Infighting appears to have derailed return of ‘freedom convoy’
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A “freedom convoy 2.0” reunion protest set to roll into Winnipeg has been nixed, but protesters vow to assemble in Winnipeg this February under a new banner.
James Bauder, a protest organizer from Alberta, said the multi-day rally by Canada Unity and scheduled for Feb. 17 to 20 in Winnipeg has been cancelled.
Bauder, who was involved in the freedom convoy in Ottawa in February 2022, made the announcement on social media on Dec. 30.
Bauder said his group’s focus will be on upcoming court cases involving convoy participants.
“The legal battle to free my fellow convoy brothers and sisters that are hurting still to this day is going to be a top priority for myself and team Canada Unity for 2023,” he said.
The protest had been billed as a repeat of events that brought downtown Ottawa to a standstill. Big-rigs, vehicles and protesters occupied the city for weeks to oppose public health measures and COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
Bauder was arrested in Ottawa on Feb. 20, as police from across Canada removed protesters. He was charged with mischief to obstruct property, disobeying a lawful court order and obstruct/resist a peace officer.
Bauder was released on a promise to appear later in court, with conditions not to return to downtown Ottawa.
The reunion convoy was first announced by Bauder and lesser-known protesters Colin Ross and Ron Clark on Christmas Day.
Winnipeg was selected owing to its central location, with people expected to attend from across the country.
At the time, the Winnipeg Police Service said it was aware of the online chatter and was assessing information about it. The provincial government said it was also gathering information about the proposed event.
“While Manitobans respect the right to peaceful and lawful protests, the rights of all citizens to live peacefully and travel without significant disruption needs to be respected and protected as well,” a spokesperson said when the plans were first announced.
“Actions by those participating in this event that are not consistent with those principles would be referred to law enforcement.”
According to Bauder, he was forced to cancel the protest after experiencing several “security breaches” and attacks on his character, and said he could not guarantee public safety for participants.
He further stated the Canada Unity group would not be involved in any “convoy-themed” protests in the country.
Bauder’s statement went on to say a faction of the movement wanted to distance itself from the Canada Unity group and host a “World Unity Convoy” in Winnipeg on the same dates. However, Bauder’s group was excluded from participating.
“It truly broke our hearts and our trust,” Bauder wrote, noting the World Unity Convoy’s values did not align with those of his group.
On Dec. 31, Clark, who also hails from Alberta, took to social media to announce the formal launch of the World Unity Convoy event.
He did not say what shape or form the event would take, but emphasized it is not a second freedom convoy or a rally.
“This is a world unity convoy of bringing people together,” he said.
Clark called Bauder’s decision to step back from the group unfortunate. He lamented the fracturing of the movement.
“Every suggestion that gets put out always gets some sort of opposition from other groups in our movement,” Clark said. “How do we expect the numbers to come together when people in our own movement can’t agree on anything?
“We cannot, and will not, succeed if we keep this division up within our own movement. Egos and pride need to be curbed.”
A social media page promoting the event had accumulated in excess of 1,000 followers by Monday afternoon.
Clark listed a small group of organizers, including Ross and Greg Pittman.
Pittman was one of a dozen people arrested and charged by Winnipeg police in early October, following a months-long encampment on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature.
A group led in part by Trina Francois set up a teepee on the north lawn in mid-June and established a significant footprint on the grounds over three months, that included two teepees, a porta-potty, makeshift kitchen, garden and mailbox.
The protesters called the main teepee a law lodge, claimed they didn’t recognize the government or its laws, and said they were exercising sovereignty. Police moved in on the encampment when protesters attempted to raise a third teepee.
Pittman and Francois were charged with obstructing a peace officer and occupying a portable structure in the legislative precinct.
A request for comment from World Unity Convoy organizers was not returned.
On Monday, police said they were aware of efforts to plan an event in February but had no further comment.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Monday, January 2, 2023 7:43 PM CST: Adds missing word to sentence