State of emergency declared in Ottawa as far-right Freedom Convoy occupation continues

As the occupation of downtown Ottawa by the far-right Freedom Convoy entered its 10th day on Sunday, Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency for Canada’s national capital. Far-right and fascist activists, many of them armed, remain camped menacingly outside the Canadian Parliament and have jammed downtown streets with some 500 vehicles. They have vowed to stay until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted by the federal Liberal government.

Demonstrators show their support for the Freedom Convoy of truckers heading to Ottawa to protest the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022 in Vaughan. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

A statement from the city explained, “Declaring a state of emergency reflects the grave danger to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing protests and underscores the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.” Earlier in the day, Watson told a radio interviewer, “The situation at this point is completely out of control because the individuals with the protest are calling the shots.”

The Ottawa Police Service also announced on Sunday that it will begin arresting people bringing fuel and other supplies to the occupants, who have begun building wooden sheds to create a community kitchen and shelter.

The declaration of a state of emergency follows far-right protests on Saturday that drew a few thousand people to Ottawa and provincial capitals across the country. Police estimated that at its peak, around 5,000 to 7,000 people joined the Ottawa protest. Other, mostly smaller, Freedom Convoy events were held in Quebec City, Quebec; Toronto, Ontario; Regina, Saskatchewan; Edmonton, Alberta as well as Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Nonetheless, the corporate media provided comprehensive coverage of the protest, seeking to create the impression that the convoy has mass popular support.

In fact, the opinions of the Freedom Convoy are anathema to the vast majority of Canadians. Canada Unity, one of the organizations leading the convoy, is calling for the overthrow of the democratically elected government and the installation of a junta-like regime that would rule with dictatorial powers for three months to remove all restrictions on the pandemic. Nazi swastikas and Confederate flags are regularly displayed at Freedom Convoy demonstrations.

Strong support for the convoy came from former US President Donald Trump and his fascist supporters, as well as far-right groups internationally. Police confirmed much of the convoy’s occupying force came from the United States and said on Sunday they were investigating the involvement of Canadian, American and international far-right groups in a series of threats by e-mail against politicians.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a far-right Republican known for persecuting scientists advocating COVID-19 restrictions, has pledged to consider legal action against fundraising platform GoFundMe after withdrawing the Freedom Convoy fundraiser. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, another Trump supporter, tweeted on Sunday: “God bless these Canadian truckers. They defend Canada, America and they defend freedom.

The convoy was unable to stop downtown Ottawa because it has massive support among workers. Rather, the movement is a creation of the corporate media and the official opposition Conservative Party, which built the initial protest against a cross-border vaccine mandate and turned it into a far-right extra-parliamentary movement.

Even after the mob went wild in Ottawa on the weekend of January 29, assaulting homeless people and workers, throwing rocks at ambulances and threatening violence against people commemorating the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting. by a fascist gunman, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen had the temerity to describe the occupiers as “patriotic, peace-loving Canadians.” In internal emails to top Conservative Party advisers, Bergen insisted last Monday that the Conservatives would encourage the convoy to stay in Ottawa to make it “Trudeau’s problem.”

The strategy of Bergen and the Conservatives is to provoke a violent confrontation between far-right protesters and the police or military, blame it on Trudeau’s “intransigence” and use it to escalate the pressure for the Liberal government to bow to the far right of the convoy. fair requests. Conservative politicians, right-wing media and the Ottawa Police Service have called for a “political solution” to the standoff, that is, concessions to the fascist claims raised by the convoy leadership.

Other sections of Canada’s ruling establishment and state apparatus are demanding a larger and more aggressive police presence, and have even raised the possibility of deploying the military. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, who said on Wednesday that the request for Canadian Armed Forces support was being considered, told an emergency police board meeting in Ottawa. Ottawa on Saturday that the Freedom Convoy protest had turned into a ‘siege’ and called for more police resources.

Diane Deans, an Ottawa city councilor who chairs the Ottawa Police Board, added, “This group is a threat to our democracy. What we are seeing is more than just a City of Ottawa problem. It is a national insurrection.

Workers cannot trust the institutions of the capitalist state to wage a struggle against the far-right and fascist forces currently camped out in downtown Ottawa. The reinforcement of the police or the extension of military powers under the pretext of fighting the fascist far right would create the conditions for an inevitable deployment of these same forces of state repression against workers on strike or in protest.

As the Socialist Equality Party explained in its statement released Friday, Canadian workers need a socialist program to defeat the threat of far-right political violence, end the pandemic and oppose the war. “These extraordinary events underscore the urgent need for an independent political mobilization of the working class. Armed with a socialist and internationalist program, the working class is the only social force capable of implementing a science-based Zero COVID policy to end the pandemic once and for all, halt the reckless drive towards imperialist war and stop the danger of authoritarianism and fascist political violence.

The main obstacles to independent political mobilization by the working class are the unions and the NDP, which continued their efforts over the weekend to suppress any working class opposition to the Freedom Convoy and its ruling class supporters.

After Toronto health care workers announced plans Saturday for a counter-protest against the presence of Freedom Convoy supporters, the United Nurses of Ontario released a miserable statement telling their members not to participate. In Ottawa, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union intervened to sabotage a counter-protest demanded by two Reddit users that had garnered widespread support. PSAC officials have cynically justified their opposition to any protests by citing the threat of violence against Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ participants. For the professional cowards who populate the union bureaucracy, the real threat of political violence against workers is not an opportunity for organized resistance, but the stifling of all independent working class opposition.

The bitter hostility of the union bureaucracy to any open expression of working class opposition to the far-right Freedom Convoy and its program of mass infection and death is rooted in its class position. Faithful to their corporatist partnership with big business and the minority Liberal government, which remains in power only thanks to the parliamentary support of the NDP, the unions are more afraid of a mass labor movement led from below than of the danger of a fascist movement. political violence. This was summed up in last week’s statement from the Canadian Labor Congress, which demanded that everyone “respect the results of the federal election” and “let elected politicians get to work.” In practice, that means continuing the Liberal/NDP alliance, which has already engineered the multi-billion dollar bailout for banks and big business, and cut financial aid to workers amid the Omicron wave. of COVID-19.

Despite all the efforts of the unions to block the demonstrations against the Freedom Convoy, counter-demonstrations took place over the weekend in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

the World Socialist Website spoke to Andrea and Sergio, two students from the University of Toronto, about the reasons for their participation. “These anti-lockdown protests have gotten too much attention and too much credit,” Sergio said. “I think it’s important to show your support for ending COVID the right way and not the reckless way. The things I hear are just plain nonsense from these anti-lockdown protesters. »

Andrea added: “It’s about making sure everyone feels safe and supported, including marginalized communities who are dealing with disproportionate levels of COVID and lack of government support. I want to make sure the government sees that while the convoy may be resourceful and loud, there are people on this side who genuinely care about everyone and their safety.

Andrea contrasted the police treatment of children of far-right protesters to the ruthless repression she faced during left-wing protests. “When the police evacuated the Trinity Bellwoods homeless encampments, I was there. It was a military-style and highly coordinated operation.

Michael A. Bynum