The truck convoy may try to occupy Victoria in the name of freedom but what it’s really about is denying democracy.
WHILE THE WHEREABOUTS OF of the truckers convoy are at present unknown, there’s still a chance that the disgruntled “Honkies” will descend upon Victoria to deliver its message of “love, truth and transparency to counter the false narratives fed to us all through the media.” The organizers of the Canada Unity Freedom Convoy’s BearHug BC operation say they want to unify their fellow Canadians against the lies of vaccine mandates and other public health measures.
(I can’t take credit for that amusing “Honkies” tag. It was coined by a perceptive columnist writing in a Black newspaper in Tennessee who was thoroughly exasperated by the weird fetish for air horns that appears to so excite the toddlers indulging themselves in trucker tantrums.)
The constant tooting of the Honkies, while draping themselves in the sorrowful sackcloth and ashes of what they claim is a legitimate protest being suppressed by Canada’s repressive government, demonstrates a profound failure of imagination.
The poor turn-out of the anti-vaxxers on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at about 2pm, may indicate that BearHug BC is a bust. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
Victoria has already had an early foreshock of the impending stupidity. A flag-flying pickup truck mired bumper-deep in Beacon Hill Park says about as much as one needs to say regarding the kind of folks attracted to this sanctimonious Crusade of the Righteous Empty Heads. Let’s just say that thinking things through was obviously not high on someone’s agenda.
There’s a degree of well-meaning leftish hand-wringing about trying to understand the “Honkies” motivation—there’s the argument that this protest represents left-behinds in a changing economy; or that it’s a civil liberties issue on behalf of oppressed truckers of conscience; or that it’s ordinary folk fed up with being condescended to by better-off urban elites.
But no, this “BearHug BC” convoy, supposedly a “humanitarian effort” out to “unite our communities in love and truth” actually meets none of those descriptions.
Ninety-percent of truckers chose to get vaccinated. Besides the health benefits, it was the regulatory requirement for crossing the Canada-United States border—in both directions and imposed by both governments—at the height of a pandemic that has now sickened 3.3 million Canadians, killed more than 37,000 and at its last peak left hospitals perilously close to being overwhelmed with admissions.
The number for Canadians who died of other ailments because they couldn’t get beds already occupied by pandemic patients awaits a full tabulation. Right now, though, the pandemic fatality list is equivalent to the death toll from the Dieppe Raid disaster—if there was one every two weeks for two years. Dieppe, for those who don’t much care for history, was one of Canada’s bloodiest military defeats in WW2. And we don’t yet know the on-going bill for long-haul symptoms that may impair a million Canadians who got sick with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, it’s a monumental stretch for owners of $200,000 trucks to cast themselves as threadbare workers while vilifying as high-living elites those secretarial and service sector workers who must to take in roommates to share sky-high rents and who drive compact cars worth less than a tenth of the value of the big noisy rigs the “Honkies” drive.
In Fort St John, for example, one of the northern towns from which some of the supposedly impoverished and oppressed truckers claim to hail, census data shows the median family income is over $107,000 a year. In Victoria, home of those insensitive elites the “Honkies” plan to educate, the median family income is $64,000.
The “Honkies,” it seems, more resemble self-entitled folk who somehow conclude that chewing up a Victoria park strikes a blow for “freedom.”
Convoy’s Orwellian logic
Let’s cogitate on that Orwellian logic. In other places, people who protest disappear—into a prison or worse. Here, protestors can say what they like wherever and whenever they wish, so long as they don’t put the safety and security of others at risk, threaten and intimidate other parties or defy a court in which they can nevertheless defend themselves even if they do defy it.
Hopefully the BearHug BC burlesque show won’t tolerate displays of the American flags that commemorate a culture of racist beatings, lynchings and slavery. It says anyone expressing messages of hate and division are not members of the BearHug movement and don’t represent the values of Canadian Unity. Such is the mission statement, at least.
And one hopes that Victoria’s cenotaph won’t be desecrated as was the national monument in Ottawa, raised to honour the more that 100,000 Canadians—among them the 961 slain in the Dieppe disaster—who gave their lives defending the democratic freedoms of the very people who now protest loudly that it is they who are the oppressed.
Police on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Humboldt and Government Streets, ready to turn back BearHug BC vehicles, saw little action. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
That’s not us waving racist symbols, vandalizing cenotaphs and so on, the “Honkies” say, presumably having learned that the public is not amused.
Perhaps. But hey, as the foreman used to warn when I was building haystacks for a living: “Lie down with dogs and you get up with fleas.”
So who knows what the latest convoy and its assorted hangers-on will bring to the Capital Region? Hopefully not the purveyors of received wisdom from the American right, historical illiteracy and constitutional ignorance.
A reasonable person might assume the objections to public health policy are now moot.
After all, the things to which the protestors most purport to object—vaccine mandates, mask mandates, business closures and social distancing expectations—are all largely lifting even as the pandemic eases.
This is thanks in no small part to the decision by more than 90 percent of British Columbians to do their bit for each other by getting vaccinated and masking up instead of indulging in confrontational belligerence.
But now James Bauder, a founder of Canada Unity says the aggrieved plan to descend upon Victoria where they will make loving pests of themselves for “two, three, four months, however long it takes.”
Canada Unity’s primary mission appears to be less concerned with unity than with irritating otherwise reasonable Canadians who tend to dismiss claims that making it harder for working people to get to work will magically bring us all together in denunciation of the work of Dr Bonnie Henry.
In this Orwellian world, forcing the majority to surrender its freedom to get to work safe and unencumbered so that the community-minded many can then be coerced to share the narrow view of the self-entitled few is declared a unifying experience.
Canadian Unity purportedly objects to the temporary measures provincial and territorial public health authorities imposed—there are 13 of these independent, constitutionally mandated authorities in Canada—to regulate locally determined needs for vaccination, mask use and the circumstances of exposure in public spaces to a potentially lethal communicable disease.
This is not exactly new public policy. It has been done many times in the past to deal with lethal diseases like smallpox, polio, measles, cholera and tuberculosis.
Indeed government, if it deems its decision to be in the greater good, reserves the right to do everything from expropriating your house to facilitate a highway widening for the benefit of truckers, to selling the mineral rights under your Alberta farm and requiring you to provide pipeline access to oil well pump jacks. It makes you wear seatbelts while driving, to produce proof of age when out for a drink, and tells you where you can and cannot smoke in public places. Oh, and it mandates how fast you can drive your car past school grounds, too.
Even today travel advisories warn that you can’t visit some countries without producing proof of vaccination for selected diseases—meningitis, yellow fever, tuberculosis, encephalitis and so on.
The “Honkies,” apparently not having bothered to read the constitution which clearly says health is entirely a provincial jurisdiction, took Ottawa hostage in January to complain that the federal government hadn’t overturned Alberta’s exclusive jurisdiction to impose mask mandates and New Brunswick’s or Saskatchewan’s exclusive jurisdiction over vaccination requirements.
But alleged federal intrusion into constitutionally-mandated provincial jurisdictions is precisely what is supposed to be driving Prairie alienation.
Now similar protests are bound for Victoria, purportedly to resist temporary local measures that are already being lifted.
So what gives?
What gives is that this whole Hee-Haw theatrical performance, to borrow one of “Honkydom’s” beloved expressions, is actually a false flag operation in the sense that it’s not really what it claims it is.
The protest is not really about vaccine mandates. That became became evident when pandemic restrictions began to ease even as protestors doubled down and became more recalcitrant.
It is about other things, though.
What it’s really about: an attack on democracy
First, the vaccine mandate protest evokes a sense of entitlement on the American religious right that causes it to think it has the moral authority to interfere in Canada’s domestic politics. Half the initial protest’s funding was funnelled in from the US along with Q Anon slogans and those Confederate flags (not to suggest that Canada doesn’t have plenty of home-grown racists and wacko conspiracy theorists of its own).
Second, there is the anger of populist Prairie social conservatives and the western rump of a Conservative Party still infuriated at being twice refused by those effete urban voters in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Greater Victoria (and even to a lesser extent in Edmonton and Calgary where the Conservative margins of victory dwindle with every election).
Alberta, Saskatchewan and the BC Interior—which BearHug BC claims to represent—continue to be dominated by rural Conservative Party voters only because electoral distribution so disproportionately favours rural ridings dominated by resource extraction. For example, Fort McMurray’s 110,000 people get the same representation run government as Edmonton-Wetaskiwin’s 158,000 people. This is equally true in BC where the growing polarization between northern and Interior regions and the intensely urban South Coast is distinct. For example, Skeena-Bulkley Valley’s 88,000 people have the same representation in parliament as Victoria’s 117,000 and the 108,000 of Cariboo-Prince George have the same weight as the 120,000 of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.
As the late University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff observed just before he died in 2017, there are really two British Columbias. One, the rural regions where the BearHug BC protest comes from, is marked by its dependence on a natural resource economy that steadily dwindles in importance—just think about job losses and mill closures in the forest industry due to automation and corporate efficiencies. Basic forestry is now about 2 percent of the provincial economy while professional, technical and scientific services are about 6.8 percent. Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction are about the same as information, culture, arts, entertainment and recreation—around 4.4 percent each.
The BC of logging trucks, Ruff astutely observed, “still looks backward for its future, the other (urban, cosmopolitan Victoria and Vancouver) continues an exponential growth in diversity and enjoys a transition to an entirely new economy.”
One of the forces behind the truckers’ convoy phenomenon, it appears, is a deep resentment that those pluralistic, progressive, latte-swilling city dwellers who are increasingly non-white enjoy the benefits of these vast economic transitions while those in rural regions find their once prevalent socially conservative values increasingly marginalized.
The language of BearHug BC, for example, is suffused with Christian allusions but the urban BC of Vancouver and Victoria now has the fewest inhabitants who self-identify as Christian. The fastest growing religions in urban BC are non-Christian—Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or just no religion at all. About 41 percent of urban residents on the South Coast told Statistics Canada they don’t follow any religion at all. The self-identified Christian population, on the other hand, has declined by four percent over the last decade.
For two federal elections in a row, these urban voters—ethnically and socially diverse, educated, secular, heavily populated by professional women and adopting the more progressive values held by workers in the emerging information economy—have rejected a succession of angry, white, male Conservative leaders appealing to a reactionary socially conservative western political rump in the resource extraction sectors of the old economy.
Opposing protection for gay people from coercive conversion therapy, denying the reality of climate change and immigration bashing plays well in the rural reaches of “Honkiedom” but it’s a party-killer in immigrant-rich urban ridings with concentrations of gay voters and highly educated information workers who don’t doubt the reality of climate change—or the resource sector’s contribution to it. A national daycare program may be anathema in rural resource ridings but it certainly appeals to progressive female voters in town.
More than two-thirds of Canadians, including 45 percent even within the Conservative Party stronghold of Alberta, voted against these social conservative rural values and the electoral future looks bleak for those who think their political future lies in recreating the good old days.
And so, having been thwarted at the ballot box and rumpified into a shrinking rural Canada—82 percent of Canadians are now urban—by their unappealing platform, these factions next decided to take their grievances outside the electoral process.
Along came the “Honkies,” the Freedom Convoy’s leadership including at least one prominent and politically active Alberta separatist. The movement seemed determined to undermine and attack the progressives who had refused their old-fashioned values at the ballot box. And who was cheering them on? Why the Conservative Party and its far right splinter, the People’s Party of Canada.
“I’m proud of the truckers and I stand with them,” current Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre told Postmedia. “They have reached a breaking point after two years of massive government overreach.”
But wait, that vaccine mandate for truckers was only imposed as a temporary measure on January 15 of 2022.
And none of the dire warnings from the rural right came to pass. There wasn’t a mass exodus from the trucking industry because most truckers weren’t affected. There weren’t bare shelves in supermarkets, food shortages and hunger for Canadians because the protest barely disrupted the supply chain. And Canada’s largest trucking company said the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US border had an imperceptible impact on its freight business.
Nonetheless, Conservative Party leader Candice Bergen who, initially, at least, although she subsequently distanced herself, rallied to the truckers’ rebellion against the so-called Ottawa elite.
This is the same Bergen for whom the opposition leader’s residence at Stornoway just had to be renovated to the tune of $20,000 before she moved in for a couple of months.
The view that this protest was less an assertion of rights and more an attack on democracy has more than a smidgin of merit. At one point there was a zany proposal that the federal government just resign and replace itself with the Governor-General, the appointed senate and unelected members of Canada Unity.
When Bauder announced that trucks loaded with self-sustaining supplies—including 16,000 hamburgers!—were on the way to Victoria, it sounded more like the logistics of an occupation intended to disrupt life than a simple anti-government protest.
And, indeed, an occupation seems to be exactly what Bauder hoped for in a video posted online: “We’re going to be occupying that area for two to three months,” he said.
Why an occupation of Victoria?
Well, Bauder was frank about that, too.
“This is a very intense, deeply rooted NDP-Liberal stronghold down there,” Bauder was quoted as saying in mainstream media interviews. “And they’ve had their way for too long. It’s time we get down there and show them what the laws are and not your opinion, folks.”
So the truckers are coming to Victoria to give them a spanking for not voting conservatively enough, a bit of tough love for the big city wusses from the big boys in their big rigs.
“Folks, there is so many laws that our government has violated, the media is supporting the breaking of these laws, and society has got to start getting back to the right side of the law and defending ourselves legally via lawsuits,” Bauder said. “We’re going to be really, really active.”
Well, it’s one thing to say government has broken the law, it’s another thing to prove it. Just like it’s one thing to say a protest is illegal, it’s another thing to prove it. That’s precisely why we have independent courts, to examine the evidence and see whether the claims of wrong-doing have legal merit.
An alternative type of protestor stood at the intersection of Government and Belleville during the March 26, 2022 anti-vaccine mandate event. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
But it is worth reminding BearHug BC that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly balances individual rights against the common good.
So, in all charity and good will to the “BearHug BC” crowd, the people of Victoria aren’t a jury and the place for assertions of law-breaking is the courts, not the streets of the capital. Unless, of course, there’s a different agenda, a much more self-interested political agenda.
In which case dear truckers, just come, protest as many before you have done, make your point and depart. Don’t hang around as uninvited guests, who, as many a mother has told us, are like fish, okay at first but after three days they really start to stink.
Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.