Convoy protesters embrace U.S. revolutionary symbols

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The symbols that are part of an anti-vaccine mandate protest in front of the legislature are most often signs touting “freedom” and Canadian and American flags. On Friday, the day the province announced it’s speeding up the plan to lift pandemic restrictions, a new flag appeared.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/02/2022 (232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The symbols that are part of an anti-vaccine mandate protest in front of the legislature are most often signs touting “freedom” and Canadian and American flags. On Friday, the day the province announced it’s speeding up the plan to lift pandemic restrictions, a new flag appeared.

The yellow banner with a snake and “Don’t Tread on Me — Live Free or Die” popped up on the Broadway median.

“Don’t tread on my freedoms,” said a protester who stood close to the flag over the noon hour and waved to motorists. Most of them waved back.

“We’re opposing government tyranny,” said the man who declined to give his name.

“We’re all good people, we’re all respectful, nobody’s hurting anybody,” he said. “We’ve got one common enemy — the government that is taking control of our lives. This is where it ends.”

The yellow snake flag — the Gadsden flag — dates back to the American Revolution and has been used by groups pushing for minimal government and more extreme causes, like the Tea Party that rose to prominence protesting the first African American president, and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a retired Winnipeg sociology professor who studies extremism and hate groups.

The slogan ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ was popular in the mid-1770s to express the American colonists’ desire for freedom from British rule, he said.

Canadians who want a radical change politically look to the U.S. for revolutionary symbols and ideas. The U.S. flag is emblematic, says an Ottawa academic who sees Canadian protesters importing and adopting American imagery.

“In (Canada), we’ve almost always stayed away from a revolutionary model of politics,” said Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University national security professor. “Peace, order and good government is just how we do things. Whereas, in America, the revolution mentality is still very alive,” said Carvin who has lived in the U.S.

“When you’re talking about a movement that wants to kind of radically change Canadian politics, they’re turning to American imagery to do that because their culture is so pervasive,” she said. Stars and Stripes flags are on display at so-called “freedom convoy” protests for a reason. “They’re using that flag because we know what it means and we know what the American flag is and we know who Trump is and all those kinds of things,” she said.

The academic is watching to see if the protests are signs of a Tea Party-style of politics forming in Canada.

“We don’t know yet. And the reason is that the Tea Party is emblematic of a populist movement,” she said. “We really haven’t seen that in Canada in a big way, possibly until now.”

She pointed to the 2019 “United We Roll” populist convoy that was supposed to be about supporting oil and gas but was really based on conspiracy theories, she said. This time, the “freedom convoy” organizers have had more success organizing events, raising millions of dollars and receiving attention.

“They were able to tap into anti-government sentiment” around the pandemic, Carvin said.

“The question is, will this movement be able to continue?

“This is a very fractious bunch of people,” Carvin said. “There’s a lot of egos. When large amounts of money are involved, people start fighting.”

Infighting has been reported among convoy movers and shakers, she said.

When the pandemic is over, they’ll need to find another issue.

“It could be cost of living. It could be immigration. It could be carbon tax. So there’s a number of other issues they could use, but there’s no guarantee of success,” said Carvin.

A politician might give credence to a group like the “freedom convoy” but that doesn’t mean the extremist group will support that politician, she said.

“They don’t really care about the politician. They just care about the politician legitimizing their message.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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