It was a moment The Simpsons, the Delphic oracle of the 21st century, seemed to predict. First, in an episode that aired in 1999 called Maximum Homerdrive, Homer takes Bart across the country in a truck declaring ‘Look, son, it’s one of nature’s most beautiful sights! A convoy!’. Then in an episode called ‘D’oh Canada’, Lisa speaks to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He tries to impress her with ridiculous feats of strength, like walking on his hands while doing a yoga plank, until she asks him about a corruption case that was dogging the Prime Minister at the time. Horrified, he walks out the window, still on the palms of his hands and scuttles down the side of the building, into hiding.
In real life, the showdown has been between a convoy of Canadian truck drivers and Trudeau and has been brewing for weeks. Until mid-January, truckers crossing the Canada/US border were exempt from vaccine requirements from either government to avoid supply chain disruptions.
On 15 January, Covid restrictions were to be imposed on drivers who weren’t double-vaccinated on the Canadian side of the border and a week later, on 22 January, on the US side. The Freedom Convoy began in response on 9 January in British Columbia in western Canada and arrived in Ottawa on 29 January demanding that all Covid restrictions and mandates be repealed.
The size of the convoy is disputed. Trudeau can’t seem to make up his mind. He called the protestors ‘a few people shouting and waving swastikas’ but also said the movement had ‘morphed into something a lot larger’ although it was still ‘a very small, very angry group… who are really trying to lash out’. The BBC estimated there were 500 trucks. Ottawa police said there were at least 5,000 demonstrators and 300 counter-protesters. The organisers say there are 50,000 trucks, other vehicles and supporters.
As a separate measure of support, protesters raised over ten million Canadian dollars on crowd-sourcing website GoFundMe which then claimed the demonstrators had violated its terms of service and that it would reallocate the donations to acceptable causes, presumably progressive favourites such as Black Lives Matter. After a backlash, it agreed to refund all monies and Christian fundraising website GiveSendGo has since raised over six million dollars.
Rather than meet the protesters, Trudeau tweeted that he had tested positive for Covid and would be isolating. How convenient. He and his family then went into hiding in an undisclosed location. The truckers however were not going to just go home. ‘We’re here for the long haul,’ their banners read. And they took to honking their horns at all hours of the day and night.
‘Canadians have the right to protest, to disagree with their government, and to make their voices heard,’ tweeted Trudeau on Tuesday. But, he added peevishly, ‘they don’t have the right to blockade our economy, or our democracy, or our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop.’
Of course not. That is the right of Trudeau and the government, which, for the last two years has blockaded small businesses and the lives of citizens, particularly those that refused to comply with directives mandating lockdowns, masks, and vaccination.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson claimed that the protest had turned into ‘a siege of our downtown areas’ and said he would do everything in his power to ‘take back the streets of Ottawa from the criminal activity and hooliganism that has transpired (in) the last nine days’. But he also said, ‘It’s disturbing when you see the protest turning into what looks like some kind of a fun carnival, where they’ve got bouncy castles, and hot tubs, and saunas.’
It only inspired more hilarity on the internet. ‘It will be a proud day for the Canadian military when they storm the bouncy castle!’ tweeted one. Memes appeared quipping that Trudeau had tested positive for a new variant – Coward-19. That he had donned ‘blackface’ to escape the capital. That he had tested positive for fascism. Trudeau orders all geese rounded up and shot for honking in solidarity with truckers, joked Christian satire site The Babylon Bee.
Trudeau is, of course, double-vaccinated and boosted and the fact that he still managed to catch Covid seems to demonstrate that the vaccine is not able to prevent transmission. Indeed, between 5 December and 15 January, almost half a million (492,893) fully vaccinated Canadians caught Covid.
Yet when Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe dared to say that the vaccines were no longer effective at preventing transmission, vaccine advocates were infuriated. ‘He’s spewing basically nonsense,’ said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.
Undaunted, Moe announced the lifting of all Covid restrictions including masks and proof of vaccination for indoor dining. Similarly, conservative premier of Alberta Jason Kenney announced this week that the province’s vaccine passport would be abandoned, masking would end for school children and all children under 12 would be exempted from all mask mandates. Quebec Premier Francois Legault, also a conservative, signalled the lifting of Covid measures by mid-March. Indeed, all over Europe, restrictions are being eased or abolished, even in Democrat-controlled states in the US, where fear of retribution in the mid-term Congressional elections appears to have persuaded some governors to remove mask mandates.
The obvious reason seems to be Omicron. Canada, like most Western nations, is increasingly suffering a pandemic of the vaccinated. More than 32 million Canadians, (84 per cent) are vaccinated but in the most recent seven days for which statistics are available however, the fully-vaccinated accounted for 89 per cent of cases (102,492).
Worse, in Israel, Professor Yaakov Jerris told Israel’s Channel 13 News that most of the severe cases at the nation’s second largest hospital, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre also known as the Ichilov Hospital, were vaccinated and had ‘at least three injections’ and ‘the vaccine has no significance regarding severe illness, which is why just 20 to 25 per cent of our patients are unvaccinated’ even though 66 per cent of Israelis are fully vaccinated.
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the trucker protests have spread to Wellington and Canberra. It’s not hard to see why. The easing of restrictions is as glacial as an Ottawa winter, and most of our leaders, like Trudeau, are locked in the past.
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