Some hangers-on in this protest include hateful white supremacists, racists and others whose views are not part of the Canadian mainstream. But let’s be clear about how we label them.
This piece appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on February 3, 2022.
Even if Ottawa is inured to protests, demonstrations and sundry groups demanding this and that, the recent gridlock pursuant to the “truckers’ convoy” may be unique in terms of its size and duration.
Not to mention the rhetoric it has spawned.
What began as a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border — in actual fact both countries have implemented such measures — has morphed into a dog’s breakfast of “causes,” ranging from anti-Trudeau sentiment, to frustration over on-again, off-again COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, to a general sense of anger at any list of things.
And while the majority of the initial protesters were most likely tied to the long-haul trucking industry, it has become clear that “hangers-on” have hitched their own wagons to this movement. These actors include hateful white supremacists, racists and others whose views are not associated with the Canadian mainstream.
Many things but not terrorism
Still, although Ottawa Police have begun to investigate incidents of harassment and potentially threatening behaviour — as we expect our law enforcement to do — overall this gang is not what some are calling them: terrorists.
The public safety minister claimed that some were planning on the violent overthrow of the Canadian government. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suggested some wanted a “Canadian version of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol.” But it’s important to be precise about meanings.
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, section 83.01, “terrorist activity” is defined as an act carried out “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose … that causes death or injury … serious property damage … or endangers the public.”
There is more, but I think you get the point.
Under this definition, no one has died, no one has been threatened with death, no major infrastructure has been damaged and while there is a clause relating to “serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service,” even there our lawgivers have inserted an exception for “protest.”
Furthermore, it is far from clear that the truckers have anything to do with “ideology” or “politics”; there sure does not seem to be any link to “religion.” As for the others, one could argue there is some tie to a far-right ideology in some. But an equally convincing case can be made for hate crimes, covered under a completely different part of the criminal code (Section 319).
It is possible that some elements of this protest are associated with groups the government does consider terrorist in nature (i.e. the Proud Boys, although the decision to place that bunch on the list of terrorist entities was a very poorly thought-out, rushed reaction to the January 2021 raid on the U.S. Capitol). Labelling protesters “terrorists” is inaccurate, unhelpful and sets a bad precedent for future demonstrations (for instance, if the truckers are “terrorists,” what about First Nations’ protesters or Black Lives Matter?).
Ottawa Police and their helpers (the RCMP, OPP and other municipal forces from across Ontario) have enough tools already to deal with this situation. There are plenty of laws and bylaws that can be used to charge boorish and ignorant individuals whose behaviour crosses a line.
Ottawans are frustrated over this disruption to their lives and some feel threatened by the words and actions of a small number of demonstrators. Add in the fact that there is no obvious end in sight, even if the crowds have thinned to some extent, and the demands for action are on the rise. I cannot predict how this will end but I do know one thing: those stupid enough to engage in publicly observable behaviour that constitutes a crime will most likely be dealt with. Whether the charges involve trespassing, preventing public freedom of movement or acts of hate remain to be seen.
But in the end, this is not terrorism.
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