckers resume their routes.

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