February 16, 2022 - 10:13am

Ottawa, Canada

For as long as the Freedom Convoy remained parked in front of Parliament, the truckers were a frustrating but manageable problem for Justin Trudeau. Things only took a decisive turn against the Freedom Convoy when it inspired a self-organised group of protestors (mostly non-truckers) to block Canada’s most important economic corridor with the United States, the Ambassador Bridge on the border of Michigan and Ontario.

The Conservatives, who initially expressed sympathy for the Convoy, called for the truckers to go home and for the blockades to end. The Federal and Ontario Provincial governments quickly announced that they would be declaring States of Emergency. The Democratic Party’s most important organ, the New York Times, published an article entitled “Why hasn’t Justin Trudeau ordered the police or army to quash the protests?” President Biden also called Trudeau to express his concerns on the effect on production on American auto manufacturers. 

Shortly thereafter, the Canadian Prime Minister responded in the most draconian way possible. Declaring a national state of emergency for the first time ever in response to protests, he ordered the truckers to disband or face criminal prosecution.

There was no need for the use of the Emergencies Act — Canada’s equivalent of martial law — to end the Freedom Convoy nor the blockades. The powers required to do so are available via a provincial state of emergency — indeed, the emergency orders issued under this state of emergency were sufficient to clear the blockade on Ambassador Bridge within 48 hours. What this move actually represents is a signal to the United States that Canada is willing to do everything necessary to prioritise investment and commerce. Canada is a country highly dependent on resource exports for its GDP; its manufacturing base is concentrated in the Province of Ontario and largely owned by foreign companies. In Ontario, nearly 40% manufacturing jobs are situated at a foreign-owned company. And of course, Canada’s most important foreign investor and client for its resources is the United States. 

The city of Ottawa, where the convoy is located, is now under three States of Emergency: the municipal, provincial and federal levels. In the declaration of the state of emergency by Premier Doug Ford, there were several mentions of the need to maintain “investor confidence”. Similarly, deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland highlighted the damage to Canada’s “reputation as a reliable trading partner”, mentioning the primacy of the United States. Clearly, no cost is too small in achieving the goal of protecting foreign capital in Canada, including setting the extremely dangerous precedent of suspending civil liberties and rights in response to what has been an entirely peaceful protest. 

The Canadian people’s rights and civil liberties have been weighed against the “rights” of American capital, and have been passed over. At the time of writing, banks have been granted the ability (free of liability) to freeze the bank accounts of those under mere suspicion of involvement in the protest movement — with no need for a court order. In addition, emergency orders must adhere to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but only according to Justin Trudeau’s interpretation. After two years of severe and unjustified infringements on freedom of association, assembly, religion, expression, and equality under law, many Canadians are now doubtful as to whether they are still citizens of a liberal democratic state.

Leila Mechoui is a columnist for Compact.