The World Today for February 15, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Frustration, Fear and Baby Shark

CANADA

The 5,525-mile border between Canada and the US has long been described as the most peaceful frontiers in the world. Now, however, the boundary is the origin of an ideological war that threatens to take the world by storm.

Hundreds of truckers in a self-described “Freedom Convoy” have been protesting against vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 measures in the Canadian capital of Ottawa – and elsewhere – for weeks, paralyzing the city’s streets.

“I want all these mandates gone, and I’m not leaving until all the mandates are gone. So, I am here for the long haul. They can try to get rid of us but we’re not leaving,” Dylan Friesen, a protester who said he lost his job at a transport firm after he refused the vaccine, told CNN. “That’s not right for companies to be able to decide that and take away our right to earn money and support our livelihood.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not signaled any intention of easing the measures, however. Instead, he’s called the protests “unacceptable,” noted the BBC, and invoked emergency powers Monday, the first time in Canadian history. On Sunday, police cleared the blockade on Ambassador Bridge and reopened the border crossing, the Washington Post reported.

Ottawa residents, meanwhile, have complained that they don’t feel safe. “They’re targeting anyone who’s wearing a mask, anyone who’s respecting public health policy,” said a nursing student who lives in downtown Ottawa in an interview with NBC News. “I myself have been accosted at least three times.”

As trust in the government falters, some have started to fight back, hitting the streets to block vehicles from joining the convoy, “objecting to my city being occupied.”

“They say they speak for freedom, but apparently only freedom for themselves,” one infuriated resident told the Post at a counterprotest. “Not freedom for the residents who live here and are not only being inconvenienced but harassed and bullied.”

Meanwhile, the protests have spread to other parts of the Canadian-US border as well as to Australia, France and other countries across the globe.

In North America, blockades have forced truckers to take long detours to deliver parts that are crucial to the auto industry, the Associated Press reported. Pundits at Fox News, where sympathetic coverage of the truckers has been intense, warned that hurting business activity was counterproductive. Car manufacturers, including Toyota and Ford, have reduced some nearby operations, citing the disruption of supply chains.

Supply chains are only one aspect of these developments. The Canadian truckers have tapped into a deep reservoir of frustration among truckers who feel as if experts and elites have imposed disruptions on their lives without their input after they have worked to deliver goods under incredibly difficult conditions during the pandemic, as Alaskan state lawmaker Jamie Allard argued in an Anchorage Daily News op-ed.

Those veins of frustration also run deep in France, where Freedom Convoys have appeared, echoing the so-called “Yellow Vest” protest movements against fuel price hikes and other issues that kicked off in 2018, the New York Times reported. Similar protests have erupted in Australia and New Zealand, too, added the Washington Post. On Paris’ Champs-Élysées Saturday, protesters blocked the famous avenue despite a ban. Police arrested around 100 people, Le Parisien reported. Belgian police on Sunday and Monday attempted to stop more than a thousand vehicles crossing the border from France from entering the capital, Brussels, France24 reported. Still, the expected blockade of Brussels’ streets fizzled.

In New Zealand, meanwhile, sprinklers and the Baby Shark song were the weapons of choice in an attempt to disperse demonstrators.

Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi claimed that the Freedom Convoys were not grassroots movements but astroturf campaigns created by far-right money and social media misinformation.

That could be a distinction without a difference if nobody listens closely to the voices of the people taking to the streets.

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