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A “Freedom Convoy” that is turning into a roadblock to public safety in Canada

A vehicle with a sticker for the group Canada Unity’s “Freedom Convoy” is stopped by counter protesters stopping vehicles from driving in a convoy en route to Parliament Hill, on the 17th day of a protest against COVID-19 measures that has grown into a broader anti-government protest, in Ottawa, on Sunday, February 13, 2022.

A vehicle with a sticker for the group Canada Unity’s “Freedom Convoy” is stopped by counter protesters stopping vehicles from driving in a convoy en route to Parliament Hill, on the 17th day of a protest against COVID-19 measures that has grown into a broader anti-government protest, in Ottawa, on Sunday, February 13, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

The story so far: Since January 28, truckers calling themselves the “Freedom Convoy” have been staging demonstrations in the Canadian capital of Ottawa and beyond, demanding an end to a vaccine mandate imposed by Canada’s federal government that requires them to be fully vaccinated when they return from the U.S.. The trucking industry, on which a major portion of the country’s supply chain depends, had been spared the mandate till mid-January. What began as a cross-country, anti-mandate protest trip from the western Provinces to the capital has since attracted some support in multiple cities like Toronto, Quebec City and Winnipeg. The ambit of the convoy’s demands has widened to include a call to end pandemic restrictions, to even seeking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s resignation. The protesters have deployed multiple tools, such as blasting truck horns for upto 16 hours a day during the first 11 days; to harassing the public for disagreeing with their cause; to even brandishing racist imagery. Some Ottawa residents have reported seeing confederate flags, while there has also been a video post by a supporter hoping that this becomes “Canada’s Jan. 6,” in a throwback to the infamous Capitol Hill demonstrations by Trump supporters last year. For many days, a section of the protesters were also successful in disrupting access to the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit, Michigan, U.S. and Winsor, Ontario — which is considered the busiest international crossing in North America.

On Monday, the Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act, a piece of legislation never used before, that allows the federal Government to take some sweeping measures, including those imposing prohibitions on protests; allowing law enforcement authorities to remove the trucks using force; and authorising financial institutions to freeze the accounts used to fund the protests, including the truckers’ personal accounts. The Act, which will be initially in force for 30 days and needs to be approved by Parliament, covers the entire country, but the Prime Minister assured that these measures will be applied to only those cities where public order needs to be restored.

THE GIST
Since January 28, truckers calling themselves the “Freedom Convoy” have been staging demonstrations in Canada, demanding an end to a vaccine mandate imposed by the Government, that requires them to be fully vaccinated when they return from the U.S..
The Government has invoked the Emergencies Act in response to these protests. It is a piece of legislation that allows the Government to take sweeping measures, like imposing prohibitions on protests and authorising financial institutions to freeze the accounts used to fund the protests.
Indians and Indian-origin Canadians, represent around a fifth of the country’s trucker population and most of them do not support the protestors. They say that these protests are distracting Government attention away from real issues, like manpower shortage and low wages.

Do the protesters have nationwide support?

The demonstrations have reportedly attracted thousands of supporters and the exact number of protesters is unknown. However, what is certainly known is that the protests represent the views of a small section of the Canadian trucker community, which reportedly employs more than 3,00,000 people.

A survey in January by COVID-19 Monitor, which has regularly surveyed Canadian attitudes about the pandemic, found that more than 70% of the respondents supported a vaccine mandate for all adults. Another polling organisation, Innovative Research Group, suggested earlier in February that more than half the respondents disapproved of the demonstrations. A survey done by another firm Leger, whose findings were made public on February 8, reported that 62% of Canadians disagreed with the message conveyed by the trucker convoy.

Around 90% of the total trucker population is vaccinated, and does not back the protests. However, the small community of protesters has attracted significant financial backing, a lot of it from the U.S., and their actions are having an outsized impact on the economy. A fundraising campaign in January by the protest organisers on GoFundMe raised about 10 million Canadian dollars, though police action resulted in only a small portion of it actually being disbursed. The protests have also led to similar demonstrations in the U.S. and France. In total, by some estimates, the protests are costing the economy up to 300 million Canadian dollars a day.

Where do the protests stand now?

In some parts of the country, strict police action has resulted in some protesters ending their demonstrations. The Ambassador Bridge was cleared over the weekend, with 46 people arrested and 37 vehicles seized. In the western Province of Alberta, where police arrested about a dozen protesters with rifles, handguns, body armour and ammunition, protesters have moved away from a border checkpoint, while another crossing in Manitoba was expected to reopen on Wednesday.

However, a day after the Emergencies Act was invoked, dozens of protesters in Ottawa stood their ground. In the coming days, police hope to arrest more protesters and crack down on their sources of funding, including crypto-currency accounts.

Where do South Asian truckers stand on the protests?

South Asians, including Indians and Indian-origin Canadians, represent around a fifth of the country’s trucker population, to quote Newcom Media, a B2B publisher that has compiled more than 25 years of Census data. More than half the trucker population of major Canadian cities like Vancouver (55.9%) and Toronto (53.9%) consists of South Asian immigrants. Many of them come from India as international students and take up trucking as an occupation. Yet, not only is the “Freedom Convoy” unrepresentative of their views — with over 80% of the South Asian truckers being fully vaccinated— this section of the trucker population also feels that the Ottawa protesters are distracting Government attention away from their real issues, like manpower shortage and low wages.

Manan Gupta, the publisher of Road Today magazine, which focuses on the South Asian trucking community in the country, tells in an interview to online publication TVO that major issues for members of the community includes wage theft; abuse of new drivers; unsafe conditions; poorly maintained trucks; lack of access to better parking spots; and lack of washrooms in pickup and delivery spots.

He adds that the convoy is not helping their cause. “If these headlines could be secured for all those other issues, I think the industry would be a better place to live and grow, and we could remove the supply-chain issues.”

The author is an IAR fellow at University of British Columbia, Canada


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2022 3:47:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/a-freedom-convoy-that-is-turning-into-a-roadblock-to-public-safety/article65058862.ece