Corporate media outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times have been telling us for years now how Hungary and Poland are incubators of authoritarianism that represent an existential threat to democracy. But it turns out we should have been worried about Canada and Australia, of all places.
If you had told me 18 months ago that Australia, a democratic country that once seemed to exude rugged individualism, would devolve into a Covid police state that imprisons its citizens in quarantine camps and deploys riot police to crush lockdown protests with brute force, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are.
Now comes Canada, where the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers that arrived in Ottawa more than a week ago to protest Covid vaccine mandates has effectively shut down Canada’s capital. The mayor declared a state of emergency on Monday after the city’s law enforcement authorities talked openly about calling in the military over the weekend.
Foremost among these has been Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, who has ominously called the protests “highly organized, well-funded, extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstrations safely,” and rather recklessly said there “may not be a policing solution” to the crisis. Meanwhile, the police appear to be making the situation worse. Faced with hundreds of heavy-duty trucks and tractors downtown, authorities in Ottawa are now seizing gasoline, food, and other supplies from protesters, although it’s unclear they have any legal authority to do so.
News media in both Canada and the United States have worked hard to portray the protesters as far-right conspiracy theorists and white supremacists, despite little evidence that the protests are motivated by anything other than sincere opposition to Covid vaccine mandates. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, taking his cues from the press, last week condemned the protests as an “insult to memory and truth,” and implied they were motivated not by objections to vaccine mandates but by racial animus. Canada’s conservative politicians seem divided and rudderless, unable to provide the protesters a voice or meaningful support, let alone a legitimate democratic outlet for their grievances.
The situation, in short, is a powder keg. There are no clear off-ramps for the protesters, and no one in a position of authority seems to know how to deescalate the situation. Having accepted the Canadian media’s near-uniform portrayal of the protesters as racists and bigots, it’s unlikely Trudeau’s government will be willing to compromise. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but it will likely involve violent clashes between police and protesters.
How did this happen? The idea that the Canadian capital would become the site of such a standoff in 2022 seems frankly unbelievable. But the chaos now unfolding in Ottawa can be traced directly to the harsh treatment of unvaccinated Canadians by their government over the past six months or so.
It’s true that Canadians have largely embraced the Covid vaccines, with a vaccination rate of about 85 percent nationwide, and large majorities also support vaccine passports and say they don’t trust the unvaccinated. But this has given Canadian political and media elites cover to threaten the unvaccinated in what often seems a gleeful tone.
As my friend David Agren has reported, Canada’s federal jobs minister in October stated bluntly — and without a hint of sympathy — that Canadians fired for not getting the vaccine would also lose their unemployment insurance. Indeed, threatening the livelihoods of the unvaccinated, or threatening to tax them, has become commonplace for Canadian government officials at the federal and provincial levels.
However, a significant minority of Canadians are staunchly opposed to getting the vaccine, and likely won’t get it no matter what the government threatens to do to them. The unwillingness or inability on the part of Trudeau to compromise with these holdouts has arguably precipitated the current stand-off in Ottawa. Some, like Canadian pollster John Wright, have been warning of this outcome for some time now. Over the weekend, Wright noted that even if only one out of 10 Canadians refuse to get the vaccine, that’s still a major problem.
Trudeau and his fellow left-wing elites, who have long defined themselves by their anti-Americanism, might revel in a confrontation with what they perceive to be a Trumpian populist movement in Canada. But they should be careful, because what comes next might well have reverberations outside Canada.
The Ottawa stand-off has already spilled over into a broader conflict between Big Tech and populism in the United States, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis forcing GoFundMe to back away from its threat to confiscate and redistribute some $10 million in donations for the convoy protesters.
From here, the crisis could easily widen further. Sloly, the Ottawa police chief, has claimed that a “significant element from the United States” has been involved in the funding and organization of the protest convoy. It’s not hard to imagine the U.S. intelligence community and the F.B.I., at the behest of Trudeau’s government, going after convoy protest organizers inside the United States.
In that case, the Biden administration’s support for a Trudeau crackdown should rightly be understood as a terrifying and malign collusion of left-wing elites in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. Such collusion would of course have implications far beyond the frozen streets of the Canadian capital.
It might seem unbelievable, after two years of this pandemic, that we’re now discussing the possible deployment of Canada’s military to crush a domestic populist revolt, or grappling with the prospect of a weaponized U.S. law enforcement colluding with the Canadian left to crush dissenting voices in America. But this is really happening, and it’s happening because our elites will not tolerate dissent — at least not from the wrong sort of people.