The rallying point, at least the original one, is to get the federal government to repeal a vaccine mandate for border-crossing truckers — and cancel government Covid-19 tracking apps and all vaccine mandates. The demonstrators are threatening to disrupt downtown Ottawa for as long as necessary — a warning that comes with the House of Commons set to resume Monday.
The protest, however, has steam-rolled into a high-profile event onto which far-right individuals have hitched their own causes — as have many with a grievance as Canada enters the 23rd month of the pandemic.
Frustration with Covid-19 measures has been building at a time when prices for groceries and gas have been rising sharply. Inflation hit a three-decade high last month.
The freewheeling organization is also creating fears of potential violence.
Some supporters have made calls to invoke the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. Others have promoted property damage and encouraged making threats to public officials.
Donald Trump, Jr. called Canada’s trucker movement a “genius idea” and said he hoped to see more of the same kind of thing in the U.S.
“Let’s support these truckers fighting for freedom, fighting as patriots,” Trump Jr. said in a video on his Facebook page.
Late Thursday, authorities took an unheard-of step in Ottawa by urging federal lawmakers in the city to “close and lock all exterior doors” of their homes. Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell revealed that efforts had been made to dox the residential addresses of members of Parliament.
Asked about Jan. 6 comparisons, Sloly also said he’s aware it has been “sewn into the narrative” surrounding the trucker convoy. But he added he’s confident the vast majority of people will demonstrate lawfully and peacefully.
Trudeau has refused to budge on the vaccine mandate based on his belief that he has Canada’s silent majority on his side.
“This small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa or who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians,” Trudeau said Wednesday as he noted close to 90 percent of the country’s eligible population has been vaccinated.
Trudeau won’t be meeting with any of the protesters over the weekend, at least not in person. The prime minister announced Thursday that he was exposed to Covid and would be isolated for five days after receiving a negative test.
The convoy has significant support — and a growing pile of money.
As of Friday, a GoFundMe campaign for the truckers had already raised more than C$7.2 million thanks to 92,000 donations.
Cheering supporters holding placards and waving Canadian flags have gathered on the side of highways and on overpasses to greet the convoy during its cross-country trek.
The tractor-trailers have also drawn a lot of international attention to Canada.
“Canadian truckers rule,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Thursday before following up a few hours later with another post. “CB radios are free from govt/media control.”
Actor and comic Russell Brand threw his support behind the truckers. “Here’s to the Canadian truckers, here’s to standing up for freedom, here’s to unique ways of protesting and ensuring voices that can’t be heard inside the system are heard elsewhere,” he said.
A big unknown is the size of the convoy — and the expected magnitude of the Ottawa protests.
Public figures and others have been talking up the size of the motorcade. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for example, described it this week as 40 miles long.
Sloly, the Ottawa Police chief, said authorities won’t know what the city will be dealing with until the trucks arrive.
He agreed with rough estimates presented to him by a reporter during the press conference — close to 1,000 vehicles coming into Ottawa from the west, including around 230 tractor-trailers and tractors. Police also believe up to 200 vehicles are rolling into Ottawa from Eastern Canada as well as around 2,000 people are expected to cross on foot across the nearby provincial border with Quebec.
Sloly said police have had good communication and cooperation with the convoy organizers.
But the risk factors, he added, extend beyond the core demonstrators to people who have been making online posts about joining the events.
“Some of them have been very clear in inciting hate, encouraging acts of violence and criminality,” he said. “We have a good plan, well resourced, focused on the core elements of a large vehicle convoy entering into the downtown core of the nation’s capital and all of the risks that come with that.
“But we have the asymmetric threats that are attributed to individuals and groups that are also parallel to these demonstrations.”
Ottawa is not immune to violence around its political institutions.
In 2014, a gunman killed a soldier guarding Canada’s war memorial before storming into Parliament’s Centre Block, where he was shot dead by the sergeant-at-arms.
During the summer of 2020, an armed man was stopped by police after he rammed a gate at Rideau Hall with his pickup truck and tried to get to Trudeau’s home.
Tamara Lich and Benjamin Dichter are the convoy organizers. Lich has said there will be zero tolerance for extremists and apologized Wednesday for any trouble that may be caused as a result of the rally.
“Due to the size of our movement and the overwhelming support we are receiving from people around the world, we can no longer promise that the average Canadian will not be disrupted by our convoy,” Lich and Dichter said in a statement. “For that, we are truly sorry, and we will do our very best to limit the disruptions to your lives.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra defended the government’s vaccine mandate position in a statement Friday to POLITICO.
“The trucking industry is critical to our economy and to our supply chains,” Alghabra said “They keep our economy moving, but they can’t do that when they are sick at home or in the hospital. The best way to protect them, all Canadians, and our supply chains is through vaccination.”
Alghabra, who was targeted by a racist tweet from a high-profile convoy supporter, added that the government recognizes the right to protest as long as it’s done peacefully and respectfully.
The truckers’ movement is racking up supporters south of the border — at least four border crossings on the U.S. side will see protesters gathering in solidarity Saturday with Canadian truckers. Freedom Fighter Nation, a California nonprofit “dedicated to protecting individual’s civil liberties and privacy rights,” has organized convoy protests at noon at three border locations: Houlton, Maine; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.; and Sweet Grass, Mont.
“This convoy is open to all freedom-lovers: Farmers, moms in Volvos, plumbers, teachers, nurses, doctors, mechanics, restaurant employees, retirees and students – EVERYONE. If you are within a day’s ride to one of these borders – GO!!!” the organization says on its website.
Kelly Hooper contributed to this report