A mass mobilisation of far-right forces across Canada took place at the end of January and early February, as thousands descended on the nation’s capital, Ottawa, in the culmination of what was deemed “Freedom Convoy 2022”.
The convoy was posed by some as the Canadian replica of “January 6”, when far-right and white supremacist forces busted into the United States Capitol in anger over Trump’s election loss.
While Freedom Convoy 2022 did not attempt to enter parliament, it did represent a violent threat to racialised people and communities in the city, with open displays of Nazi and Confederate flags and other symbols of neo-fascism (such as the III% flag). There were also reports of threats against homeless people.
Far-right organising in the convoy
The convoy was first presented as an expression of opposition to vaccine mandates, but went on to shift its messaging to one of freedom and against perceived political “traitors” in government. However one wants to describe the convoy — and certainly all protests have a range of participants who take part for various reasons — there is no denying the fundamental connections the convoy has with openly fascist groups and individuals. This goes beyond the numerous symbols of fascism and white supremacy on display throughout the convoy’s time in Ottawa.
A coalition, Canada Unity, has been heavily associated with the convoy. One of Canada Unity’s main organisers is James Bauder, who was involved in the far-right Yellow Vest Canada movement, which has, among other things, organised a previous right-wing convoy to Ottawa.
Much attention has been given to a GoFundMe page that raised more than CA$7 million for the convoy. The fundraisers associated with it are Tamara Lich, and BJ Dichter. Dichter spoke at a 2019 convention for the far-right, anti-immigration People’s Party of Canada. There, he roused the crowd with a rant about the dangers of “political Islamists”, and claimed that the Liberal Party is “infested with Islamists”. Dichter was quoted in a Toronto Star report, saying: “Despite what our corporate media and political leaders want to admit, Islamist entryism and the adaptation of political Islam is rotting away at our society like syphilis.”
Another convoy organiser, who has made social media posts throughout, is Patrick King, Canada Unity’s contact for North Alberta. King is an active presence across social media platforms, and posted a video to Twitter in 2019 saying that unless Canadians “get up off your asses and demand change,” they might need to change their names to “Ishmael” or “call yourself chongchingchingchang.” In another video, King pushes “white replacement” conspiracies, saying: “there’s an endgame, it’s called depopulation of the Caucasian race, or the Anglo-Saxon…”
The convoy also has direct connections with the neo-fascist Soldiers of Odin (SOO) which has been involved in other recent far-right mobilisations. Jason “LaFaci” LaFace, a website administrator and the north and east Ontario convoy organiser with Canada Unity, is the vice president of the SOO. The SOO are more of a street fighting fascist group and have physically attacked anti-racism activists, unhoused people and their allies.
The Conservative Party and the mainstreaming of the far right
Candice Bergen, long time Manitoba Conservative Member of Parliament and party deputy leader, offered support for the convoy in Parliament. Incredibly, Bergen used the House of Commons to compare the flying of Nazi flags and swastikas by convoy participants to Indigenous protesters toppling the Queen Victoria statue in Winnipeg.
Conservative Party leadership hopeful and MP Pierre Poilievre also spoke in support of the convoy and filmed a promotional video referencing it.
Some Conservative parliamentarians went even further, participating with the convoy and serving them snacks and beverages. Alberta MP Michael Cooper (St Albert-Edmonton) took part in welcoming the convoy and served coffee. He was joined by at least one fellow Conservative MP, as he noted in a tweet: “Joined my colleague MP Damien Kurek to pour coffee and show appreciation for hardworking, patriotic truckers who have kept our supply chains healthy and grocery shelves stocked for the past two years.”
There has been a mainstreaming of far-right positions and movements in Canada over the past several years. The convoy is taking that mainstreaming further than has been seen recently, with even some erstwhile leftists offering it some confused support on the basis of “truckers’ rights”.
A significant manifestation of that mainstreaming has been the continued rise of the People’s Party of Canada. I reported on recent far-right electoral gains in the wake of the 2021 Canadian federal election previously for Green Left, noting that the PPC captured more than 840,000 votes and claimed more than 5% of the vote. This was a significant rise from the 1.6% it received in 2019, when it gathered almost 300,000 votes. And this was only the second election in which the PPC ran candidates.
Organised opposition needed
The Freedom Convoy 2022 is only the most recent and visible manifestation of broader far-right organisination and mobilisation in Canada. A similar convoy to Ottawa was held in 2019 under the banner “United We Roll”. As in the 2022 convoy, the far-right event was attended by sitting Conservative Party politicians.
The Freedom Convoy should serve as a wake-up call for some on the left who have taken the far-right threat in Canada too lightly or chosen only mockery of the often cartoonish character of some of its members and their social media messaging.
The convoy shows the limitations in left organising and the need to address working-class fears and concerns over COVID-19 with real, feasible alternatives.
We might do well to remember the opposition to another attempted far-right convoy in 2018. Then, Mohawk community activists refused to let the racists cross their territory at Kanesatake.