It has been an eventful couple of days in Canada.
Yesterday began with the Ottawa Police threatening any police officer found to be helping the Freedom Convoy, even to the extent of getting them food and water. That prohibition was then extended to everyone.
Shortly after, the Ottawa Police department announced a “surge and contain” strategy for dealing with the Freedom Convoy. Anticipating a significant increase in the number of protesters in and around downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill, the Ottawa Police proposed deploying an additional 150 officers in the downtown neighborhoods to respond to any alleged unlawful activity.
Separately, GoFundMe created its own controversy by opting not only to cancel the Freedom Convoy’s immensely successful fundraiser, but sought to expropriate the 9 million Canadian dollars still to be disbursed—instead of refunding the money to the donors, the Freedom Convoy was given the option of selecting a set of charities (to be approved by GoFundMe) where the funds could be donated. Unsurprisingly, public disapproval of this scheme ran extremely high, and within a few hours GoFundMe reversed itself and pledged full automatic refunds to the Freedom Convoy’s donors. (I will be discussing GoFundMe's decisions in detail separately; they are mentioned here in order to provide a fuller background).
Thus the stage was set for an apparent showdown between the Freedom Convoy and the Ottawa Police.
As Expected, More People Showed Up
Freedom Convoy protests occurred not only in Ottawa, but in several other Canadian cities, a sign of the movement's growing support and popularity. The Ottawa protest in particular took on aspects of a traditional rally, having had benefit of the previous week to organize.
On Saturday, the Ottawa contingent appeared well organized. Trucks clogged Wellington and other streets in Centretown. A wooden shack constructed earlier in the week at nearby Confederation Park offered free coffee and sandwiches. There were ample supplies of firewood, firepits and portable generators at the site. Journalists have documented a sophisticated command centre at a parking lot in the city’s east end. There was also a stage, where musicians performed and participants made speeches.
Saturday's protest was apparently comparable in size to the previous weekend, with estimates of roughly 5,000 people in attendance.
Police estimate Saturday’s crowd at about 5,000 people and included about 1,000 vehicles, both personal vehicles and tractor trailers.
A counter demonstration effort had emerged but it was noticeably smaller than the Freedom Convoy.
Police Chief Peter Sloly at midday Saturday reported 1,000 vehicles, roughly 5,000 protesters and at least 300 counterprotesters in his city’s streets. That was fewer people than there were in last weekend’s protests but a large increase since Friday.
However, several convoys of farm vehicles were reported traveling to Ottawa to join the Saturday protests, further indication of the movement's rising popularity.
The truckers are expected to be joined Saturday by farmers en route to the city. In an email to supporters, Patricia Enright of the group, No More Lockdowns, said farm tractor convoys from will be converging on Ottawa from three directions early Saturday afternoon.
While the reported “official” crowd estimates were smaller than the previous weekend, National Post columnist Rupa Subramanya went on Twitter to suggest the crowd was larger than before.
Regardless of size, the protest itself was apparently peaceful, with some taking to Twitter to highlight such actions by the protesters as providing meals to the area homeless.
Absent from the media coverage has been any mention of substantial arrests. The assessment from the previous weekend of “No riots, no injuries, no deaths” appears to still be the case.
The Missing Surge?
Despite the announced “surge" strategy by the police, some Ottawa residents took to Twitter to complain of the absence of law enforcement.
While social media commentary itself is inadequate to prove any unlawfulness by the protesters—and I will not speculate on whether the protesters did or did not violate any Ottawa ordinances—the confrontation between the Freedom Convoy and the police did not happen. The Freedom Convoy showed up, and the police apparently observed but did not intervene.
Protests Spreading To Other Cities
That the Freedom Convoy is not only popular but increasingly so is being demonstrated by the appearance of supportive protests in other Canadian cities. Quebec and especially Toronto are seeing sizeable crowds in their downtown areas to support the Ottawa truckers.
Several hundred protesters gathered on the south side of the Ontario legislature in Toronto Saturday. Police closed off roads using cars, SUVs, and municipal buses to block all vehicular traffic into Queen’s Park circle and nearby Hospital Row. Protesters were still allowed to enter the grounds of the legislature by foot to cluster around a monument of King Edward VII on horseback.
Like the Ottawa protest, these provincial efforts are so far also peaceful.
Not Going Away
If the goal of the Ottawa Police in announcing their surge strategy wto dissuade further protests, it quite clearly failed. The Freedom Convoy showed up in Ottawa undeterred, even as it spreads to other cities.
The Canadian Revolution is not going away any time soon.
If the goal of the Ottawa Police was to draw a red line against unlawful and inappropriate conduct by the Freedom Convoy, that, too, was a failure. The Freedom Convoy conducted itself yesterday much as it had the previous weekend, and one interpretation of the supposed police non-presence is the protesters simply that they did not break any laws or force police to do anything.
For its part, the goal of the Freedom Convoy members remains the same: end the COVID-19 mandates.
The challenge to the Canadian government remains, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains adamant that he will not engage with the demonstrators. How long that stance will remain tenable is uncertain, although there is no indication of a no confidence motion is being considered by the Canadian legislature at this time.
The problem for Trudeau is that a draw favors the truckers. Whether one views the protest as an illegal occupation of Ottawa or a noble and much needed opposition to the COVID-19 mandates, as matters stand the Convoy is successfully holding the Canadian government at bay. For all his bluster, Trudeau still has no plan to end the protest.
The truckers are winning the Canadian Revolution just by showing up. Justin Trudeau is losing simply by refusing to be seen.