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The American right is using truckers to bring right-wing fury to Canada

By demonstrating loud and unrelenting opposition to a vaccine requirement put in place by a leftist politician, truckers have become heroes of the American political right. And that has meant the concomitant emergence of misinformation, political posturing and frustration for the Canadian government.

It is useful to assess what Canadians think of the convoy. There are not many polls on the subject, but we have some indicators.

A poll released Monday by CTV News found Ottawans are quite tired of the protest. Nine in 10 say it’s time for protesters to leave, with two-thirds opposing the overall effort. About half of the inhabitants strongly oppose it. But, then, it’s to be expected: The purpose of the protest was partly to be disruptive.

There doesn’t appear to be a recent national poll assessing the effort, but a poll conducted by Maru Public Opinion last month found that less than 3 in 10 Canadians believe no vaccination requirements should be in place. (The mandate is that truckers be fully vaccinated or quarantined after crossing the border, an obvious imposition on their ability to do their jobs.) A third of respondents said truckers should be able to haul goods at the across the border if they show a negative test for the coronavirus.

It is important to note (as did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) that most truckers are already fully vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that only 10% of truckers in the country have not been vaccinated. In late January, the government said there was “no sign” that the recently implemented rule had reduced cross-border transport.

What is abundantly clear is that many on the American right see the protest as just and inspiring. In a statement released by his company, which is not yet a social media company, former President Donald Trump praised truckers for “peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far-left madman Justin Trudeau.” He has welcomed truckers “with open arms to communicate freely” on his social media platform – which he says is “coming very soon!”

It was a good example of how the protest was intertwined with existing right-wing politics. The incentive for Trump’s statement was Facebook’s banning of a group that was organizing to support the protest and for a similar protest in the United States. According to Facebook, the ban was triggered by the group’s inclusion of QAnon-related content on its page.

Other pages that Facebook took down this week appear to have been created through a hacked account, as reported by Grid News. But Facebook has been a favorite target of the right for years, despite the extent to which the site has been a platform for right-wing rhetoric. So Facebook shares have become another rallying point.

GoFundMe was caught up in a similar controversy when it shut down a fundraising effort to support truckers. His concern, he said in a statement, was that the once peaceful protest had “turned into an occupation, with police reports of violence and other illegal activity”. This point of view is shared by the Canadian authorities. In response, Republican politicians took the opportunity to criticize the site — often on a loop with the hated Big Tech collective — and to pledge to investigate its decision.

The energy of the political right led to a number of false claims about the protest being spread on social media. CNN’s Daniel Dale documented several, including the claim that 50,000 trucks took part in the protest. That would be a line of trucks over 500 miles long, which obviously didn’t happen. Numerous images purporting to show the protest have also circulated, but, in reality, they show unrelated past events.

Part of the reason is that the protest looks way bigger than it actually is. Consider the column written by Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun late last month. Entitled “Which survey on support for trucker vaccination mandates do you believe? his column pitted the aforementioned Maru poll, a “professional [poll] with a limited panel of participants”, with “the reaction of tens of thousands of people on social networks”. Not being familiar with Warmington politics, I assumed it was a joke about the tendency to assume online energy was a helpful measure of support, which it is not. But the column is no joke. By exaggerating the scale and support for the protests, the right, particularly in the United States, indirectly exaggerates the scale of support for similar opposition here.

Predictably, coverage of the protest has been far more common on Fox News than on the other major cable news networks in recent weeks. What is particularly noteworthy, however, is that the extent of its coverage mostly matches mentions on RT, Russia’s state-run network.

This echoes a concern expressed by Canadian officials that support for the protest, particularly from the United States, amounts to foreign interference in the country’s domestic politics. If you imagine a scenario in which DC was rendered partially immobile by an anti-gun protest funded largely by a concerted campaign led by prominent Chinese officials, you can understand the frustration felt by Canadian officials.

Canadians, like Americans and everyone else, are rightfully exhausted by coronavirus restrictions. Rules governing the containment of the virus are unpopular even when they enjoy public support. The truckers’ protest, however, took on a slightly different meaning with the political right, both in the United States and elsewhere. It was adopted as a response to government power more broadly.

Speaking to Politico, Ciaran O’Connor of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue said that “American right-wing politicians and content creators…really gave [the protest] a boost that made it global. This makes the outrage of the moment to some extent an import from the United States – ironically, an import carried by unvaccinated truckers.


Washington

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