Canadian far-right and white nationalist groups see the so-called “Freedom Convoy” as an opportunity, with some hoping the protests will be Canada’s version of last year’s Jan. 6 riot in Washington.
Hundreds of truckers and their supporters are making their way from B.C. to Ottawa for a planned protest outside Parliament on Saturday.
The loosely-organized group – has raised almost $4.5 million through GoFundMe since Jan. 14 – and is said to oppose vaccine mandates, particularly a new vaccination requirement for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border into Canada.
But a review of the protesters’ online communications, including real-time chatter over walkie-talkie app Zello, suggest a collection of grievances and anti-government sentiment that extends beyond vaccine mandates.
And while the most extreme voices likely do not reflect the position of most protesters, it’s clear that those extreme voices are hoping to capitalize on their anger.
“F—king A, guys, let’s get pumped for this. Let’s go to f–king Ottawa,” said one supporter, described by anti-hate activists as a far-right vlogger in a recent YouTube clip.
Referring to the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol building events in Washington last January, he said: “I want to see one of those truckers … None of our guys (involved), obviously. But I’d like to see our own January 6 event. … See some of those truckers plough right through that 16 foot wall.”
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One of the groups associated with the event, Canada Unity, has produced a pseudo-legalistic “memorandum of understanding” they plan to present to Gov. General Mary Simon and the Senate, which they mistakenly believe would force the government to rescind COVID-19 public health measures, or force the government to resign en masse.
Some supporters suggested they would not leave Ottawa until vaccine mandates for public servants, Canadian travellers and cross-border truckers are lifted.
On one Facebook group connected to the convoy with more than 35,000 members, one user recently asked “what would happen if the military stood behind us and not Trudope?”
“There WILL Be a LYNCHING…!” another user responded, according to screenshots shared with Global News.
“The military took an oath to protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians without bias or political affiliation against threats foreign or domestic,” another user chimed in.
“Let us pray they do the right thing should they be called upon.”
On the Zello app, which the protesters and supporters use to chat with each other as they make their way across the country, one user chimed in with a threat to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“If anything we should grab Trudeau by the g—mn neck and kick the s–t out of him for what he’s done,” said the user, who was immediately reminded by several other to keep things “peaceful.”
The more extreme comments from supporters may not reflect the views of the convoy organizers and participants. One organizer, Brigitte Belton, told Global News Monday that protesters looking to “cause havoc” should “stay home.”
“Go play your video games, smoke pot, whatever it is you do, and let the big boys and girls fight for your freedom to do that,” Belton said.
Stephanie Carvin, a former CSIS analyst who teaches international relations and security issues at Carleton University, said the issue isn’t that the protesters are necessarily extremists. It’s that extremists “are seeing a very angry pool of people, and I think they see this as an opportunity to capitalize on the anger and frustration” and push their narratives.
But Carvin suggested it’s unlikely Saturday’s protest will be on a similar scale to the Jan. 6 riot in Washington – whatever Canada’s extremist fringe says on their YouTube chat.
The Parliamentary Protective Service, who are responsible for security on Parliament Hill, told Global News they are aware of the protest plans and are coordinating with other security agencies.
“The service continuously monitors threats and is closely monitoring (this) situation. The service adjusts its security posture on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct as required,” the service said in a statement.
“For everyone’s safety, the service will not comment on security matters.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which is responsible for monitoring and in some cases disrupting domestic security threats, was similarly tight lipped — although it noted the agency does not investigate “lawful protest and dissent.”
“As you can expect, we do not publicly comment, confirm or deny the specifics of our investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities,” wrote spokesperson Keira Lawson in an email.
On the protesters’ Zello chat, many supporters hoped their protest would result in an end to vaccine mandates and other public health measures designed to limit COVID’s death toll as the Omicron wave continues to spread.
And despite organizers’ promises of peaceful protest, the issue was consistently framed as an existential battle.
“We need our freedom back. We can’t keep living like this,” said one user.
“So thank you so much for putting your guys’ life on that line.”
Moderators, meanwhile, repeatedly urged participants to “be so respectful” and to be on their “best behaviour.”
“They’re going to be blown away by our kindness,” one said.