By Griffin Cullen-Norris
As January turned to February, the city of Toronto sent out an extreme weather warning in anticipation of a blizzard which was expected to land on the third of February. Snow-clearing crews were organized, and the city’s inhabitants were encouraged to prepare to shelter for imminent extreme weather. But the third came and went without the whiff of a blizzard. The day-to-day life of Toronto appeared to have been spared a snowy congestion. Yet, another storm was starting to slither its way towards the city from the capital.
Calling themselves the “Freedom Convoy,” what began as a group of truck drivers protesting vaccine mandates for their profession when crossing the border have amalgamated into an international show of support from individuals who believe that COVID-19 protective health and safety measures should be lifted. The protestors aim to achieve a reversal of restrictions by blocking key traffic arteries and border crossings in major Canadian cities resulting in shortages across North America in various industries. However, the Canadian Trucking Alliance has taken issue with these methods and issued a statement on the twenty-second of January disavowing the movement.
News of the demonstrators’ impending arrival has made many Torontonians uneasy. In addition to blaring their horns, the protesters have gained infamy for obstructing ambulances while pelting them with rocks, appropriating food from soup kitchens, and allegations of Confederate and Nazi flags being flown, and the desecration of memorials like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Terry Fox Memorial Sculpture. Word began to spread that the disturbance would also spread to the provincial capital as well. In anticipation, Toronto police had set up checkpoints along the downtown core.
On the weekend of the fifth, Torontonians were greeted to the sound of honking and an array of Canadian (and other) flags flying from vehicles. For their part, some protestors found an icy reception waiting for them. Protestors aired their complaints on social media, recounting how locals responded with rude hand gestures. Moreover, concerned for the safety of healthcare workers, a counter protest movement arose, offering to escort them past the demonstrators associated with the Freedom Convoy.
Tensions came to a head upon the return of Premier Doug Ford. Back from his cottage in Muskoka where he enjoyed the pleasures of snowmobiling, Premier Ford declared a province-wide state of emergency in response to the truckers’ blockade. According to Canada’s National Emergency Response System, an emergency is “a present or imminent event that requires prompt coordination of actions concerning persons or property to protect the health, safety or welfare of people, or to limit damage to property or the environment.” In the context of the protests, this move means that authorities will be authorized to step in and protect the infrastructure and flow of movement through large channels of travel. This includes the highways and provincial roadways that many of the protesters drove upon to reach Toronto, as well as the sidewalks the protestors have been using in the city. Authorities are also empowered to ensure the safe and easy movement of public transit and emergency vehicles. In fact, this authorisation has been used to clear certain critical corridors at the border.
We watch if these new measures will be enough to bring what Premier Ford called a “siege” to an end, assuming that authorities follow through with the measures. With the state of emergency coming in the wake of efforts introduced to disrupt the protesters’ supply chain, the situation of the Freedom Convoy appears to be growing bleak. Torontonians for their part have been given a ray of hope by the provincial government that they may return to an existence with less honking and traffic congestion (by the city’s standards, that is). As the situation continues to develop and radicalize across the country, only one thing is certain: they got what they wanted most – the whole world is watching.