Nabil Yaghi from Ontario. (Dan Aponte)

For two weeks, the 18-wheelers, the semis, the tractors and the pick-up trucks streamed through the snow and ice into the center of Ottawa, the Canadian capital.

They came from across the country. Vaxxed, unvaxxed, white, black, Chinese, Sikh, Indian, alone or with their wives and kids. They huddled around campfires. They set up pop-up kitchens and tents with block captains doling out coffee and blankets. They honked (and honked and honked). They blasted “We Are the World.” And everywhere you looked, someone was waving the Maple Leaf.

It dipped to 4 degrees. The mayor declared a state of emergency. And they didn’t budge.

The truckers were scared of running out of gas—freezing to death in their little truck beds in the middle of the night. The city threatened to arrest anyone who brought it to them. In response, hundreds of Ottawans did just that. The truckers stayed put. 

They are a city inside a city whose inhabitants—there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000—were outraged with a country that seemed to have forgotten they existed. This past Sunday, as if to confirm that suspicion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has yet to meet with Freedom Convoy leaders, took a personal day. On Monday, during an emergency debate at the House of Commons, he called them “a few people shouting and waving swastikas.” 

​​I live in downtown Ottawa, within view of Parliament Hill, and have spent the past 10 days or so bundled up and walking around the protests. I have spoken to close to 100 protesters, truckers and other folks, and not one of them sounded like an insurrectionist, white supremacist, racist or misogynist. 

Katie Hepburn from Owen Sound, Ontario. (Dan Aponte)

They sound like Ivan, 46, who emigrated, with his wife, Tatiana, from Ukraine to build a new life in New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. "We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom.” (Like so many truckers, Ivan refused to share his last name.)

B.J. Dichter, a spokesman for the Freedom Convoy, is vaccinated, and he estimates that many—maybe most—of the truckers at the protest are, too. “I’m Jewish. I have family in mass graves in Europe. And apparently I’m a white supremacist,” he told me on Wednesday. 

Ostensibly, the truckers are against a new rule mandating that, when they re-enter Canada from the United States, they have to be vaccinated. But that’s not really it. The mandate is a moot point: The Americans have a similar requirement, and, anyway, “the vast majority” of Canadian truckers, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, are vaccinated. (The CTA represents about 4,500 truckers nationwide.)

So it’s about something else. Or many things: a sense that things will never go back to normal, a sense that they are being ganged up on by the government, the media, Big Tech, Big Pharma.

One thing was indisputable: There was this electricity coursing through the streets, and it felt like it could get out of control. It didn’t help when a handful of protesters sported swastikas and Confederate flags. Or when GoFundMe shut down the convoy’s fundraiser, announcing that donors had two weeks to reclaim their money before it was sent to “established charities” chosen by Freedom Convoy organizers. Or when the cops started arresting locals, including the elderly.

It is hard to capture how thoroughly Trudeau has misjudged the moment. “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” he said Monday. As for the protest? “It has to stop,” declared the prime minister. 

If he sauntered down to the mess of rigs on Wellington Street, across from the Parliament building, opposite the mall and the war memorial, if he talked to these people for a few minutes, he would understand: It will not stop.

What’s happening in Canada right now is bigger than the mandates.

Sebastien Fortin from Coaticook, Québec. (Dan Aponte)

The convoy is spearheaded by truckers, but its message of opposition to life under government control has brought onto the icy streets countless, once-voiceless people declaring that they are done being ignored. That the elites—the people who have Zoomed their way through the pandemic—had better start paying attention to the fentanyl overdoses, the suicides, the crime, the despair. Or else.

Kamal Pannu, 33, is a Sikh immigrant and trucker from Montreal. He doesn’t believe in vaccinations; he believes in natural immunity. He had joined the convoy because the Covid restrictions in the surrounding province of Quebec had become too much to bear. He said that he and his wife used to do their grocery shopping at Costco, until the government decreed that the unvaxxed would be barred from big-box stores. Since then, their monthly grocery bill had jumped by $200.  “Before,” he said, “we didn’t look at the price of what we were buying. Now, we sometimes put items back because we don’t have that much money.” 

Nabil Yaghi from Ontario. (Dan Aponte)

For two weeks, the 18-wheelers, the semis, the tractors and the pick-up trucks streamed through the snow and ice into the center of Ottawa, the Canadian capital.

They came from across the country. Vaxxed, unvaxxed, white, black, Chinese, Sikh, Indian, alone or with their wives and kids. They huddled around campfires. They set up pop-up kitchens and tents with block captains doling out coffee and blankets. They honked (and honked and honked). They blasted “We Are the World.” And everywhere you looked, someone was waving the Maple Leaf.

It dipped to 4 degrees. The mayor declared a state of emergency. And they didn’t budge.

The truckers were scared of running out of gas—freezing to death in their little truck beds in the middle of the night. The city threatened to arrest anyone who brought it to them. In response, hundreds of Ottawans did just that. The truckers stayed put. 

They are a city inside a city whose inhabitants—there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000—were outraged with a country that seemed to have forgotten they existed. This past Sunday, as if to confirm that suspicion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has yet to meet with Freedom Convoy leaders, took a personal day. On Monday, during an emergency debate at the House of Commons, he called them “a few people shouting and waving swastikas.” 

​​I live in downtown Ottawa, within view of Parliament Hill, and have spent the past 10 days or so bundled up and walking around the protests. I have spoken to close to 100 protesters, truckers and other folks, and not one of them sounded like an insurrectionist, white supremacist, racist or misogynist. 

Katie Hepburn from Owen Sound, Ontario. (Dan Aponte)

They sound like Ivan, 46, who emigrated, with his wife, Tatiana, from Ukraine to build a new life in New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. "We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom.” (Like so many truckers, Ivan refused to share his last name.)

B.J. Dichter, a spokesman for the Freedom Convoy, is vaccinated, and he estimates that many—maybe most—of the truckers at the protest are, too. “I’m Jewish. I have family in mass graves in Europe. And apparently I’m a white supremacist,” he told me on Wednesday. 

Ostensibly, the truckers are against a new rule mandating that, when they re-enter Canada from the United States, they have to be vaccinated. But that’s not really it. The mandate is a moot point: The Americans have a similar requirement, and, anyway, “the vast majority” of Canadian truckers, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, are vaccinated. (The CTA represents about 4,500 truckers nationwide.)

So it’s about something else. Or many things: a sense that things will never go back to normal, a sense that they are being ganged up on by the government, the media, Big Tech, Big Pharma.

One thing was indisputable: There was this electricity coursing through the streets, and it felt like it could get out of control. It didn’t help when a handful of protesters sported swastikas and Confederate flags. Or when GoFundMe shut down the convoy’s fundraiser, announcing that donors had two weeks to reclaim their money before it was sent to “established charities” chosen by Freedom Convoy organizers. Or when the cops started arresting locals, including the elderly.

It is hard to capture how thoroughly Trudeau has misjudged the moment. “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” he said Monday. As for the protest? “It has to stop,” declared the prime minister. 

If he sauntered down to the mess of rigs on Wellington Street, across from the Parliament building, opposite the mall and the war memorial, if he talked to these people for a few minutes, he would understand: It will not stop.

What’s happening in Canada right now is bigger than the mandates.

Sebastien Fortin from Coaticook, Québec. (Dan Aponte)

The convoy is spearheaded by truckers, but its message of opposition to life under government control has brought onto the icy streets countless, once-voiceless people declaring that they are done being ignored. That the elites—the people who have Zoomed their way through the pandemic—had better start paying attention to the fentanyl overdoses, the suicides, the crime, the despair. Or else.

Kamal Pannu, 33, is a Sikh immigrant and trucker from Montreal. He doesn’t believe in vaccinations; he believes in natural immunity. He had joined the convoy because the Covid restrictions in the surrounding province of Quebec had become too much to bear. He said that he and his wife used to do their grocery shopping at Costco, until the government decreed that the unvaxxed would be barred from big-box stores. Since then, their monthly grocery bill had jumped by $200.  “Before,” he said, “we didn’t look at the price of what we were buying. Now, we sometimes put items back because we don’t have that much money.” 

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