Kakabeka convoy

Protesters and supporters demonstrate as a convoy of trucks and vehicles passes through Kakabeka Falls outside of Thunder Bay on Wednesday in opposition to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.


This is an updated, extended version of a column that first appeared in the print edition Jan. 29.

This isn’t the first “Freedom Convoy” to have landed in Thunder Bay. The last one was a lot smaller but it was just as misguided about pandemic restrictions and organized by the same sort of mischief-makers that directed 113 transport trucks and a couple of hundred other vehicles to the city Wednesday on their way to Ottawa to . . . what?

Convoy organizers insist this one isn’t about violence, only dialogue, yet some communications from within the group are essentially calling for the suspension of democratic rule and the overthrow of the federal government. Darker voices are searching for the addresses of MPs living in Ottawa.

The Prime Minister and his government aren’t going to budge on the vaccine mandates that 90 per cent of truckers and the vast majority of Canadians live by so this is just so much wasted fuel. There are ulterior motives at play but truckers’ anger, and that of their supporters, blinds them to that fact.

It was much the same when scores of people attended a “freedom tour” rally in Thunder Bay last April to hear anti-mask crusader “Chris Sky” bellow on about rights and freedoms denied and warning of a government internment camp. Sky was hustled off to jail for breaching the emergency pandemic orders in place in Ontario at that time.

This latest convoy was ostensibly formed in response to a vaccine mandate that came into effect this month requiring unvaccinated Canadian truckers re-entering Canada from the United States to get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine. Organizers insist their connections to the western separatist movement and more odious causes aren’t in play here.

One can understand how unvaccinated truckers would see this as a threat to their jobs, though they’ve known since November this was coming. Then the United States issued the same edict. There’s no way for them to move in either direction so anger at Ottawa alone is rendered moot.

Besides, truckers already submit to a host of mandatory government safety regulations, from health checks, vehicle inspections, registrations and seat belt laws to licensing, insurance and electronic monitoring of their movements. So now their freedom is at risk from a vaccination?

Another reason given for the convoy was that empty grocery shelves were the direct result of the vaccine mandate for truckers. That’s true to a point, but only about 10 per cent of Canadian truckers are unvaccinated.

A larger issue is the shortage of truck drivers to move goods anywhere in a vast country with a short growing season and a wicked North American winter of 2021-22. The Covid pandemic has caused bottlenecks all along the supply chain and whittled down the number of grocery store workers who stock shelves.

There are goods missing from some grocery shelves in Thunder Bay but there are usually alternatives available. Delivery delays are becoming more common but the goods mostly do arrive, albeit late.

Conservative politicians are exaggerating the problem to score cheap points. Are Erin O’Toole and the like trying to cause a new round of panic buying (like we saw with toilet paper in the early days) in order to focus public anger on the Liberal government? It seems that way.

O’Toole said he planned on meeting with truckers, and did. He said so less than an hour after the parliamentary security detail sent a message to MPs warning them about threats, personal security and possible plans to target MPs at their family homes or staff at their offices.

THERE have been clues about troublemakers from the start. Signs on trucks referencing communism and crude profanity about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whose likeness was hung in effigy. Confederate flags are a common sight on trucks.

One truck bore a yellow Star of David apparently equating vaccine mandates with the Holocaust, as well as a sign reading “we are being murdered.”

Centenarian Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlaender denounced the use by some anti-Covid vaccination protesters of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear.

"Incredulous,” she said in a Reuters report, “I had to watch at the age of 100 years how (the star is) shamelessly used on the open street by the new enemies of democracy, to present themselves – whilst living in the middle of a democracy – as victims."

A truck driver photographed in Kakabeka Falls Wednesday wore the same yellow star on his jacket. His passenger wore a hat that read, “TRUMP. Keep America Great.” One hopes they do not represent the views of the majority of truckers in this convoy. Yet there they were, waving to the crowd who waved back. Their presence hurts the convoy’s stated cause so why are they allowed to remain in it?

The longer this convoy has travelled, the more it has evolved into something other than what organizers said it was.

When local reporters tried to talk to the truckers in Kakabeka Wednesday, they were threatened with trespassing charges, called “dirty communists” and advised to “go find a new country.” I know these journalists. They are good people. They work hard. They live here.

Fringe groups took to social media to encourage their followers to descend upon Ottawa when the convoy arrived, calling on them to destroy property and threaten elected officials.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Saturday that trucks that had been thoughtlessly parked around the national cenotaph, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, were towed. “That was completely despicable,” he said.

Later, people who were marching around the cenotaph were advised they were desecrating sacred Canadian ground. In response, one woman climbed onto the tomb, raised her fists in the air and cheered.

And the rest of Canada is supposed to sympathize with these misfits?

A person in the crowd in Ottawa was photographed carrying a large upside-down Canadian flag with a Nazi swastika drawn on it. Someone else draped an inverted Canadian flag on Ottawa’s Terry Fox statue and stuck a trucker’s cap on his head. As one person who posted a photo on Twitter put it, “There are some lines you don’t cross.”

The person who thought this was clever is the kind of person most Canadians would despise.

One social media group foresaw Saturday’s convoy rally in Ottawa spurring an insurrection similar to the one in the United States last year on Jan. 6.

Most Canadians can’t imagine a Capitol attack-type event in this country. The anger that so often boils over into vicious denunciations of politicians and journalists on social media these days ought to make us think again.

AT this writing no such thing has happened. But organizers say they are prepared to dig in and wait until their demands are met. What happens when all the reasonable people go home and only the hardliners are left?

As freelance investigative journalist Justin Ling tweeted, “I think we should be very careful about ascribing violent motives to this lot, or reporting that we've got an impending insurrection on our hands. But we should also be paying attention to the fact that they expect to topple the government when they arrive.”

Ling points out that convoy organizers, calling themselves Canada Unity, have written a “wacky” memorandum of understanding that expects to override all levels of government in Canada and have them abolish all “unlawful” Covid initiatives.

This MoU “demands that the Senate and Governor General strike a committee with them, a totally random group, and govern by fiat. If they refuse to abide by the MoU, they apparently must resign,” writes Ling. So this is about a lot more than letting truckers back across the border, whether the truckers and their many supporters know it or not.

Ling told CBC’s Matt Galloway on The Current Friday that Canada Unity was started about two years ago to oppose Covid vaccines by a man named James Bauder who thinks vaccines are poison. He’s a QAnon believer and thinks the 2020 U.S. election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Bauder was involved in the United We Roll protest to Ottawa against carbon taxes in 2019. It wasn’t very successful but the idea for this convoy began there.

Bauder hadn’t had much success organizing until he hooked up recently with Patrick King, a notorious figure in the Canadian far right, and other conspiracy theorists who coalesced around the idea of a convoy.

King insists the Covid vaccine is “a man-made bio weapon that was put out to make people sick.”

One of two names on the GoFundMe page that has raised more than $7 million for the trucker convoy is B.J. Dichter. Speaking to a cheering crowd at a People’s Party of Canada convention in 2019, Dichter warned about the dangers of “political Islamists,” and said the Liberal Party is “infested with Islamists.”

Many, including GoFundMe co-signer Tamara Lich, are quick to put these extremists in a separate category from the convoy, as if they are outside agitators. In fact, they are among the people who put the convoy on the road, and no one should be surprised at the extremist individuals who have since joined it.

And what is the source of those GoFundMe millions? At least a third of the donations came from anonymous sources or were attributed to fake names, according to an analysis by CBC News.

While thousands of Canadians and Canadian businesses have dipped into their pockets to fund the cause, thousands of other donors to the campaign are listed simply as "Anonymous."

Six of the top 10 donations, all over $10,000, were listed as anonymous, including the single largest donation of $25,022. It would be helpful to know who’s behind this money so that we might theorize on what is expected in return for it.

LOOK, we’re all sick and tired of Covid. The convoy, for many, was a welcome distraction from the drudgery of pandemic living, such as it is. It gave people an outlet for their frustration and boy, did they use it.

Vitriolic defence of the convoy blares from every online platform. Some in Thunder Bay who oppose it are angry at this newspaper’s headline concerning the truckers’ arrival. “Convoy welcomed” drew some readers to demand the paper apologize because it sure as heck didn’t speak for them and who would welcome them anyway.

Several hundred supporters lining the main drag in Kakabeka waving signs and flags and cheering as each truck passed, among others. It was an accurate description of the scene but it went against some people’s beliefs so therefore it was wrong. Well, no. That’s not how it works.

At this writing, as truckers clog the capital and bad actors slink onto the scene, there is apprehension about what might occur. Police have called in reinforcements. So far there are only warnings about threats, not threats put into action.

Let’s hope it stays that way. The last thing this country needs right now is more division.


Last week's column said that investigations alleged systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service. The reports in fact found that racism exists within the force. Also, Holly Walbourne is the police service lawyer. Her named was misspelled.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.