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No, the Canadian Trucker Protests Are Not Comparable to Jan. 6th

It is important not to obscure the differences.
February 23, 2022
No, the Canadian Trucker Protests Are Not Comparable to Jan. 6th
A truck with banners is seen parked in front of Parliament of Canada as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on February 10, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP / Getty)

I was struck by one of the comments left by a donor supporting the Canadian truckers’ so-called “Freedom Convoys” in the leaked GiveSendGo files. The donor, from Florida, wrote, “God bless you and don’t let them J6 you!” This was striking because Jan. 6th was such a particular event: A sitting president attempted to use a mob attack on Congress as part of a vast scheme to remain in power despite having lost the election—a scheme that involved fake electors submitting fraudulent electoral ballots, bogus legal strategies, immense pressure on the vice president, and a complicated network that apparently linked presidential advisers, funders, and elements of the mob.

So it is strange to read descriptions of Freedom Convoys that compare them to Jan. 6th—like this from Paul Krugman:

So this isn’t a grass-roots trucker uprising. It’s more like a slow-motion Jan. 6, a disruption caused by a relatively small number of activists, many of them right-wing extremists. At their peak, the demonstrations in Ottawa reportedly involved only around 8,000 people, while numbers at other locations have been much smaller.

An Ottawa city council member used the same description, a “slow-motion January 6.” Even more startling, a Maru survey of Canadian adults released February 12 found that 64 percent of respondents agree with the statement “The way these truckers are protesting right now is just like the mob that took part in the protest in Washington on January 6, 2021.”

This is nuts.

What has been happening in Canada is bad. There is no reason to downplay the damage done by weeks of occupation of Ottawa, the closure of numerous border crossings, and other disturbances. The Jericho Marches around the Canadian Parliament are reminiscent of the similar marches in Washington, albeit on a much smaller scale. For all the focus on the Canadian protesters’ hot tub and the DJs and pig roasts—designed to charm the media, to great effect—the “convoys” blockaded streets, forced businesses to close, and honked horns day and night (sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture). Groups accosted residents for wearing masks. The closing of border crossings was an economic assault on both countries, to say nothing of the extra expenditures on policing and governments services in Ottawa. The protests include Christian nationalists, displays of Confederate flags and swastikas, Trump 2024 banners, and other symbols reminiscent of Jan. 6th. And an American-style militia group reportedly plotted to murder police at one blockade to accelerate a civil war in Canada.

So, again: bad, ugly stuff.

But it is important not to obscure the differences between the Canadian Freedom Convoys and Jan. 6th.

First, the size. Perhaps 8,000 people participated in the truckers’ protests in Ottawa on January 29, and perhaps half that number on February 12, per police estimates. But the crowds in Washington on Jan. 6th were an order of magnitude bigger: An estimate from the Secret Service and the FBI apparently puts the total number of protesters in D.C. that day at 120,000. Some 25,000 of those people were screened by the Secret Service to enter the restricted zone near Donald Trump’s rally that morning.

Second, intent. The mob in Ottawa never attempted to attack Parliament itself. The siege—which, again, was bad—never became an assault on the seat of government. While some protesters, when being cleared, pepper-sprayed police officers, no police were killed by the mob, and injuries are significantly fewer than those experienced by Capitol Police on Jan. 6th. Not that the convoy was peaceful (it wasn’t) and not that the participants didn’t dream of overthrowing of the Trudeau government (they did). Canada Unity, one of the groups behind the Freedom Convoys, released a memo that they rapidly withdrew, a memo that sought the help of the Canadian Senate and the governor general in overthrowing the prime minister and overturning all COVID-19 public health measures. But this was pseudo-legal guff:  There is no mechanism for that kind of overthrow of the government, and the writers had at best a limited understanding of how Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually works.

Third, much of the organization, the rhetoric, and the support of the convoy is American or American-influenced, to the point of incomprehensibility in a Canadian context. Canada is not the fifty-first state. It is not a northern extension of the United States. It is an independent country with its own history and traditions and legal system, and American understandings of that are marginal at best. Despite what Fox News would have people believe, the trucker protests are incredibly unpopular in Canada—in a survey conducted earlier this month, 62 percent of the respondents said they oppose the protests, and 65 percent think they represent “a small minority of selfish Canadians.” Moreover, the purported reason for the Freedom Convoys—anti-vaccine-mandate sentiment—does not reflect Canadian beliefs: some 70 percent of Canadians back vaccine mandates to some extent. The gathering of the Canadian far right in such a public way has had a real impact on Canada, yes, and the ouster of opposition leader Erin O’Toole was partly a result of his stance on the convoy. But even the Conservative Party is divided; there is no major party backing the convoy unequivocally. And even if it did, Canada, unlike the United States, does not have a two-party system. Having a single party back you does not even begin to build a coup—that’s not how a parliamentary system works.

But it is how things could have worked out in the United States.

Well over half of the donations raised by GoFundMe and GiveSendGo for the convoys came from the United States. Right-wing pundits, including former President Donald Trump, promoted the convoy and pushed rhetoric reminiscent of groups in the United States. Trump also said the convoy was “doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far,” and that sentiment is echoed in the donor comments—comments like “God Bless You. Join Us in The US After Freedom Has Been Achieved In Canada!!!!” from a South Florida donor, or, from another Floridian, “FOR FREEDOM. FOR AWARENESS. FOR CONTINUED INSPIRATION BY GOD TO FIGHT TYRANNY WORLDWIDE. FOR GROWING CO-PATRIOTISM BETWEEN ALL RACES AND CULTURES ON EARTH UNTIL ‘WE ARE ALL FREE.’” Or one from Washington state that used all the right buzzwords for an American right-wing donor, but discussing Canada: “We the People are proud of our truckers! God be with you and give you strength to endure and triumph in our fight for freedom! Thank you Patriots!” These are all comments that could not care less about Canada or Canadian issues, Canadian governance, Canadian politics—these comments are really about America, just discussing our current political fights, on another front.

Maybe Americans can be forgiven for making it all about us. After all, Tamara Lich, the Alberta woman whose GoFundMe campaign raised over $10 million for the convoy, and her husband had their day in court—and Dwayne Lich said he was innocent, because: “Honestly? I thought it was a peaceful protest and based on my First Amendment, I thought that was part of our rights.”

The judge then asked, “What do you mean, First Amendment? What’s that?

Because, of course, the First Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution, not the Canadian Charter.

What happened in Ottawa is a bad sign—for Canada. But it exists in a Canadian context, not an American one. It is not another Jan. 6th—the governance structure of Canada, the political moment in Canada, the nature of society in Canada prevents that. No amount of American right-wing salivating at the prospect will change that. No, right-wing calls to invade Canada—that’s a real thing from Candace Owens—will not come to fruition. And no, the Canadian far right is not going to overthrow the country and come down to help out Trump and QAnon. The Canadian government cracked down. Counter-protesters pushed back against the Freedom Convoys, too.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Donald Trump is still running on a platform of the Big Lie, of pardoning seditionists, and of ever-more-erratic authoritarianism. The GOP is still pushing Big Lie candidates for electoral posts in states around the country. And the various Christian nationalist, QAnon, neo-Nazi, and militia contingents of the Jan. 6th mess are still out there. Instead of asking whether something is another country’s Jan. 6th, we should be more worried that Jan. 6th never entirely ended in the United States.

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas Lecaque is an associate professor of history at Grand View University. Twitter: @tlecaque.