Is the ‘Freedom convoy’ already getting what it says it wants?

The movement that Ottawa police and protesters have both described as an occupation has arrived in Toronto, and demonstrators are promising there’s only one thing that will make them go home — a complete end to all COVID-19 restrictions in Canada.

While the “Freedom convoy” demonstrators have faced criticism for many aspects of their protest, it’s clear that a good number of Canadians would be happy to see the same result.

And it’s possible they may get it — just not in the way they expected and not as quickly as they might like.

Some jurisdictions across Canada are starting to wind down their pandemic measures. Even the country’s top doctor is talking about reassessing pandemic restrictions.

“If this is about bringing an end to pandemic-related policies, my suspicion is that’s going to happen with or without the protest,” says Brett Caraway, an associate professor at the University of Toronto information faculty who studies social movements.

“So if I was part of the movement, I would claim it as a victory — but then it brings us to the point of: Why are we still here in this abysmally cold weather?”

Participants in the protest have made a variety of calls — including delivering a pseudolegal “memorandum” demanding the Governor General and Senate take down the government. But the heart of the protest, which was kicked off because of cross-border vaccine mandates for truckers, is COVID-19 restrictions.

“Freedom convoy” leaders have seldom spoken to the press but delivered a statement this week.

“We are … calling on all levels of government in Canada to end all COVID mandates and restrictions,” said Tamara Lich, the organizer associated with the western separatist Maverick Party, who set up the GoFundMe fundraiser for the convoy and is still in Ottawa protesting.

“We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination.”

While Lich and the protesters may or may not be a causal force, there are jurisdictions in Canada that are outlining exactly the kinds of restriction-elimination plans for which the protesters are asking.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney this week promised to deliver a plan to end COVID-19 restrictions, while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said people are sick of being restricted and “it is time” to end all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including the vaccination-passport system in place in that province.

“Remember when this started so very long ago? Government restrictions were supposed to last only two weeks. It’s been two years,” Moe said in a video posted to Facebook. “In its current form, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are getting it. So to be clear, if you got COVID, you did nothing wrong.”

“Government restrictions on your rights and freedoms? Those will be ending very soon.”

(Lich and other protesters cheered the Saskatchewan premier for signaling a forthcoming end to restrictions at their news conference, saying the premier showed “leadership.”)

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, also said this week that the province’s vaccine passport should be reassessed in the coming weeks and months.

Such comments were echoed by Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, who said Friday it is the right time to reassess the value of pandemic measures such as vaccine mandates and travel restrictions, and that provinces and the federal government would have to think long-term about how to manage the pandemic in a more “sustainable,” less intrusive way than has been seen over the past two years.

More Canadians, meanwhile, are seemingly fed up with pandemic restrictions.

TO recent cock by Angus Reid found 54 per cent of respondents saying they want all restrictions to end — an increase of 15 points since early January.

“These sentiments are subject to some considerable division across the country,” the survey summary said. “At least 34 per cent in every region disagree with this idea, but a majority in every region other than Atlantic Canada feel the time is now to open things up.”

A poll released by Research Co., which surveyed 1,000 adults in Canada from Jan. 28 to 30 with a margin or error of 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20, found more people unhappy with pandemic management.

The poll found only 56 per cent of Canadians are happy with the federal government’s pandemic management, down seven per cent from the previous month. Satisfaction was also down from December with the provincial governments of Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta.

What that means for demonstrators like those in the “Freedom convoy” is unclear. Barring a complete end to every restriction, the movement might well persist. The mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border, for instance, is one both countries have adopted, making it impossible for Canada alone to meet the call for its abolition.

Caraway says the movement could find new causes in order to keep its new alliances alive.

It may look for other examples of real or perceived government overreach to which it can apply its message of “freedom.” But that’s not without its challenges.

“There’s always this disaster of success for protest movements: What happens when the government does it for you?” he said.

“Particularly for a libertarian protest movement positioning themselves in opposition to the government: How do you make sense of it when the government hands you the victory that you want?”

It could be that the goalposts of the movement shift.

“The right wing sees tyranny in everything, it could be like a choose your own adventure,” he said. “Any government intervention can be read as overreach.”


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