Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ Threatens to Spread to US, DHS Warns
19:15 GMT 10.02.2022 (Updated: 19:23 GMT 10.02.2022)
Thousands of truckers and tens of thousands of their supporters descended on Ottawa starting late last month to protest Covid vaccination mandates. Police have called in reinforcements and begun a campaign of fines and pinpoint arrests of protesters, seizing fuel and blocking millions of dollars’ worth of funding raised online.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued a memo warning law enforcement agencies across the United States that Canada-style trucker protests may be coming south as soon as Super Bowl Weekend starting February 12-13, and that truckers may seek to disrupt President Biden’s State of the Union address on 1 March.
“[The DHS] has received reports of truck drivers potentially planning to block roads in major metropolitian cities in the United States in protest of, among other things, vaccine mandates. The convoy will potentially begin in California as early as mid-February, potentially impacting the Super Bowl scheduled for 13 February and the State of the Union address scheduled for 1 March,” the memo, cited by The Hill, warned.
“At this time, we have no indication that individuals discussing participating in these activities in the United States are engaged in anything other than First Amendment-protected activity,” the memo noted, referring to US Constitutional protections on the freedom of speech and assembly. “Nonetheless, DHS remains concerned that these events could have significant public safety implications or potentially be exploited by ideologically motivated actors to potentially act or encourage others to act violently,” the agency added.
Citing social media chatter, the memo suggested that Canadian truckers could join the US convoy on its journey from California eastward to Washington.
A spokesperson confirmed in a statement that the agency has “not observed calls for violence within the United States associated with” the California-Washington convoy, but added that the DHS was “working closely with our federal, state, and local partners to continuously asses the threat environment.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were whisked away to an undisclosed location late last month as thousands of truckers and their supporters descended on Ottawa to demand an end to Covid vacation mandates, including a requirement that drivers get jabbed or face a two-week quarantine period after cross-border travel to the US.
Trudeau went into self-imposed isolation after contacting someone with Covid in late January, later prolonging the isolation period after announcing that he himself had contracted Covid. The prime minister returned to parliament on Monday night, repeating his hardline stance about the protesting truckers’ status as a “small, marginal minority” whose concerns would not be accommodated in Canada’s anti-Covid policy.
“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop. The people of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighbourhoods. They don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask,” the prime minister and Liberal Party leader told lawmakers.
Candice Bergen, newly-appointed interim leader of the opposition Conservative Party, blasted Trudeau and expressed support for the truckers who are protesting peacefully. “Does he regret calling people names who didn’t take the vaccine? Does he regret calling people misogynist and racist and just escalating and poking sticks at them and being so divisive to individual Canadians?” she asked.
8 February 2022, 02:06 GMT
The Canadian truckers’ protest, dubbed the “Freedom Convoy” or the “Convoi de la Liberte,” began on 22 January, with up to 18,000 people descending on Ottawa for protests in front of Parliament Hill, and tens of thousands more carrying out smaller protests throughout the country, from Vancouver in the west to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the east.
Last week, online fundraising platform GoFundMe froze millions of dollars in donations to the truckers, citing alleged “evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”
Bouncy Castle-fueled Chaos
Law enforcement and anti-convoy politicians and media have been hard-pressed to find evidence of “violence” referred to in official statements, with Ottawa mayor Jim Watson declaring a state of emergency this week and saying that the situation has gone “completely out of control,” describing a scene outside parliament of unauthorized barbeques and fire pits, bouncy castles on the street for the kids, truck horns and diesel fumes.
Four people out protesting were injured on Friday in a violent incident in Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba. However, they appear to have been hit by a hit-and-run driver opposed to the protesters.
After spending a week merely observing protesters and maintaining order, Ottawa police began making pinpoint arrests late last week on charges of mischief, seizing individual trucks, and seizing fuel supplies crucial to keep protesters’ trucks warm in frigid northern temperatures. Police issued over 1,300 tickets as of Wednesday night for things ranging from excessive noise to the illegal use of fireworks.
8 February 2022, 22:47 GMT
On Thursday, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra warned that truckers blocking the Ambassador Bridge connecting the US and Canadian cities of Detroit and Windsor by parking trucks at the border area constituted an “illegal economic blockade against the people of Ontario and against all Canadians.” Local authorities have asked for additional police assistance from other cities.