The government shouldn't let this protest take our economy hostage: Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO
It was a most Canadian protest -- except when it wasn’t.
Largely civil and without violence, a demonstration in Windsor, Ontario was finally cleared by police Sunday morning after blocking one of North America’s busiest cross-border trade arteries for more than five days. But while the stand-off is over, and the Ambassador Bridge has reopened, deeply divisive issues remain.
Many of the Ambassador Bridge protesters hold views that are uncompromising, including a hardened mistrust of media and of the doctors and scientists responsible for giving advice about COVID-19. They often mentioned their love of country, even as their upside-down Canadian flags billowed in the frigid breeze. Fury with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expressed in profanity-strewn banners, but dealings with reporters, police, and residents were largely polite.
So while aspects of the bridge protest -- and in particular its quiet end -- reflected Canada, the divisions it exposed are similar to those emerging elsewhere. Confusion, anger and exasperation after more than two years of the pandemic drew support from like-minded groups in the U.S. and parts of Europe amid chafing at what they see as governmental overreach, economic fears and a deeply emotional desire to return to something like normal.
As elsewhere, Canada’s protesters were opposed to vaccine mandates, but some had other reasons for being there, including concerns about inequality. The consequences of pandemic-related decisions in Ottawa are being borne by the working class, said Jerome Beal, a self-employed construction worker. Food, housing and energy costs are soaring and people are losing their homes, he said.
“They’re making it impossible for the middle-class people to be middle class,” Beal said. “There’s either going to be the yays or the nays. And that’s a shame because what that does is systematically divide us.”
A number of protesters said they had lost jobs or been put on leave because they refused to get vaccinated. One pair who declined to give their full names said it’s either get jabbed or go broke.
“Think about that: lose your job, that you might have worked 10, 20 years for, and because you won’t get this experimental jab, your family’s going to suffer,” said retired toolmaker Rick Armstrong. He criticized the media, saying he turned off the news two years ago and now gets his information from people in the “real world.”
The protest created its own economic consequences, shuttering auto plants and interrupting the flow of millions of dollars in trade. An average of US$13 million in goods is shippedamba across the bridge per hour. At a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant adjacent to the rallying point, a store manager said revenue plunged from $20,000 (US$15,700) a day to $3,000 because the only customers were protesters, media and police.
Holly, a trucker who also attended protests in Ottawa and would not give her last name, said the bridge blockade was costing her money but she believed she had no choice. She was there to ensure a positive future for “every single citizen of Canada, whether they like it or not,” she said. “It’s all peaceful. There’s no violence. It’s love.”
But a mistrust of politicians, doctors and media ran deep at the protest. Kim Kroeker, a health-care worker, said she mostly gets her information from social media sites like Rumble, an online video platform -- anywhere but mainstream news which is “censored,” she claimed. She doesn’t trust official tallies of COVID illness.
“You’ve got to keep the numbers up to keep the people in fear. This is a message of fear, not about health care. It’s about compliance.”
Many demonstrators spoke about their love of Canada and need to defend it. Ronald Lyons teared up while speaking about an uncle who died in Normandy during the Second World War. “There’s no way I’m going to let him go in vain for that,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other leaders have appealed to Canadians to make sacrifices and respect COVID restrictions designed to protect hospitals, the elderly, and those with medical conditions that would make them more vulnerable. But several protesters said at-risk people have the “choice” to stay home -- and everyone else should be free to reject masks and vaccine mandates without fear of consequences.
“If you want to cover your face, cover your face, and if you want to take an experimental jab, take your experimental jab,” said Mike McCou, a former support worker for people with intellectual disabilities who said he no longer has a job because of the vaccine mandates. “But don’t think for two seconds that you have the right to force your fear and your beliefs upon me.”