The protests in Ottawa and the borders have been dismantled and as we watch the bail trials for the leaders, there is a sense that the occupations are behind us. There are sarcastic comments made in social media posts as the leaders of the convoy plead their cases, yet if we look in other posts there are those cheering on the leaders and pointing out the unfairness of the situation. On Telegram and other alternative social media sites protesters and their supporters grapple with the loss of the battle, and cheer each other on for the war.
The convoy protest has been vilified for the right-wing extremism that is apparent in some of its quarters and leadership. Conspiracy theory is the fuel and impetus for many of the protesters there to fight evil and save Canada from the Great Reset and the New World Order. There are those who participated in the protests as genuine concerned citizens protesting the mandates, the vaccines, and expressing their fears. Those are the voice which are unheard and ignored within this protest. Labelled as “crazy,” “self-centred,” “uncaring of others in society” these individuals are cast aside, lumped in with the far right and the conspiracists, while being insulted. When they have no one to speak to they will seek solace in friendships of those who support their views, which eventually becomes connected to extremism, conspiracy, and enclaves of those who welcome the disenfranchised.
As police officers dismantled the occupied areas of the nation’s capital and arrested protesters who chose not to leave, the protesters adamantly adhered to their conspiracies, fears, and battle plans. Canadians watched as police officers pushed protesters out of Ottawa with a sense of relief, or concern, but each of us wondered if this was truly over. Was the war over or just a battle lost? To accept conspiracy the individual needs to feel as though they are disenfranchised in the political and social spheres, that must hold complete distrust in the institutions like media and government. These beliefs are not going to dissipate and it is something we as a society need to address.
This week we all watched as leaders of the convoy expressed their fears and bravado at the prospect of being arrest. Tara Lich cried. Pat King tried to be strong and streamed his own arrest. Other leaders are on the run, but there is a consistent message from all of the leaders to the protesters “Stand you ground.” This narrative of battling against the “tyranny” of an “oppressive” government, of being the social heroes who can save the nation and the world, is still a valuable social mobilization tool. As the protests and occupation come to an end, the distrust, fear, and anger the protesters feel won’t just dissipate.
The last year has been a time of reflection for the citizens of Canada. We have had to grapple with the graves of residential school students, a part of our history as a nation, we need to account for. The realization that perhaps we are not Canada “the good, the polite, the peacekeepers” led many to call for a cancelling of Canada Day this year. Now we are confronted with upside down flags, desecrated flags, and our fellow citizens occupying our nation’s capital. Does this change how we feel about the flag? Or is this a time for reflection, apologies, and concern?
Fear, distrust in institutions, and a sense of disenfranchisement are the breeding ground for the acceptance of conspiracy theories. A perpetual sense of disaster, a mix of the occult, radical politics, and religion can lead to improvisational conspiracism, that can erupt into violence or political action, like we are witnessing across Canada. As we see images of the protest leaders and their followers being arrested in Ottawa, we must pause and ask how did we get here, and what happens next?
Throughout the “Freedom Convoy” protests we have seen the Canadian flag being flown as a symbol of distress, a rallying call for mobilization, and defaced by swastikas. Unlike our neighbours to the south, Canadians are not a people who are flag waving nationalists, instead the symbol of the flag represents who we are as a nation: kind, polite, police keepers. This shift of symbolic meaning brought forward by the protesters has forced many of us to consider not only our flag, but also who we are as a nation.
I am proud to announce that I have accepted an invitation to join The Vaccine Uptake Network, a project of the Metropolis Institute and the Association for Canadian Studies. I will be addressing the impact and role of disinformation/conspiracy theories in vaccine hesitancy in Canada. The Metropolis Institute has created a network dedicated to improving COVID-19 vaccine uptake and building confidence among newcomer and racialized communities across Canada through two key pillars: research and outreach.
John Vause of CNN, looked into the idea of the role of conspiracy theory and disinformation spreading online and culminating in the protests we have seen across Canada. As the protesters blocked border crossings between the US and Canada, rumours began to circulate that the protests would erupt in America. We discussed the role of populism, nationalism, and the role of right wing media in the spreading of not only the conspiracies, but also perpetuating and fanning the fear mongering amongst protesters and their supporters.
As a state of emergency is declared in the province of Ontario and police are removing the blockade at the border in Windsor, Canadians are wondering what the future holds with these potentially volatile protests. Protesters still occupy the nation’s capital and new protests strongholds are developing in New Brunswick, at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario, in Winnipeg, and in Toronto as the provincial leaders respond in various forms of capitulation and refusals to negotiate.