The start of 2022 will be remembered as the moment hate groups and truckers laid siege to Ottawa. The invasion came fully equipped with massive vehicles, self-proclaimed “soldiers,” and a multitude of “generals.” Far from a surprise attack, however, it happened in slow motion, cheered on by Conservative politicians and even police officers. One might even argue that local law enforcement effectively rolled out the blue carpet. 

The trigger? On January 15, the federal government announced that all drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border would have to be vaccinated. The U.S. government announced a similar requirement on January 22. 

In response, it initially appeared that truckers opposed to vaccinations were organizing a convoy that would travel from all over Canada to Ottawa, surround Parliament, and block access to Ottawa. The Canadian Trucking Alliance immediately issued a statement emphasizing that the “vast majority” of truckers are vaccinated and that their organization “strongly disapproves of any protests.” 

By the time they reached Ottawa, it became apparent who the organizers really were. There were some truckers, but people affiliated with hate groups of all kinds helped organize the convoy or subsequently joined. Many of the self-proclaimed leaders or supporters of the convoy and siege espouse racist, Antisemitic, and anti-Islamic views; others fly flags with Nazi swastikas, or wear badges from the anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin. White hate groups representing neo-nazis, Aryans and others openly shared their hate in unity with and amongst the truckers making the city centre a “living hell.” Some of the truckers and their co-conspirators threatened residents, politicians and the media—in person and online. 

More and more residents reported attacks, and it became evident that this siege was not really about vaccine mandates by a small number of truckers. Something bigger was at work here.

As the long days of the siege have continued, we have heard less and less about vaccine mandates and more about locking up Trudeau, executing the media, and saving white people from depopulation. In case there was any doubt about the real intentions of the siege of Ottawa, one need only reference the so-called MOU by Canada Unity which called for the dissolution of Parliament and the creation of “Citizens of Canada Committee” (selected by Canada Unity), that would control all federal, provincial, and municipal governments. 

Downtown police talk to a protester.

The toxic U.S. connection

Think siege is too strong of a word? A siege is an organized blockade of a city or area with the intent of conquering it by attrition. A siege is generally a form of low-intensity conflict, where one party maintains a strategic defensive position to try to force the other to surrender to its demands. 

While mostly studied in a military context, the word siege seems to fit in this one as well. You have hundreds of trucks, weighing many tons each, that can be easily weaponized as other hate groups have done previously when they’ve rammed vehicles into target groups. You also have large numbers of angry and aggressive men all around Parliament refusing to leave. One participant in the convoy was arrested last week for having recklessly used firearms earlier in January. And if you think this has some eerie parallels to the insurrection on Capital Hill in the United States on January 6 last year, you would be right. But the connections to the US are even deeper than that.

The original (now defunct) Go Fund Me page which collected over ten million dollars was organized by Tamara Lich, who was reportedly affiliated with the Yellow Vest movement. Lich also helped form the Alberta separatist group called the Maverick Party and was part of the Wexit Alberta group, which wanted to leave Canada and join a U.S. led by Trump. 

No one should be surprised, then, that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized Go Fund Me for shutting down the fundraiser, saying that “Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers’ worthy cause.” Or that Texas Senator Ted Cruz publicly stated that the Canadian government “doesn’t have the right to force you to comply [with] their arbitrary mandates.” Even former U.S. President Donald Trump made public statements both supporting the Canadian truckers and agitating the situation by calling Trudeau a “far left lunatic with insane COVID mandates.” 

There is little doubt that far-right political groups in the US are significant players in the siege on Canada’s capital city. But it wouldn’t be fair to call it an entirely American endeavor; after-all, far-right conservative politicians in Canada have also been fueling the fires of hate and violence by issuing statements of support for the siege and participating in it, by visiting the area and meeting with the invaders. 

Nor would it be fair to only blame Conservative politicians—the police have had a significant, if not central role in allowing this siege to get a stronghold on Ottawa. In fact, Ottawa Police issued a statement of support for the protestors and their right to air their grievances. One police constable in Ontario went on social media and made a video statement of support for the protestors saying that we were at “war”. While more and more multi-ton trucks situated themselves in strategic locations in and around downtown Ottawa and truckers stockpiled various flammables, police continued to look on. 

The constant noise in Centretown has been described as a “living hell” by residents, while the atmosphere among participants is festive.

The policing double standard

We wouldn’t be in day 11 of this siege if this was about a few “bad apple” police officers. There are countless videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of residents and members of the media being threatened or intimidated by the protestors while police stood by and watched. Some police even took selfies with the truckers or drove by convoy vehicles, giving them a thumbs up. 

Numerous residents have tried to file reports to the police about the non-stop honking and fireworks all night long, the intoxication and defecation in the streets, as well as the personal threats, harassment, intimidation, hateful vitriol and signage, and even stalking and physical assaults—all to no avail.

The response? Don’t wear a mask. Don’t walk outside. 

But what about people who have to go to and from work? Parents who have to take their children to school? Disabled people who need safe walkways to get food? People with serious illnesses who need medical treatment? Women in shelters who are triggered by thousands of angry, threatening men surrounding them? 

Some have reported both truckers and hate groups making death threats and assaulting people. Despite all the criminality and significant threats to public safety, the Ottawa Police continued to say there was no “policing solution” to the situation. In fact, some media statements by police and protestors have heralded this as a successful peaceful protest. The basic human rights of Ottawa residents are being violated with impunity and without any form of emergency relief.

Let’s compare that to the police attacks on Indigenous peoples who have peacefully protected their lands and waters from destruction, or the surveillance of those who have peacefully engaged in teach-ins or candle-light vigils for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, or who have engaged in public advocacy and public education about Canada’s ongoing human rights violations against Indigenous peoples—an ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples. The response to Indigenous land reclamation has been predictably similar each time: military invasion of Mohawk territory; armed RCMP assault in Secwepemc territory at Gustafsen Lake; the shooting death of unarmed land defender Dudley George at Ipperwash by Ontario Provincial Police; and multiple armed invasions and arrests by RCMP in Wet’suwet’en territory. And that is just to name a few. 

But the corollary to police violence is police refusing to protect Indigenous peoples when the interests of corporations or organized non-Indigenous peoples are at stake. Remember how the RCMP stood around while white fishermen threatened and assaulted Mi’kmaw fishers, burned their property and then threatened buyers to not buy from the Mi’kmaw? What about when thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been kidnapped, exploited, abused, or murdered? How the RCMP and police forces all over the country have failed to open files or properly investigate crimes against Indigenous peoples, or were themselves the perpetrators? Our safety and security—as Indigenous peoples and Canadians both—is threatened by police agencies across the country that stand with the white hate groups, either in their actions or inactions. Think about how they violently assaulted and arrested peaceful protestors at Fairy Creek or how they brutalized and injured peaceful protestors at the G20. 

Counter-protesters in downtown Ottawa.

Countering the rise of right-wing extremism

Suffice it to say: we should all be very concerned about public safety and national security when governments and their police and spy agencies spend more money monitoring, surveilling, criminalizing, and incarcerating Indigenous peoples than they do looking out for real threats to Canada—like the rise of white hate groups. 

We should all be concerned that recent statistics show that Canada has undergone a 600 per cent increase in online hate speech. Canada is by far the most active country in the world for online, right-wing extremism. These groups are spreading white supremacist ideologies, racism, misogyny, and radical views. Far-right extremists engage in both online misinformation and real-world violence. Other research shows that these groups are increasing in size and number across the country, and are heavily connected to similar groups in the U.S. White supremacists represent the biggest national security threat to the US. Canada’s own government has acknowledged the threat of white supremacists to public safety, as well as the threat created with their infiltration into Canada’s own police forces and military. 

White supremacy is the foundation of this country. Canada was founded on the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the ecocide of our lands and waters. It is so ingrained in our laws, policies, practices and governing systems that it is hard to identify. It is long past time that governments look for critical insights and solutions to this problem from experts who work on public safety issues, who monitor hate groups, and who keep track of femicides and extremist activities. 

Canada has been found guilty of historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples and yet, it doesn’t have a plan to address it. Canada has been found guilty of grave human rights violations against Indigenous peoples by the United Nations, yet there is little action to end the abuse. Now Canada let truckers and hate groups roll into town and lay siege to its capital city. If Canada cannot protect its own capital city, what message does that send to white hate groups? What message does that send to other countries? 

In fairness, the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated and did not participate in this protest. It is also true that not everyone who started out on the trucker convoy are part of hate groups. But those that came to Ottawa did, in fact, gather with large numbers of members of hate groups who’ve participated in harassment and intimidation—besides drinking, smoking, and barbecuing with them. Some flew hateful flags and signs. The truckers in Ottawa can’t isolate themselves from any of that. They stood shoulder to shoulder with hate groups. 

It would be irresponsible to not mention the fact that the FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Initiative has identified hundreds of offenders associated with the trucking industry, and that is over and above the human trafficking problems. Investigations into the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has highlighted problems in the trucking industry. And while a majority of truckers are not involved in the violence, trucking associations have been slow to address the deep-rooted problems. If predators can be attracted to the trucking industry, so too can hate groups who share misogynistic ideologies. The number of predators in the industry may be small, but any number is too many.

While the mayor of Ottawa has now declared a state of emergency because of the ongoing danger to residents, we have yet to hear any reassurances from either Premier Doug Ford or the Prime Minister about what comes next. National security and public safety is our collective responsibility and should be a shared jurisdiction with First Nations. Instead of being treated like criminals and terrorists, First Nations can be partners in governing and protecting these lands. But it won’t get better from here if we don’t come together and weed out racism, hatred and violence in all its forms. 

It can start by ending the violent siege in Ottawa and protecting city residents—by prioritizing those most in need. But the hard work doesn’t end there, because white hate groups will be empowered by their easy siege of Canada’s capital. They have revealed the growing national security threat to Canada—now it’s time to prevent something much worse.

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