In January 2022, the Freedom Convoy, also known as Truckers for Freedom, caught the attention of Canadian media. The convoy was then thought to be organized by long-haul truck drivers, who were planning a large-scale convoy to the nation’s capital in protest of a federal mandate for these truckers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to cross between Canada and the USA. The protest quickly turned into an occupation, and consequently it grid locked the city of Ottawa. For more than a month, the convoy dominated news media globally. However, misinformation was rampant. Reports of tens of thousands of trucks on their way to Ottawa circulated social media widely. Three thousand vehicles and 15,000 people descended upon Ottawa. While this volume of traffic was enough to grid lock the city of Ottawa, it’s a fraction of what was reported. Snopes investigated this size exaggeration and other misinformation that circulated about the convoy.
It became clear that misinformation was the tip of the iceberg, though, when symbols associated with extremist groups were seen at the occupation of Ottawa. Convoy supporter and Conservative Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre called these participants “a few bad apples” and, therefore, not representative of the Convoy as a whole, yet it didn’t take much effort to uncover information that indicated several Freedom Convoy fundraisers and organizers had ties to these groups. This prompted critics to question whether the Convoys motives were really about the federal mandate requiring truckers to be vaccinated.
On January 14th A GoFundMe campaign for the movement was started by Tamara Lich, who is not a truck driver, but is a former secretary of the western separatist Maverick Party (known for their pro-pipeline, anti-climate action, and anti-gun control platform). Lich had been on the radar of the Canadian Anti Hate Network prior to becoming involved with the Freedom Convoy, having often posted anti-Muslim content on social media and hosted an event for anti-Islam podcaster Tom Quiggin. GoFundMe eventually suspended the campaign following police and community reports that the protest could no longer be called peaceful and had escalated into an occupation of Ottawa with incidents of violence and unlawful behaviour. More than $10 million was raised, but only $1 million was dispersed to convoy participants. A second campaign on GiveSendGo was then initiated by Lich.
We first heard the group’s goal from emerging Convoy spokesperson and fundraiser (but coincidentally not a truck driver), Benjamin ‘BJ’ Dichter, who said on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, “we want to get rid of the vaccine mandates and the passports. And that passport, that’s the really concerning one”. This goal appeared to expand as time went on, however, because Jason LaFace, who is also not a trucker, but is tied to Soldiers Of Odin (SOO), who share a name with Finnish white supremacist group, but deny any relation (see Photo), stated that the current goal of the convoy was to dissolve the federal government, “This is no longer about the mandate anymore. This is about Canada, this is about our rights and how the government’s been manipulating the population and oppressing us all the time” (as reported by City News, January 26, 2022). LaFace went on to say, “I’m one of the main organizers for ‘No More Lockdowns’ and Canada Unity asked me to join their team and I’ve been organizing pretty much a good portion of Ontario for the rally.“
Soon after hearing from LaFace, Canada Unity submitted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), on behalf of the Freedom Convoy, to the Senate of Canada and Governor General of Canada Mary Simon. The MOU asked for all vaccine mandates to be dropped, employees who have lost their jobs due to vaccination status, and fines for non-compliance be rescinded. It is unclear which powers Canada Unity believes government officials have to stop employers and other private organizations from mandating vaccine requirements. Further, the document stated that if these demands were not met, that the Governor General or the Senate of Canada must dissolve the federal government and name members of Canada Unity to form a committee of citizens. These demands are beyond the constitutional powers of both the Governor General and Senate. Canada Unity’s mission is unclear, but reads like a support group, stating, “Our mission is to find and promote the common bonds of UNITY that our great CREATOR shares. Our belief is that despite all the differences that we have allowed to define us. Canada shares common struggles and triumphs. It is time; whoever you are, whatever your political, religious, race or gender orientation, we know that you have a story to tell that will touch someone’s heart. If you have a story of triumph, struggles, woes or any other challenges just know we stand with you”. What is clear about Canada Unity though, is that it has received support from QAnon influencers such as John Sabal, Qtah, and David Clements.
Given even this brief overview of the Convoy and a few of its many organizers, critics may be warranted in their skepticism of its goals. Is it unreasonable to be skeptical of a movement that was openly organized by members of white supremacist and conspiracy groups? Is it fair to label those who protested with and in tandem with hate group symbols as “a few bad apples”? This determination needs to be made by each of us, individually.
Critical consumption is more crucial than ever. If you are looking for resources to identify misinformation or bias in news media, try the following resources:
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.