Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, invoked on Monday, February 14th emergency measures to deal with protests against mandatory COVID 19 vaccination. Some provincial political leaders criticized the measure, fearing it will stoke up bigger protests.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also opposed the activation of the Emergencies Act to deal with blockades. The association’s executive director, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, said, “Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties.”
The “Freedom Trucker Convoy” that has made its way across Canada has been causing major disruptions in Ottawa and Toronto. What started as a protest against forcing unvaccinated truckers to quarantine for two weeks upon re-entry to Canada has spiraled into a general right-wing protest against the government, vaccines, masks, and much more. While this particular measure would only affect about 12,000 truckers (90% of Canada’s 120,000 cross-border truckers are vaccinated), this struggle has caught the eye of far-right groups.
Some are calling this movement a “working-class revolt,” but the leaders, backers, and supporters of the convoy are people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Elon Musk, and Ben Shapiro. GoFundMe has taken down the donation page, vowing to return $9 million to donors. The original organizer of the GoFundMe page, Tamara Linch, is the leader of a far-right fringe party in Alberta called the Maverick Party. This party calls for the Prairie Provinces to secede from Canada to form their own conservative nation. After the donation page was removed from GoFundMe on 4 February, a new one opened up on the right-wing Christian funding platform GiveSendGo. This platform helped raise money for Kyle Rittenhouse, the U.S. 17-year old who murdered Black Lives Matter protestors in Kenosha, WI.
The protestors are demanding an end to lockdowns, a repeal of vaccine mandates where they were implemented, and a repeal of mask mandates. Confederate flags and flags with Nazi symbols are present at the protests, and some protestors have compared the vaccine mandate to the Holocaust.
Opposition to government
The majority of working people in Canada do not support the convoy but there is also opposition to the government. In a poll, published on 8 February, 62 percent of respondents oppose the Freedom Convoy protest, while 44 percent said they could sympathize with truckers. Nearly half of Canadians believe the prime minister and provincial premiers are partially to blame for the ongoing protest in Ottawa due to their “condescending attitude toward Canadians who disagree with vaccine mandates and lockdowns” (Almost half of Canadians sympathetic to ‘concerns and frustrations’ of Ottawa trucker protest | National Post)
What was once a protest against economic disruptions to some truckers’ incomes has galvanized far-right and white supremacist elements. There have been reports of harassment and violence against passers-by, with one homeless shelter in Ottawa reporting verbal and physical harassment from protestors who came in trying to get meals (despite not being homeless). Health care workers have been particularly affected by this as trucks blocked ambulance access to hospitals in cities they were driving through. In Toronto, major streets were closed over the weekend to protect ambulance access to the hospitals.
It is understandable that some working people may not want to get vaccines due to mistrust of exploitative pharmaceutical companies. Measures like Quebec’s proposed tax on unvaccinated people will not make mistrustful people change their minds. People who are on the fence about getting the vaccine because of capitalism’s profit motive or the history of medical racism in North America have valid concerns; this mistrust is a direct result of the capitalist medical system that puts profits over people’s health. That being said, the majority of anti-vax protestors in Canada do not fall into this category and are instead members of or believers in far-right conspiracy or white supremacy groups. Many unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), support vaccines to improve workplace safety and reduce workers’ chances of getting COVID. The union also rightly calls for locals [union branches] to make the final decisions on COVID and vaccination policy in workplaces as opposed to the government and bosses making them.
The solution to the pandemic is a workers’ program for adequate health and safety, as part of the struggle to change society, for socialism. The lack of vaccines in the neo-colonial world (which has been called ‘vaccine apartheid’) has resulted in new variants; ending patents and intellectual property rights on the vaccines and distributing them globally would help to stop new variants from developing. Ending intellectual property protections would also allow us to make all the information about the vaccine public and allow for collaborative research and development between health and science workers around the world. Workplace safety committees should be formed in all workplaces, elected from the workers, not managers. These committees, along with local unions, should be in charge of all pandemic policy in the workplaces, democratically controlled by the workers, not the bosses.
Image Credit: Maksim Sokolov Maxergon via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0