by Andrew Kozak
On Friday January 28 2022, the first of the “Freedom Convoy” arrived in downtown Ottawa. The convoy started as a GoFundMe project by a Métis woman named Tamara Lich and has since morphed into a worldwide phenomenon.
A woman hands food to a protesting trucker. Photo by Andrew Kozak.
What started as a response to vaccine mandates against truckers crossing the border has since evolved into a nation-wide rebellion. Speaking to truckers on the ground who have effectively gridlocked downtown Ottawa, each trucker has a clear message. “We’re not leaving until all mandates are lifted…for everyone.” Canadians are tired of Covid restrictions. A new Angus Reid poll suggests that up to 54% of Canadians now want to see all mandates lifted as well. That number is up from 40% earlier in January. As the Freedom Convoy parked on Wellington Street in Ottawa, I met people who came from all over Canada. Ontarians, Albertans, Nova Scotians, Saskatchewanians, British Columbians, and Quebecers standing together on the Parliament Hill lawn and lining the streets of the downtown core. On my way in, I also saw hundreds of supporters for the truckers spanning all across the 401 on nearly every overpass between Toronto and Ottawa as the convoy passed.
One of many overpasses filled with supporters of the convoy. Photo by Andrew Kozak.
When speaking with protestors and truckers, they all agreed that they are proud to be Canadian again after years of division and isolation. On the first Saturday during the main Freedom Rally, Tamara spoke through tears to a crowd of thousands. She said: “I see a lot of Canadian flags raised upside down, and this disappoints me.” Referring to a turned flag as a sign of “nation in crisis” Tamara continued: “I please ask that you turn them up, because we have hope again.” And everyone did just that.The demonstrations were peaceful. No arrests were made during the weeks before police marched in weeks later. The entire event carried itself like a long needed street festival. Aside from some shouting, people were happy to be around each other again after nearly two years of authoritarian lockdowns and restrictions. A man thanks trucker for participating in the convoy.
Photo by Andrew Kozak.
After the first day, the media hounded the protest. The same images of Confederate and Nazi flags circulated the web. CTV News claimed that Terry Fox’s statue was “defaced” after protesters gave him a hat and a flag as a cape. A video emerged of someone dancing on the tomb of the unknown soldier. If you sat behind screens you would think this protest consisted of criminals and miscreants, but as someone on the ground you would not see it that way. While these actions are reprehensible, we never saw the same condemnation surrounding the destruction or defacement of statues like Sir John A. MacDonald in Montreal, Queen Victoria in Winnipeg, or Egerton Ryerson in Toronto. There were also no mainstream comments on hammer and sickle flags flown during left-wing protests sparked since 2020. Where was the outrage? The Sunday after the first Freedom Rally, protestors were on their best behaviour. The Terry Fox statue was cleared of its patriotic garments, garbage was picked up on the streets, flowers donned the Tomb, snow was shovelled, food and warm drinks were passed to truckers, passerbys, and even homeless people. Warming stations were set up to help demonstrators brave -20C temperatures. This doesn’t forgive the actions of a few, but portrays a communal effort to make-up for wrongs. One of several warming stations in downtown Ottawa. Photo by Andrew Kozak.
Canadian leaders have often celebrated its diversity. There was no better example of diversity and pure Canadian spirit than in Ottawa at the Freedom Convoy. There were many flags such as the American, Australian, Polish, Russian, Slavic, German, Indian, Islamic, Israeli, even Metis, and other Indigenous ones. Why wouldn’t our leaders continue to praise diversity when it was parked right at the gates of Parliament?Protestors were excited at the opportunity to not only show off their Canadian spirit, but share their own cultures as well. One had no trouble keeping their bellies full with perogies and samosas that were shared generously amongst the crowd. Trudeau has been a leader in division across Canada since he was elected, but this protest, which attracted thousands, has sparked unification. I have never seen Canada like this. A nation is defined as a large group of people united by a common language, history, or culture in a specific time. The truth is, we are not a nation in crisis. It is the government that is in utter chaos. The Canadian people have come together in the capital city united by a single idea: freedom. The same freedom that travellers from afar arrive for and the same freedom our soldiers have fallen for. Our leaders would be remiss if they did not take the opportunity which has literally rolled onto their doorstep. What they have in front of them is a sample of the nation, one whose flag is raised high above Wellington Street. The pride these demonstrators have for the Maple Leaf is perhaps unmatched by any in decades. Walking the streets of Ottawa and hearing the gratitude from those who couldn’t make the trip, it is clear that the nation is secured. It is only the state that needs to follow.
A Canadian flag raised by truckers above Wellington St. Ottawa. Photo by Andrew Kozak.
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