After more than two weeks of protests by truckers and others in Ottawa, Canada (the capital city), as well as in other parts of the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national public order emergency on Feb. 14 to put an end to the protest. This allows the government to suspend civil liberties, such as the right to assembly. Trudeau’s declaration came as police had finished clearing trucks blocking the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor, Ontario with Detroit. The bridge normally carries about one-fourth of the truck traffic between the United States and Canada. Its closure quickly disrupted automobile production in both countries as auto parts stopped moving between factories. In Ottawa, about 400 trucks had been blocking city streets since late January as part of protests against Covid vaccination and testing requirements for truckers driving between the U.S. and Canada. Smaller protests continued across the country.
The vast majority of Canadian truck drivers are vaccinated and have not participated in the protests. It appears that extreme right-wing political groups in both Canada and the U.S. have organized and supported the protesters, who claim that vaccination and mask mandates violate their freedom. Neo-Nazi and Confederate flags have flown at the protests in Ottawa. Former U.S. president Donald Trump has supported the protesters. The right-wing organizers appear to hope to win working people in both Canada and the U.S. to their right-wing causes.
For months right-wing politicians, media outlets, and morally bankrupt doctors have been pumping out disinformation around vaccines, masking, and various Covid treatments. Many of the unvaccinated in the U.S. and Canada have been influenced by this onslaught of misinformation. And whenever vaccine mandates have come into effect in an industry, that means workers have had to choose between getting vaccinated or losing their jobs.
And people have good reasons not to trust the government — in both Canada and the U.S. Even though the effort to control the pandemic was much more successful in Canada compared to the U.S., it had its share of significant outbreaks and deaths. And people everywhere in the world have been devastated by this pandemic, physically, economically and emotionally. Of course people are lashing out.
Regardless of the motivation behind these protests, they have shown that so-called democratic governments can use militarized violence and suspend civil liberties whenever business-as-usual is interrupted and their profits are threatened.
And also, in these protests we can see a glimpse of how people, especially those working in strategic industries like transportation, could pressure those in power to respond to our demands. Imagine if, instead of protesting much-needed vaccines, workers in similar strategic positions in production and transportation of goods and services — from automobiles to health care — used their positions in the economy to demand improvements to the lives of all working people, from free health care for everyone, an end to evictions, better and safer schools, to an end to society’s dependence on fossil fuels. The possibilities are endless. But it is only when working people are organized and fighting together that we have the power to bring about the kind of changes we need.