The only way to understand the actions of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the past two weeks is that he wants the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa, which so far have been entirely peaceful, to descend into a violent confrontation between protesters and police.
Everything Trudeau has done, from his initial dismissive remarks about the protesters being a “small, fringe minority” with “unacceptable views,” to his ongoing refusal to meet with them, to the unprecedented invocation of the Emergencies Act this week, has served to escalate the situation in Ottawa and increase the likelihood that it ends in some kind of violence.
Consider the draconian measures Trudeau’s government is now pursuing. The protests, while certainly inconvenient and even onerous to the residents of Ottawa, are obviously not an existential threat to Canada. They are not even a national emergency according to the Emergencies Act’s own definition: an “urgent and critical situation” that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it.”
No reasonable person thinks that’s what the protests in Ottawa are. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said the federal government has not met the threshold necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act, and that invoking it “threatens our democracy and our civil liberties.” According to some recent polls, a not insignificant number of Canadians agree.
Yet Trudeau is bringing down the full force of the federal government to quash the Freedom Convoy. Under the Emergencies Act, protesters can have their bank accounts frozen, and so can people who simply donate to protesters. Crowdfunding platforms and payment service providers must cease all services to anyone they suspect might be participating in “illegal blockades,” and report it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Truckers can have their commercial and private drivers’ licenses revoked, and can lose their insurance and their vehicles.
Even more ominously, Canadian government officials are now warning parents who bring their children to “illegal assemblies,” or even provide food or fuel to protesters, that they could not only face jail time and steep fines, they could lose custody of their children. On Wednesday, the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa put out a statement urging parents at the demonstrations to make alternate care arrangements, “should they become unable to care for their children following potential police action.”
The threat here is obvious: if you protest, we’ll arrest you and take your children away. Trudeau has effectively weaponized Canada’s version of child protective services to suppress legitimate political dissent. What do you think is going to happen when the police start trying to remove children from their parents? If it were your child, what would you do?
All of this could come to a head in the coming days. Police in Ottawa have begun handing out notices to protesters that they must “leave the area now” or face arrest. According to some reports, if police want to clear the streets of Ottawa, they’re going to have to get it done in the next 48 hours, because thousands more protesters are expected to arrive in the Canadian capital this coming weekend in what could be the largest demonstration yet.
But it’s unclear how exactly the authorities are going to clear the trucks. Towing these semi-trailers is going to take heavy equipment, and so far local towing companies have refused government requests to tow the Freedom Convoy trucks. The military would be able to move them, and Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act enables the use of the military for such an operation. But that would create a disturbing spectacle at the least, and at worst provoke a confrontation that could turn violent.
If that happens, Trudeau will bear the blame. He has set up a situation where violence, or at least some kind of forcible crackdown by Canadian law enforcement against protesters, is becoming inevitable. Indeed, how else are we to understand Trudeau’s statement earlier this week that the protests, which have so far been totally peaceful, are in his judgment no longer “non-violent”?
At no point, even after drawing widespread criticism for his mishandling of the situation, has Trudeau shown any sign of compromise, or done anything to give the protesters an off-ramp. Even as provincial governments have eased or rescinded Covid mandates and restrictions in the face of sharply declining case numbers and hospitalizations, Trudeau is holding fast. As Eric Kaufman noted this week in the Telegraph, Trudeau’s hypocrisy in these matters is blatant:
Contrast his combative posture towards the truckers with his gentle approach to protesters who would seem to share his philosophy. When Left-wing arsonists burned some 30 Catholic churches over a false claim that mass graves had been discovered near a former residential school for indigenous Canadians, Trudeau called the violence ‘understandable’. When indigenous protesters and their allies blocked rail lines and pipelines over a longer period than the trucker convoy, Trudeau patiently called for ‘dialogue and mutual respect’.
The Canadian prime minister’s reactions to these events tell us that he condones actual political violence and disruptive blockades, as long he agrees with the people who are doing it. The truckers, though, have gotten neither dialogue nor respect from Trudeau and his administration. After all, to Trudeau they’re just a bunch of racists and misogynists with “unacceptable views.”
On Wednesday, he doubled down on the name-calling, responding to a conservative Jewish MP that Conservative Party members “stand with people who wave swastikas,” and “stand with people who wave the Confederate flag…” (For that quip, Trudeau earned a rebuke from the speaker of the House of Commons, who reminded him “to use words that are not inflammatory.”)
At this point, if you’re a protester in Canada, or someone who supports the protests, or even someone who thinks the protesters are wrong but the government has gone too far, the message from Trudeau is clear: We will not listen to you, we will not compromise with you, and if you don’t comply with our orders, we will ruin you.
That is a recipe for violence, and Trudeau knows it. He wants to make an example out of these truckers because deep down he is an illiberal man with an intolerant worldview.
These protesters have the wrong views, so they don’t deserve the “dialogue and mutual respect” afforded to left-wing protesters. For all his virtue-signaling about diversity, Trudeau doesn’t really believe in Canada as a pluralistic society where people of different views and ways of life can live together in peace. He believes in a society where the little people, the people with the wrong views, do as they’re told.
The thing is, most of these protesters have done just that. The vast majority of the truckers are vaccinated. They have complied with some of the most severe Covid mandates and restrictions in the western world for two years now. They did all that was asked of them, and when they finally got fed up with it they organized a peaceful protest.
And for that, Trudeau is trying to crush them.