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Perspective: I’m from Canada. Don’t believe everything you hear about the trucker protests

Americans tend to Americanize events in other countries, but the Canada protests aren’t equivalent to Jan. 6

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A Canadian flag is strapped to the hood of a semitrailer truck that is part of a protest against COVID-19 measures in Ottawa.

A Canadian flag is strapped to the hood of a semitrailer truck that is part of a protest against COVID-19 measures that has grown into a broader anti-government protest, in Ottawa, on Feb. 14, 2022.

Justin Tang, The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Americans know very little about Canada. Fewer than half of Americans surveyed in 2011 knew where Canada’s capital is (hint: it’s Ottawa), and two-thirds acknowledged they learned next to nothing about Canada’s history in school. (Truth be told, it’s not as interesting as America’s). In another study, nearly 40% of American eighth graders thought Canada’s government was a dictatorship.

As a colleague of mine recently said, there’s an untapped market for a book about Canada written specifically for our neighbors to the south. But then again, making Americans care about Canada has been a losing battle for centuries.

So it came as a pleasant surprise that when Canada recently made international headlines because of protests over vaccine mandates, Americans started to pay attention. The problem is, many people sought to compare and contrast a country they know little about with the only country that most Americans know something about: America.

Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman called the trucker protests “a slow-moving Jan. 6” with the truckers cast as “economic vandals.” An MSNBC commentatorsaid that ineffectual law enforcement response to the Ambassador Bridge blockade “smacked strongly of what happened with the Capitol Police before and during the attempted putsch on Jan. 6.” A CNN correspondent called the demonstrations “an insurrection, sedition.”

Others have taken to pointing out a perceived race-based double standard among those who decried the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, but now support the Canadian trucker protests. But to my well-meaning American friends engaging in these comparisons, it might be worth exercising a bit more caution before stepping into another nation’s conversation.

For starters, despite popular misconception, a sizable contingent of the Canadian demonstrators are people of color. And, as Jamil Jivani recently argued in Newsweek, “It will be uncomfortable for some to read this, but the truth must be said: We have no reason to believe the majority of truckers in the convoy are racist. In fact, appropriate for the month of February, the trucker convoy is actually a Black history moment.”

The problem with compressing the trucker protests into the Jan. 6 box, or other boxes, is that they’re simply different things — in different countries and contexts. Journalist Rupa Subramanya spoke to nearly a hundred protesters and couldn’t find the hordes of alt-right, QAnon-following conspiracists supposedly sieging Ottawa.

Instead, she found the very opposite.

Benjamin Dichter, a leading spokesman for the Freedom Convoy who recently appeared on Jordan Peterson’s podcast, told Subramanya: “I’m Jewish. I have family in mass graves in Europe. And apparently I’m a white supremacist.”

There’s also not as much civil disobedience as one might suspect given the mainstream coverage of the truckers as far-right extremists. The notion of hate-filled truckers and conspiracists appears mostly overblown, particularly coming from people who months earlier marshaled justifications in the wake of the 2021 protests that resulted in “the most expensive insurance-claim payout” in American history.

The disproportionate response of the Canadian government in activating Canada’s Emergencies Act (which replaced the War Measures Act) is striking. Remarkably, it has only been exercised thrice before: twice during each World War and once when Quebecois separatists kidnapped and murdered the deputy premier of the province of Quebec.

A heavy-handed government response is just what the Canadian-American journalist David Frum fears. As we’ve seen with the spread of racial justice protests, so too could government overreach inspire similar mobilization across the West.

Even though not even a third of Canadians side with the protesters (essentially the same percentage of support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received in the last election), the protests have grown, even as some Ottawa residents reported feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods.

Canadian authorities must think long and hard about their next move. But insinuating that the truckers represent “antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” as Trudeau has tweeted, well, that seems like a political playbook from south of the border.

Correction: A previous version said that Canada’s War Measures Act was invoked when the deputy prime minister was kidnapped and murdered. The person was the deputy premier of the province of Quebec.

Ari David Blaff is a Canadian freelance journalist. His writings have appeared in National Review, Tablet, Quillette and the Institute for Family Studies.