Truck drivers protesting vaccine mandates are parking their rigs in the middle of intersections in Canadian cities, blocking traffic and, in some places, bringing daily life and business to a standstill.
Mayor Jim Watson of Ottawa said, “We’re in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced.” The protests quickly inspired similar convoys in Australia and New Zealand.
Here is what you need to know about how a handful of people turned Canada, whose constitution calls for “peace, order and good government,” into an unlikely springboard for a budding global movement.
Why are truckers striking?
On Jan. 22, convoys of truck drivers departed from British Columbia en route to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, to protest a vaccine mandate — imposed by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — for truckers entering the country from America.
Mr. Trudeau initially dismissed the protesters as a “small fringe minority” — a majority of Canadians say they support public health measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus — but the protesters are having an outsize impact for their small numbers.
After first blocking traffic in Ottawa, the truck drivers later staged similar protests in other cities including Toronto, Quebec City and Calgary, as well as on the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, a vital link for the automobile industry.
In Ottawa, the protesters are hunkering down. There are now tent encampments, tables with hot coffee and mittens.
Even some allies of Mr. Trudeau say the overall target of the protesters — pandemic restrictions — is worth examining.
Joël Lightbound, a Liberal member of Parliament from Quebec, said that people worried about the government’s policies had “legitimate concerns” and that Mr. Trudeau should not “demonize” people worried about the restrictions.
What’s the impact of these protests?
The goal is to disrupt daily activities for residents and slow down the economy in order to force federal officials to roll back pandemic restrictions.
Mayor Watson has described the protests as unbearable and has declared a state of emergency. During the first 11 days of the protest, truck horns blasted up to 16 hours a day.
Crowds of protesters are roaming the streets of Ottawa, many wearing Canadian flags as capes or carrying them on hockey sticks.
Some residents say they have been harassed on the street, and recount being frightened or even chased. The police were investigating a possible arson attempt in the lobby of an apartment building downtown.
Some automakers ran plants at reduced capacity and canceled shifts because of delays created by blockades.
Protest organizers raised about 10 million Canadian dollars, about $7.8 million, through GoFundMe for the “Freedom Convoy” cause, though only a small fraction of that has been disbursed. After consulting the police, the company shut down the campaign and said it would refund the rest of the money to donors, citing “violence and other unlawful activity” during the demonstrations.
Can the government clear the protesters out?
That’s tough. There have been thousands of demonstrators, and Mr. Trudeau has ruled out using the military to disband the protests.
All the towing companies contracted by the city of Ottawa have refused to tow the vehicles, Steve Kanellakos, the city’s manager, told reporters.
More than 400 trucks and other vehicles were illegally parked throughout downtown, including right across from the Parliament building. The police seized canisters of fuel that was being delivered to the protest encampments.
Steve Bell, Ottawa’s deputy police chief, described the protesters as “highly determined and volatile.” Police officials there have asked for 1,800 more officers, which would more than double the current size of the force.
Who is leading these protests?
The protests, which were once narrowly focused, have mushroomed into a sprawling campaign supporting, in some case, far-right, anti-government grievances.
Tamara Lich is a key organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” that arrived in Ottawa. She previously worked as the secretary of the relatively new Maverick Party, a right-of-center group that was started to promote the separation of Canada’s three western Prairie Provinces from the rest of the country. She is also a former fitness instructor who has sung and played guitar in an Alberta band called Blind Monday.
Maxime Bernier is leader of the far-right People’s Party of Canada, whose members are well represented among the protesters in Ottawa. The party has no seats in the federal Parliament.
James and Sandra Bauder are leaders of a group calling itself Canada Unity, another main organizer of the truck convoy. According to Sky News, Mr. Bauder “is a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory and has openly called for Mr. Trudeau to be put on trial for treason over his Covid policies.”
What did protest leaders say they want?
Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Ms. Lich said, “Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right, ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms.”
Mr. Bernier has denounced vaccine mandates and has previously railed against immigration and multiculturalism.
The Bauders have said, among other things, that they support “the Constitution and democratic process” and “remain committed to following lawful process and upholding freedom of choice.”
What happens now?
Brace for more protests. Prominent far-right figures in several countries, including the United States, Australia and Germany, have praised the protests. And copycat convoys have already appeared in Australia and New Zealand.
Brian Brase, a trucker, said he was organizing a similar effort in the United States. According to messages posted on social media, the convoy may start in Sacramento and head to Washington, D.C.
Organizers and participants appear to be organizing via private message groups, including on Facebook and Telegram.