The confrontation between the Canadian government and a foreign-funded “convoy” using large trucks to block streets and interfere with movement around the Canadian capital of Ottawa continues. Despite ticketing of trucks and warnings that those involved could lose both professional and personal driving licenses, many of the trucks have refused to budge. Now things are heating up both inside and outside the halls of Parliament.
Over the last three days, blockades have been removed from the U.S.-Canada border crossings, restoring the flow of people and goods across the world’s most heavily trafficked border. That has largely ended shutdowns at U.S. plants, which had been idled by parts shortages. Local Canadian police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) forces quickly dealt with the people using vehicles (and children) to block border crossings, with a number of arrests and impounded vehicles helping to encourage the last of these blockades to hurriedly get out of the way on their own.
But in Ottawa, the effort to clear the streets is going more slowly as supporters within the Conservative Party cheer on attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On Wednesday, the discussion in Parliament went beyond heated as a Conservative member of Parliament (MP) tried to make the truck convoy sound heroic, and Trudeau responded by accusing the member—who is Jewish—of standing with those who wave the swastika.
As the National Post reports, the exchange happened in the middle of a question session that had already become extremely heated. Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman made a lengthy complaint about Trudeau and derided his statements about those involved in the truck blockade and their supporters.
Trudeau pulled no punches in his response. “Conservative Party members can stand with people who wave swastikas,” said the prime minister. “They can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag. We will choose to stand with Canadians who deserve to be able to get to their jobs, to be able to get their lives back.”
The Conservative bench erupted in fury, Lantsman demanded an apology, and the speaker of the House of Commons issued a reminder to “use words that are not inflammatory in the House.”
Trudeau refused to apologize. And considering the people Lanstman and other Conservatives were lauding really have been waving Confederate flags and swastikas, it’s unlikely the prime minister will feel moved to make that apology anytime soon.
Trudeau is the first Canadian leader who has invoked that nation’s Emergency Act, an act gives the prime minister and Cabinet authority to take “special temporary measures that may not be appropriate in normal times,” and is reserved for urgent situations that “threaten the lives, health or safety of Canadians.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that police are stepping up efforts to remove the remaining trucks and makeshift barricades from the streets of the capital. The previous police chief has resigned after complaints over a “lax response” and police are now moving to clear the streets, impound trucks, and arrest those who refuse to leave. In a letter to the nation, Trudeau described the truck blockade as “activity that is a threat to our democracy and that is undermining the public’s trust in our institutions.”
On Wednesday, police handed out fliers warning demonstrators, in both English and French, that they must leave or face arrest. It also made clear that any of those arrested could be barred from entering the United States, which not only would signal an threat to the livelihood of any actual truckers involved, but could be a warning shot for those involved in the protest who are suspected to be from the United States.
Getting some of the trucks towed away has proven to be a challenge because of threats made to tow truck operators—both by those involved in the blockade and by Conservative politicians. Tow truck operators are “worried about the risks to their safety and future employment.”
It’s an understandable concern. The tow operators have tried to make a point of not supporting the truck-based protests, but also not saying anything in opposition. That’s because the owners of tow trucks who can handle large trucks are dependent on towing large trucks for their living. They are concerned that, going forward, truckers and trucking firms could strike back at tow firms seen as acting for the government.
However, the Emergency Act allows Trudeau to order the tow operators to cooperate, and that order has apparently been given. Tow operators are working with lawyers and trying to find a way to both obey the law and protect their futures. It’s not clear that trucking firms will hold a grudge against tow operators who take action, especially since over 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and most truckers and trucking firms firmly oppose the protests, but it’s still an understandable concern. Canadian officials have threatened to commandeer the tow trucks and remove the protestors, but it’s unclear if that’s a practical solution for a number of reasons—not least of all that towing a large truck through city streets is a hazardous task requiring considerable skill.
But on Thursday morning, the protest in Ottawa shows few signs of dispersing on its own. Despite dozens of arrests and thousands of tickets, the protesters remain blocking the streets, bolstered by support from Conservatives in Parliament and by funding that is mostly coming from the U.S.
Whether that will change as police move in more seriously at the end of the week isn’t clear. Neither is the fallout from the attacks on Trudeau and a sense of dissatisfaction about how the protests have been handled that has come from both right and left in Canada. It seems likely that the truck protest, even when removed, will leave behind a wound. What’s harder to tell is just who it will damage.