So, you might be wondering, why didn’t the police/government take control of the “Freedom Convoy” much, much more quickly? Why was Canada brought to a standstill by this protest, and for so long? Why?
These are the questions on many Canadians’ minds right now. They’re being talked about in newspapers, on CBC radio constantly, in the blogosphere and everywhere in social media.
The sheer, unavoidable fact, is that the police absolutely, incontrovertibly failed. This isn’t even debatable, nor does accepting this fact depend on whether you support this convoy or not. The fact is, the police were ineffective at keeping any semblance of public order in our capital city (and other places), for WEEKS.
Imagine this scenario — a group of Indigenous protesters, hundreds strong, then swelling to thousands, with miles upon miles of heavy equipment, starts driving across the country, hellbent on occupying Canada’s capital city and the seat of the Federal government. They are pissed about the government’s treatment of indigenous issues, and they openly threaten to take over the capital and shut down government until their demands are met.
(As an aside, it’s worth noting that they would probably be far more angry than a bunch of people who don’t want to wear masks or get a vaccine to save people’s lives. No, Indigenous people protest things like not having drinking water in their communities, having their children abducted and murdered, losing their homes, being legislated into chronic poverty, struggling with mental health and suicide crises due to intergenerational trauma, etc. If they ever wanted to illegally take over a city and shut down Canada’s economy, they sure as hell would at least have some understandable REASONS….But, I digress…)
When they arrive in Ottawa, it’s no surprise that they’re there. They didn’t exactly sneak up on everyone and surprise the police who just didn’t have time to respond. No, their protest has been rolling down Canadian highways for a week, slowly approaching its destination, with Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts chronicling every step of the journey, and the mainstream media covering the whole thing non-stop. Every Canadian knows what’s happening. The authorities have tons of time to figure out what to do.
So what do they do? They let the Indigenous protesters completely take over Ottawa, the police themselves high-fiving protesters, taking selfies with them, and getting recorded talking about how much they support the Indigenous Land Defenders. Sure, there are a few ‘bad apples’ in the bunch, hoisting some clearly racist and offensive flags, desecrating some key Canadian monuments, but the police kind of look the other way, because after all, these are “good people” right?
And sure enough, downtown Ottawa and the areas around Parliament are flooded with Indigenous protesters and their supporters, who set up teepees all over the place, use the public lands as toilets, harass locals for wearing masks, and intimidate workers in stores who are following the rules. And the drums! Oh the drumming just goes on and on, all day, all night.
(Another aside — no Indigenous group would actually do such things, I don’t believe, given their foundational respect for land….but, this is a thought experiment…)
And again, the police look the other way. They don’t ticket for things like parking infractions, noise issues, disturbing the peace, vandalism. Heck, they don’t even investigate most complaints, saying they’re “too busy”, “overwhelmed”, “don’t have the man-power”, etc. In reality, they are walking around being friendly to the Native protesters, sharing coffee with them, and idly chatting.
When they are given even more resources, enough that other professional observers, like Bill Blair, assure the public that the police have everything they need to do their jobs, they, mysteriously, just keep on not doing them. For “some strange reason”, far too many police officers just don’t seem to be willing to confront the Indigenous people. They’re afraid it’ll get violent maybe, and they don’t want people to get hurt, or to “escalate” the situation beyond the domestic terrorism that it already is. Whatever their purported reasons for not doing anything, the fact is, they just don’t do anything.
Clearly, this story is absurd. Such a “convoy” of Indigenous people (or say, BlackLivesMatter supporters…), would never, ever, ever make it to Canada’s capital without any real policing occurring. They would never have selfies with friendly police officers who were proud to get recorded talking about how much they support “the movement”. They would NEVER be allowed to parade themselves into the city’s core, to harass local residents, to violate practically every by-law that exists without the police lifting a finger. And the rhetoric of the police would most certainly NOT be about how they don’t want to confront them or are unable to because of a lack of resources.
No, such a movement would be infiltrated in short order, their leaders likely arrested prematurely on fake charges, and AS SOON AS this Indigenous movement started setting up blockades to major trade infrastructure or pissing off an entire city’s residents with their constant “disturbing the peace”, they’d be confronted with the full military-like might of the police which, yes, can shut down a protest like this at the snap of the powerful’s fingers. Getting thousands of police officers to “protect the capital” from an invasion of heavy-equipment driving, law-breaking protesters with known racists and separatists as some of their key organizers, would not take three weeks (four if you include the week of advance warning they had) and be the subject of constant, ineffectual hand-wringing by politicians.
Hell NO! The cops would be decked out in full body armour, with tear gas, sound cannons, and god knows what else in their arsenal, the courts would be on overdrive processing the mass arrests, and the media would be smearing the protesters as “anti-Canadian”, anti-democratic, and whatever else they could conjure up to smear them with, and much of the rest of Canada would be sitting at home watching it on TV and, very likely, supporting bringing the hammer down on these peace-disturbing, unlawful protesters, and throwing the full weight of the law at them.
But a protest that is, on the surface anyway, by largely-white, working-class people, is clearly too much for the police to be WILLING to handle. And, it’s too much for the politicians to be WILLING to shut down, the same way they would authorize shutting down most other protests with a different demographic base. After all, it might be “bad optics” to see police officers manhandling “good ol’ Canadians”, you know, truckers and blue-collar white folk. How’s THAT going to look on the news? How easily is THAT going to get turned against you by the spin-masters? So, no, the politicians have stood back, wringing their hands, and the police have stood back as well, taking selfies and giving high fives.
Which brings us back to the original question. Why? Why the difference?
The answer is simple.
The police are uncomfortable busting heads that look like theirs, acting against people with the same cultural markings as them. (Granted, there is some diversity on the police force, but “some” does not a culture-shift make). And institutionally, the police force is sure as hell uncomfortable with going against conservative-leaning movements. I mean, the so-called “radical Left”, you know, the people who want a more inclusive, just society, who want to fix environmental issues, who are uncomfortable with corporations dictating the actions of government, who fight for the rights of minorities, etc., regularly run into MASSIVE police resistance. But conservative-friendly groups with lots of international financing and far-right backers and organizers? Nope, sure don’t want to confront those people!
Change the skin colours a bit, change the clothing from “looking mostly like white folks” to “looking mostly like Black people, Indigenous people, or blue-haired Social Justice Warriors”, and all of a sudden, the police have no difficulty whatsoever busting heads.
And, from the protests I’ve been to, the heads I’ve seen get busted, and the conversations amongst officers I’ve overheard, I can tell you this with the authority of lived experience — too many police officers actually ENJOY busting heads on protest lines. It’s a RUSH. They get off on the power, using unnecessary and excessive force at every opportunity, and bragging amongst themselves or laughing out loud in the moment, as they commit violence against citizens who are, just as this “Freedom convoy” claims to be, peaceful protesters.
The notion that the police are afraid or incapable of shutting down a protest, towing away a bunch of trucks and handing out a bunch of charges, is absolutely, pathetically, ludicrous.
They just don’t want to.
Canadians have gotten a rare, unfiltered glimpse into the institutional racism of our country’s politics and legal system these past three weeks. And without a doubt, beyond the possibility of any “spin” to undo, we have all seen that how the police have handled this protest, in contrast to so many others in the past, is transparent, and disgusting.