A caravan of vehicles participated in a protest in Winnipeg this week as part of the Freedom Convoy, protesting changes made to vaccination policies at the border as of Jan. 15.

Opinion

A caravan of vehicles participated in a protest in Winnipeg this week as part of the Freedom Convoy, protesting changes made to vaccination policies at the border as of Jan. 15.

Hundreds of truckers set out from B.C. last weekend en route to Ottawa after the federal government declared that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Canadian truck drivers, among others, entering the country must get a PCR molecular test outside of Canada within 72 hours of planned entry, get tested when they arrive and then self-test on the eighth day of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

No credible political party in Canada should affiliate themselves with this protest. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the sector, has made it clear that it does not support the protest. On its website, the CTA stated the majority of those who work in the industry are vaccinated and that “most of our nation’s hard-working truck drivers are continuing to move cross-border and domestic freight to ensure our economy continues to function.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers says photos of empty store shelves predate the vaccination mandate and have more to do with weather, which disrupted the supply chain for certain products like chicken. Other materials like packaging have also been in short supply for some time now, making manufacturing difficult. Empty store shelves have nothing to do with a vaccination mandate at the borders.

But it’s hard not to take the convoy seriously. So far it has raised more than $4.7 million in a GoFundMe page organized by Tamara Lich, who has Manitoba roots. According to her website, she worked in this province in 2006 before moving back to southern Alberta to continue to work in the oil and gas sector. She’s now a member of the Maverick party, which wants Western provinces to separate from Canada.

Lich was also a key organizer in Alberta for the yellow-vest caravan in 2019, which called for the building of pipelines and a clampdown on illegal immigration and decried Canada’s signing the United Nations Migration Pact, a non-binding treaty that aims to improve global co-operation on international migration. Some yellow-vest protesters used Facebook to post death threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family. Those posts were eventually removed.

These groups should not be written off as mere protests in the heat of the pandemic moment. In the United States and in Canada, researchers are concerned that far-right extremists are seizing on the anti-vaccination movement as a way to exploit their own agenda. In the U.S., the movement gained steam politically, aligning itself with the Tea Party and other far-right activists as part of a political action committee, pushing for religious exemptions and other legislation to hamper the spread of vaccines.

With COVID-19 and the rise of public health measures, including mandatory vaccination requirements for employment and travel, the anti-vaccination movement in the United States has new momentum. It is becoming a political movement with outspoken champions like anti-immigration blogger Nick Fuentes, one-time Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

In Canada, many of those now protesting vaccination mandates have been part of earlier anti-government and anti-immigration campaigns that predate the pandemic. As researchers Amarnath Amarasingam, Stephanie Carvin and Kurt Phillips have determined, these include “Yellow Vests Canada (a pro-oil and pipeline group that quickly adopted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories concerning world government, the United Nations and immigration), the legacy and remnant groupings of the Canadian chapter of the Islamophobic and anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin, as well as individuals inspired by far-right extremist narratives.”

The issue becomes this: what underlies the anti-vaccination stance, and where does the anger go, once the pandemic is over?

In the last federal election, the People’s Party of Canada saw an upswing in support, taking advantage of the anti-vax, anti-Trudeau, anti-immigration sentiments. As Amarasingam, Carvin and Phillips discuss in their research, alt-right political parties like the PPC are now being joined by far-right parties at the provincial level.

In Ontario, there are now three alternative parties vying for votes in the upcoming provincial election. In Alberta, the Maverick party, the Wild Rose Independence Party and the Alberta Statehood Party are also looking to gain supporters. Amarasingam, Carvin and Phillips point out that “new grievances will likely be along the lines of previous far-right extremist preoccupations, such as the promotion of anti-immigration, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic views, policies and violence.”

Any credible political party, particularly at the federal level, should be denouncing the Freedom Convoy and standing on the side of the CTA and the majority of professional truck drivers who are doing the right thing: working hard and ensuring that they keep themselves and others safe in doing so.

Canada is still waiting for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to prove he wants to be credible.

Shannon Sampert holds the Eakin Visiting Fellowship in Canadian Studies at McGill University and is the former politics and perspectives editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Shannon@mediadiva.ca