Canada’s NDP leader says trucker convoy aims to ‘overthrow’ gov’t

Jagmeet Singh calls for emergency debate in Canadian parliament over ongoing trucker ‘occupation’ of capital, Ottawa.

A person waves a Canadian flag in front of a truck
The so-called 'Freedom Convoy' was organised by known far-right figures in Canada [File: Lars Hagberg/Reuters]

Canada needs to investigate foreign interference and support for an anti-government protest in the country’s capital, said New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh, as the convoy of truckers and their supporters continues to wreak havoc in Ottawa.

Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Singh said the convoy’s stated intent is to “overthrow the government”.

“It is clear that this is not a protest; this is an act to try to overthrow the government, and it is getting funded by foreign interference and we need to investigate and stop that – stop the flow of that foreign interference, particularly coming from the [United] States,” said Singh, whose party has the fourth-most seats in the House of Commons.

“We are calling for an emergency debate in parliament to respond to the convoy and to the escalating tensions that we’re seeing,” he added.

The convoy of Canadian truckers and their supporters began arriving in Ottawa on January 28 to denounce an order requiring truckers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to cross Canada’s land border with the United States.

Protesters release smoke flares in front of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada.
The protesters are demanding an end to all coronavirus restrictions in Canada [Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP]

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” was organised by known far-right figures who have espoused Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and other hateful views, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network non-profit group reported. Protesters marched through Ottawa on January 29, while several have pledged to stay in the city, home to about 1 million people, until all coronavirus restrictions are lifted in Canada.

A memorandum of understanding drafted by some convoy organisers calls on the Senate and Governor General to agree to lift all such curbs, including vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and coronavirus-related fines, or “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority Immediately”.

Convoy participants have honked their horns incessantly for several days, blocked residential streets, set off fireworks late at night, harassed local residents, and generally disrupted daily life in the downtown core of the capital.

On Monday afternoon, an Ottawa judge granted a 10-day, interim injunction prohibiting convoy participants from honking their horns near downtown. The decision came in response to a proposed, class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of local residents. “Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought I’m aware of,” Justice Hugh McLean said as reported by CBC News.

Meanwhile, during the weekend, GoFundMe announced that it was taking down a fundraiser that had raised several million dollars for the convoy because it violated the company’s terms of service. It said it would refund all contributions. “We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity,” GoFundMe said.

“Under no circumstances should any group in the USA fund disruptive activities in Canada. Period. Full stop,” Bruce Heyman, who served as US ambassador to Canada under former President Barack Obama, tweeted on Saturday.

But GoFundMe’s decision drew condemnation from right-wing leaders in the US, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who said the move to “commandeer $9M in donations” was fraudulent and pledged to launch an investigation.

Back in Ottawa, residents have described the ongoing protest as an “occupation” and Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Sunday.

The move, Watson said in a statement, “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government”.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS), which at the start of the protest said its officers “have avoided ticketing and towing vehicle[s] so as not to instigate confrontations with demonstrators”, has faced widespread criticism for its response to the convoy.

On Sunday, OPS said seven people had been arrested, 100 tickets were issued, and more than 60 criminal investigations have been launched. That night, police began removing gas and propane tanks at an encampment used by the protesters, Ottawa journalist Judy Trihn reported.

A person carries a Confederate battle flag in front of the Canadian parliament
Some Ottawa convoy participants have waved Confederate and Nazi flags, spurring fear among residents [File: Patrick Doyle/Reuters]

The federal government has promised to provide support from the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to Ottawa police. On Monday afternoon, Marco Mendicino, Canada’s minister of public safety, commended the OPS for “stepping up enforcement” actions, including handing out tickets and taking down structures.

“In the weeks that follow, we’ll need to be really clear that we can’t find ourselves in a similar situation again,” Mendicino said during a news conference. “It would be a terrible precedent to say that if you show up to the nation’s capital with heavy equipment and blockade the capital city, that you can force reckless change in our public policy.”

But calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more to stem the protest are growing.

“We need to see some leadership, and there hasn’t been that leadership at the federal level,” Singh of the NDP said on Monday morning. “We have a crisis on our hands, and we need to immediately have the prime minister – representing the federal level, the federal government – meet with the affected municipalities to offer any help that we can to solve this problem.”

Other convoy protests were held in Vancouver, Quebec City and Toronto, Canada’s largest city, on the weekend, but participants left at the end of those demonstrations. A vast majority of Canadian truckers – some 85 percent – are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), an industry advocacy group, which has condemned the convoy.

Source: Al Jazeera