Here’s what activists of all kinds can learn from the Ottawa convoy occupation: in order to maximize media exposure and political impact at your future protests, be sure to arrive in trucks and be obnoxious.
Also: be right-wing.
It’s hard to imagine what other lessons to draw from the farcically lenient treatment of the “freedom” convoy that has effectively taken Ottawa hostage for almost two weeks.
Residents of the nation’s capital have been subjected to a rare and curious phenomenon that could be dubbed “police docility.” It wasn’t as if police were caught off-guard; convoy organizers had signalled their aggressive intentions.
Before the convoy left B.C., Patrick King, a long-time far-right activist (with no apparent trucking experience), told a Christian talk show that the convoy “plans to shut down Ottawa.”
So Ottawa police had plenty of time to take basic police actions—like putting up concrete barriers—which would have prevented the men in large trucks from driving right up to the Parliament Buildings and the Prime Minister’s Office and deciding that that was a nice place to park.
Having met no resistance as they secured the finest parking spots in Ottawa, the foreign-funded truckers behaved like they had just been handed the keys to the city, which in a way they had.
They settled in, built a command centre and a dining area with well-equipped kitchen, brought in barbecues, generators, bouncy castles, saunas and vast supplies of fuel. They then exercised their new-found freedom by ripping masks off local residents, who had the audacity to try to protect themselves from a virus that’s killed 5.7 million people worldwide.
The occupation represents an abject failure by the Ottawa police—as well as by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, both of whom have been fearful of triggering a confrontation that might antagonize right-wingers in Western Canada and rural Ontario.
By allowing the convoy to be coddled like this, Trudeau and Ford have given the freedom-bullies a sense of their own importance that is as oversized as their trucks.
In an online video he posted last August, Patrick King, the far-right activist, was angry and venomous, boasting he had a criminal record “the size of my f—cking arm. I am not a nice person.” King continued heatedly: “I’ve had just about enough. You have no idea what’s coming … Wait till the real bullets start flying.”
But by last week, speaking from a “command centre” at an “undisclosed location” in occupied Ottawa, King’s tone had turned from anger to jubilation: “Guys, I can’t believe how friggin’ amazing this is! The police last night—we’ve got videos of it—the police were carrying hot food to the truck drivers … we moved in 80 trucks last night … I’m having the time of my life … I can’t stop laughing because this is so awesome.”
No wonder the far-right activist is giddy, pinching himself to make sure his dreams really have come true.
Only last September, the far-right and its anti-vax crusade was repudiated by Canadians in the federal election, when the People’s Party failed to win a single seat.
Now, with a 12-day occupation of the nation’s capital under their belts, the freedom-bullies have been catapulted to the centre of the national stage, looking like a force that’ll have to be reckoned with in the future. Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, declared: “This is a nation-wide insurrection.”
No, it isn’t. It’s just a small group of belligerent men with very big trucks.
I’ve been part of much larger demonstrations that got a fraction of the attention. If these guys hadn’t been handed such an easy win in Ottawa, they—and their cause—would have likely gotten no more than a few minutes airtime on the national news.
Well done, Canadian authorities.
This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.