The Ottawa convoy has left, but Canadians have lost. As the waters recede, we are still trying to come to grips with how for three weeks, the city where the power of the federal government sits was able to be so easily occupied by a convoy of truckers who entered Ottawa under the guise of opposing vaccine mandates. While Canada continues to contend with the fallout, it’s clear that the country is not ready to face the white supremacist and seditious elements within.
The extremist elements that have been emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency around the world are here to stay in Canada. And that’s the fear: that it will happen again. I’m a Black Canadian columnist, born in Ontario and raised in Alberta, and I can see the rising tide of hate, yet when I write about it and talk about it, I often feel like I’m screaming into a void.
While there has of course been radical opposition to government-sanctioned injustice — mostly by people of color — white Canadians aren’t used to aggressive protests or those that reflect scenes of clashes with police that are more common in American demonstrations of civil disobedience. The larger white society is also not used to grappling with blatant white supremacy; they are not used to anything but peace, order, and good government.
I have been writing about the threat of white supremacy for about five years. In that time, the country has had multiple far-right extremist tragedies: the 2017 Quebec mosque shooting where a gunman killed six worshippers and seriously injured five, the Toronto van attack in 2018 where a driver targeted female pedestrians in an act of misogynistic terrorism, and the 2021 London, ON truck attack that killed four family members in an Islamophobic hate crime.
In that time, as I wrote for my column in the Hill Times, “y’all either dismissed me as a hysterical race baiter who is ‘over the top’ because I dare write about and discuss race in concrete ways, or thought I didn’t know what I was talking about, or worse (I’ll leave your unconscious bias to fill in the rest).” Indeed, Canada may market itself globally as multicultural, but at home, it is a haven for far-right, white supremacist ideologies. And they are now well-financed.
The people who support the convoy financially operate in every corner of this country — in government and outside of it. Reporting in Policy Options reveals that the federal public service is in turmoil over the divisive issue of public servants donating to an occupation intent on sedition: “On Reddit, members of public servant forums questioned the loyalty of federal workers who donated money to a convoy with an underlying mission to overthrow the government,” wrote Kathryn May for the digital magazine of the Institute for Research on Public Policy. GoFundMe President Juan Benitez testified to a Parliamentary Committee that 88% of $10 million in donations and 86% of donors to the trucker convoy came from Canada.
This is not an American problem, but just as in America, the police have not been part of the solution. Even Chicago Police donated to the convoy. Ottawa Police, the City of Ottawa’s main police force, are also dealing with internal divisions due to the occupation, particularly their response — or lack thereof — to it.
Criticisms of police acquiescence are warranted, considering that they created graphics rolling out the blue carpet for the occupiers and some of its members have also been outed as donors to the same convoy they were charged with protecting the city against. Seems like recently-resigned Ottawa Police Chief Sloly may not have been the problem after all.
What was evident was the dichotomy between Ottawa police reactions to these occupiers who behaved like a garrison and their responses to Black and Indigenous people who protest against the same white supremacy that hamstrung the nation’s capital.
I live in a neighborhood where an unarmed Black man, Abdirahman Abdi, died after a violent arrest by Ottawa Police in 2016 and the duplicity of responses, dependent on the skin color of the actors, was not surprising. I was at the 2017 meeting with Ottawa Police where Black community members protested against the selling of wristbands by officers commemorating Abdi's death.
For me, as someone who has been podcasting (Bad + Bitchy podcast) and writing about the rise in white supremacist violence in Canada — as well as embedded white supremacy in our institutions —I have seen this ascendance first-hand. In 2019, the United We Roll convoy passed by outside of my workplace in downtown Ottawa. Those protests were ostensibly inspired by 2018’s Gilet Jaune, or France’s populist protests for economic justice, motivated by rising oil prices. In the Canadian version, their motivations were more nefarious.
As the Anti-Hate Network, Canada’s premier destination for far-right coverage, discovered, “Yellow Vests Canada was largely founded by individuals already associated with Canada’s far-right, which at the time was primarily united by anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia. Excited by the protests held by France’s Mouvement des gilets jaunes, they copied the signature uniform, name, and adopted new grievances that would get them a much larger audience.” At that time, then-Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer, shared a stage with known white supremacist, Faith Goldy, who ran for mayor of Toronto in 2018. One of the “Freedom Convoy”’s organizers, Tamara Lich, also organized the United We Roll convoy.
It’s frustrating that legacy Canadian media’s approach to reporting these issues, which is sporadic at best, is to refuse to place these events within the context of a framework being drawn by people with intentions to overthrow the government and institute a fascist agenda. This is a game to them, a game of power, and they are playing for the future of a nation; one that is tied to similar trends in the United States. As occupier Matt Wellman described to the Ottawa Citizen last month, “I stayed up all night to keep this going…I want to keep the door open while stuff is going on in the States — keep the livestreams going for the people in the States who are still watching us.”
In Ottawa, our collective mental health has taken a toll. Anxiety from fears of the truckers’ return among downtown residents is still high. We have faced a collective trauma; it’s been difficult to sleep, and my anxiety has increased. I can’t look at the Canadian flag the same way again and it’s triggering — to say the least— for others. The Canadian flag is ostensibly an iconic symbol of the Canadian identity — one supposedly bathed in multiculturalism and “tolerance."
However in Canada, tolerance for my kind is only tolerated once you accept the status quo; Canada doesn’t accept differences, it accepts different faces that align to white supremacy. The Canadian flag has now become a symbol of that white supremacist nationalism that is emblematic of racism. Canada Day will be especially challenging this year, given the typical noise of the horns and national garb now represents an insidious strain in Canadian culture. This Ottawa resident summed up the mental health of the capital: “It is waking up in the middle of the night in a panic, zoning out at the sound of sirens and honking, rage at the sight of a truck with a flag, and fear that it will happen again.”
The fear that it will happen again is a fear I also live with but I also know that it’s inevitable. The convoy showed that this is who Canada has always been. The world just finally got to see it up close.