Despite the success this weekend of the Canadian government in unblocking a key bridge from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, freeing up crippled, frozen trade, truckers and other protesters remain entrenched in Ottawa city centre, emboldened by a growing sense of impunity.
The three-week blockade by lorries and thousands of demonstrators is focused on Parliament Hill and some neighbouring residential areas, and has paralysed economic and social life courtesy of an unpopular government that is to date determined not to be seen as acting heavy-handedly. Although both the city of Ottawa and the province of Ontario have declared states of emergency, police have watched on passively, there have been few parking tickets and fewer arrests. On Monday prime minister, Justin Trudeau, invoked emergency powers but said that the military would not be deployed: "The act is to be used sparingly and as a last resort."
Polls show that most Canadians, who cherish their image as a moderate, rule-abiding country, disagree with the tactics of the so-called freedom convoy
Protesters and their supporters spent the weekend jamming the streets with dance parties and bonfires. People swarmed local shops without masks, violating local regulations, and tossed gifts and cash to the truckers through the windows of the vehicles where they were encamped. Ottawa residents led counterprotests.
The protesters, ostensibly against vaccination but embracing white nationalists, indigenous rights campaigners, Confederate flag-wavers, imported Trumpites, and even crypto currency supporters, have seen their campaign emulated abroad as far afield as France and New Zealand.
Polls show that most Canadians, who cherish their image as a moderate, rule-abiding country, disagree with the tactics of the so-called freedom convoy, and worry that the country’s democracy is being threatened. But there is some sympathy for protesters, particularly among younger Canadians. Until now, the country’s politics has been a fight for the centre. Whether an effective but fringe protest that has paralysed its capital can unleash populist currents and shift that dynamic in the long-term remains to be seen.