The Extent of Free Choice

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“It’s actually for every single person… you, me, buddy down the road,” said one protestor to Politico. “It doesn’t matter. It’s all about your free choice.”

Following the vaccine mandates implemented by the Trudeau administration for truck drivers entering from the U.S. in  mid-January, angry truckers began to flock toward Ottawa, Ontario, Canada — demanding an end to all health restrictions and the resignation of Prime Minister Trudeau. 

Dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” this demonstration began when drivers set out from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest, with more truckers joining along the way. At the nation’s capital, hundreds of trucks and thousands of people on foot continue to wave Canada’s flag—refusing to leave until their demands are met. 

The Canadian Trucker’s Alliance has openly stated it does not support the “Freedom Convoy.” Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and much of its trucking industry is vaccinated. Only about 15% of truck drivers would be affected by the vaccine mandates. Notably, the Biden administration has also implemented a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border; all foreign drivers must show proof of full vaccination or abide by a weekly COVID-19 testing requirement to enter the country. Unvaccinated Canadian drivers are allowed to return but are required to quarantine for 14 days and get tested upon their arrival. 

Since their arrival, Ottawa police received hundreds of calls from locals regarding harassment to those wearing masks, violations of local health regulations, and complaints of noise at all hours of the day. Many stores closed temporarily to avoid being swarmed by maskless demonstrators. Law enforcement even set up a “Hate-motivated crime” hotline. According to Ottawa police, this hotline has received over 200 calls. 

Protestors, however, blocked off multiple border crossings, including the international Ambassador Bridge — the busiest border bridge between the U.S. and Canada — connecting Windsor and Detroit. The Guardian spoke to the president of the auto industry group, Global Automakers of Canada, David Adams. He commented that between 5,000 and 7,000 trucks use the Ambassador Bridge daily to deliver automotive parts. After a 6-day blockade, the police force was able to push back protestors and trucks to reopen this vital route. 

Far-right media personalities like Ben Shapiro have shown support for the convoy, donating millions of dollars to the movement. The “Freedom Convoy” has also been endorsed by politicians such as Ted Cruz, who called the Canadian truckers “heroes” and “patriots.” Donald Trump showed support at a rally in Conroe, Texas telling his followers, “We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way.” Many Trump 2024, American, and Confederate flags were spotted in downtown Ottawa in the first week of the demonstrations.

Prime Minister Trudeau maintains the enforcement of these restrictions. He stated on February 8th that he can understand frustrations but “mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions.” Presently, he has invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act. This gives financial institutions like banks the authority to freeze the personal and corporate accounts of people involved with the blockades without a court order and suspend their insurance. This Act gives power to the federal government to seize trucks and have vehicles towed. Trudeau assures he will not use this power to bring in the military. 

As with all demonstrations, public opinion remains divided. Some, like Abhinandan Gaba, a freshman at Queens College studying mathematics and economics, believe the trucker’s anger is justified. He remarked, “The movement is justified because the government has simply given the truckers an unattainable choice, either get vaccinated or quarantine every couple of weeks. The truckers are simply common people who are trying to make a living without being vaccinated.” Others allege the “Freedom Convoy” is being used for opportunistic reasons. Catherine Williams, 19, a political science major in her junior year at QC, finds praising the convoy “a bit hypocritical.” They commented, “I feel like the movement is using truckers as an excuse so vaccine regulations would be less for everyone which is selfish.”

Some authorities are concerned by the extremist views present among the crowds and those funding them.  As the Trudeau administration continues to struggle controlling the masses, Ottawa city councilor Catherine McKenney speculates these movements will culminate in another version of the January 6, 2021, mob disaster at Washington. Per the New York Times, McKenney said, “This is Jan. 6 in slow motion.” What started out as a protest against Covid-19 regulations has quickly become a stand against government influence as more rallies begin to pop up all over.

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