For over a month, Canadian roadways and cities (mostly Ottawa) were occupied, barricaded, and sound-barraged by truckers and other supposedly freedom-loving individuals. The initial source of protest was a vaccine mandate for border-crossing truckers, but it since spiraled into a protest against all things COVID and beyond. To make matters worse, you don't have to dig far to see actual Nazis involved, so it's really just a fashy smorgasbord. Now, the scale of this protest is of particular note, as is the fact that it occurred in what we would usually consider our more sensible and liberal northern neighbors.
Ottawa was blockaded by thousands of protestors and at least 1,000 tractor-trailers. This had effectively brought Ottawa to a standstill, and similar movements across the country have done the same. A kind of precedent has been broken here, with this protest, demonstrating a tactic that has, mostly, only been gamed out on paper. Folks now realize that the occupation of a city by a civilian force is not a far-fetched idea. Where a similar protest on the left would require the participation of tens of thousands of people, a thousand truckers can occupy the same space (and not be easy targets for vehicles, horse-mounted police, etc.).
Now, I don't take issue with the idea of a protest occupying a city; that sounds like a good weekend to me. But while thousands of people can clear a street quickly enough, a thousand trucks can't–meaning this isn't a great place to have a heart attack or any other emergency. And word on the street is that these protestors were pretty crude, shouting at and threatening locals (often in racist fashion); the trucks were running at all hours, making these protests mobile pollution factories; and, despite saying they're for freedom of choice, they singled out anyone near them wearing masks. It's not that I expect logic from a protest like this, I just wish they weren't such prickish rubes. And there's more to all this than just some asshole right-wingers being racist and jeopardizing public safety.
The Freedom Convoy Goes Global, and Vice Versa
It did not take long for American interests to see these protests and bug their eyes out with opportunity. Conservative media made hay with it, lauding the expression of free speech against the supposedly authoritarian mandates for public health. Various organizations and many private citizens donated to the cause. The Oath Keepers and, not surprisingly, wealthy republicans, were some of the top among them. With America's record of interfering in the operation of other countries, it really shouldn't be shocking that our private citizens started doing so as well. Despite that, it takes on a slightly more nefarious tone when it's an American far-right organization donating to a Canadian far-right organization.
Outside of Canada, the convoy protest format has already spread. In New Zealand, the anti-mandate convoy made it to Parliament, where they were comically met with loudspeakers playing horrid music to drive them off. Similar convoys have sprung up in Australia, and another headed to Brussels. Remember that Europe is walking a tightrope right now, with Russian provocation and the threat of sanctions likely to explode fuel prices. With an impetus like that, more protests (see the Yellow Vests) could be incoming.
On the other hand, we learn protest by example. When Hong Kongers demonstrated how to douse teargas canisters and quickly flee a scene, activists on the left in America took note. What happened in Ottawa is going to be used as a roadmap for how right-wing and far-right irritants can occupy a space. And this isn't even the first time I, or others, have talked about this. Robert Evans made brief mention of how a handful of people in Northern California could choke off a fifth of the country's food production with a few trucks, some guns, and a bomb or two.
The Government Gets a New Stick
But they're not the only ones who've learned from this experience. A week ago, supposedly to help sweep out the remaining protestors in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau enacted emergency powers that expand government authority and limit individual rights. Among the powers is the ability to curtail public assembly, and the freezing of assets. Now, you might be making the cringey face, and I get that. Because it's not great when rights are taken away, generally speaking. And some folks are making the argument that this is unilaterally just a bad call, and a bad thing. But consider this: When your movement is rooted in denying aspects of the social contract that you find inconvenient, when your movement is infiltrated by actual Nazis, when your movement harasses the public, there should be consequences. And to say that the root of this protest was with truckers is a mistake; around 85% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated. It is a vocal minority around which a greater throng of the inconvenienced and racist has gathered.
The stinger to this is that there are many active protests in Canada led by Indigenous protestors, and they, shocking no one, are met with far greater force than the trucker convoy. Adding to this the expanded authorities of the Emergency Act, and there could be a painful crackdown on protests against the infringement of indigenous land. This is what should be making you wince–whether a weapon is aimed at your enemy at first or not, the government will inevitably turn the barrel against you. (See the Imperial Boomerang.) We can see the results of similar expansions of governmental power by looking at the Patriot Act, which definitely never hurt anybody.
Forecasting Far-Right Protests
Amorphous for some time since January 6th, two things unify protests on the right: they are loud, and prone to violence. Whether it's stabbing counter-protestors in California or haranguing school boards, the far-right are mad that the liberals took their toys away for a few years, and we're not going to hear the end of it until they take them back. This is a movement with legs, fueled by misinformation and conspiracy, and we'd be lucky if the Canadian Freedom Convoy is the only multi-ton manifestation. What's much more likely is that both this protest technique catches on, and while cities become encircled by caravans of QAnon devotees or whomever, the government will seek to expand its authority–but likely fail to curtail any of the original protests, and we'll be the ones suffering the lumps.
A long-lasting American convoy isn't that likely right this second. There are several scheduled to hit DC in the coming weeks, though it's hard to say what their staying power will be. Long-term protests and rallies aren't unheard of; QAnon members were in Dallas last year for weeks, waiting for the return of JFK and sundry other dead figures. It's not impossible that they'll camp out on the Beltway and stymy life for everyone.
The threat posed by a convoy like this in America is not to be understated, though I have my doubts about this particular iteration bringing the pain. Should one really get up and running, I would expect it to be more violent and more antagonistic than the Canadian counterpart. However long it was permitted to last, you could expect a city under veritable siege. And a freedom convoy in America is likely to be treated virtually the same way as the Canadian one by authorities; tacit approval by police and words on paper by higher-ups until the suits in power are inconvenienced, at which point the cops are given bigger and better guns, and then everyone suffers. Time will tell whether or not the convoys headed to DC will be a Michael Bay-style January 6th or not, but it's best to expect an explosion or two.