By Haley Grinder
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Invermere held their own protest on Saturday, Jan. 29, to accompany those who travelled to Ottawa this past week. The protest was held to advocate the removal of recently implemented vaccine mandates.
The convoy began at 2 p.m. at the Lions Hall, with a lineup of vehicles boasting Canadian flags and freedom signs. They then travelled into the downtown core of Invermere, before circling back down Highway 93/95 into Radium Hot Springs.
The official Ottawa-bound Freedom Convoy was spurred after the government created new mandates, enforcing those at Canadian land-border crossings to be fully vaccinated.
As of Jan. 15, all truckers crossing the border from the United States to Canada were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face a 14-day quarantine. Then, as of Jan. 23, all non-Americans entering the United States at a land border were also required to be fully vaccinated.
On Saturday, Jan. 29, the Canadian Truckers Alliance released a statement cautioning the public that “a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements.”
After overwhelming controversy arose surrounding the mandates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that over 90 per cent of cross-border truckers were already fully vaccinated in a press conference.
Rob Morrison, Conservative MP for the Kootenay-Columbia region, showed his support for the cause through a twitter statement on Jan. 28; “Standing shoulder to shoulder with Kootenay-Columbia’s truckers and with the peaceful and law-abiding Canadian truckers now in Ottawa who are asking for the right to choose. I thank them for their unwavering dedication to Canadians from coast to coast.”
The Invermere protest on Saturday remained peaceful, with vehicles driving slowly down the highway with hazard lights on and freedom signs present.
However, the Ottawa-based protest has faced negative speculation after a Terry Fox monument was defamed with an upside down Canadian flag and sign that read “mandate freedom.” The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial were also desecrated, with select protesters dancing on the memorial itself in the name of freedom.
Unsanctioned fireworks were also held at Parliament Hill on Saturday night and members of the Freedom Convoy 2022 were reported parking on the sacred ground of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Ottawa’s National War memorial- an act that Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said, “was a sign of complete disrespect” in a tweet on Jan. 29.
General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff, responded to the act, “I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame.”
Though other convoy protesters were recorded cleaning the Terry Fox monument on Jan. 30 via Keean Bexte’s, independent journalist, twitter stream.
A private press conference with the organizers of the official Freedom Convoy 2022, was held via Keean Bexte’s Twitter page on Jan. 30 -an event in which CBC and the Toronto Star were banned from after allegedly false articles were published stating the Gofundme accounts were frozen. The first live coverage from the organizers was set in an undisclosed location in Ottawa.
Benjamin Dichter from Toronto, Ontario and co organizer of the Freedom Convoy 2022 alongside Tamara Lich, says “that was purely a fake story.”
On their GoFundMe account, Dichter says the reality of the situation meant “a temporary hold [due] to international banking regulations which dictate many of GoFundMe policies. It is common practice with GoFundMe to conduct this kind of due diligence to ensure the funds are legitimate.”
$9.6 million had been raised via GoFundMe as of Tuesday, Feb. 1. The first batch of funds was released on Jan. 27 for needed resources.
The money will be primarily directed towards “the costs of the journey,” particularly focusing on the truckers who have lost their jobs due to recent mandates. “One thing is for sure, the money is not for us.” Dichter says. “This money is for them. They’re the ones who are making the sacrifice. We never anticipated that we would have this amount of engagement and support and donations, he adds. “But now for us, you know, for blue-collar people. This is kind of endless resources, when it’s focused just on that primary goal of fueling them, and keeping them fed.”
When asked how long the truckers were planning on staying in Ottawa, Dichter said, “we’re in this for the long haul.”
He also adds, “we’re not going to play this game anymore that the Liberals are good, Conservatives are bad. They’re all horrible. The last thing we want is to have this whole idea of unity amongst Canadians from across the political spectrum and the cultural spectrum…to have that be detonated by politicalization. This is for Canadians not for political parties.”
Chris Barber, social media head for the Freedom Convoy 2022 and Saskatchewan-based trucking company owner sat alongside Lich and Dichter in the conference.
The movement has evolved into something much bigger than initially anticipated, with some protesters boasting anti-vax signs. “We want to be clear, we’re not anti-vax. No, not at all,” says Barber. They do remain opposed to the mandates.
Dichter also responded to the defamation of the monuments in Ottawa, saying “That’s not our people.”
The three say that their biggest show of support was in Headingley, Winnipeg. “On the side of the road was some beautiful native drummers. And some catholic nuns standing beside and some lovely Hutterite ladies. And all these people of all these different ethnicities and all these cultures coming together, was amazing,” says Lich, who is Métis herself.
Barber, Lich, and Dichter consider themselves allies to the Indigenous people. “We’ve been in lockdown for so long. And we have a lot of healing to do. And so do our First Nations people, and we can only do that if we do that together.”
Yet, despite the positive intentions, the defamation of the monuments appears to have tainted the movement, as it grows into something less manageable.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP party in Canada, tweeted his response on Monday, Jan. 31, saying, “Flying symbols of hate. Harassing workers. Making it unsafe for kids to go to school. This is wrong. I understand — people are frustrated with the pandemic. But, the way through this is to get vaccinated and follow public health advice. It’s time for the convoy to go home.”
When asked how many truckers had shown up in Ottawa, Dichter says, “We’ve lost track,” in part due to separation on their journey. Though, there were “roughly 1000 vehicles coming in from the west” says Barber. “100 km long” Lich chimed in. Though the core group was said to be approximately 40 to 50 people, including captains.
Invermere protesters, albeit peaceful, have continued to spark divisive conversation on the matter.
Katie Johnson, Invermere resident, says, “I was extremely happy to see so many people attend Invermere’s peaceful convoy in support of the truckers this past weekend. It’s been a long two years and we just want to be united as a country again. And that’s what the truckers have accomplished.”
Others have voiced their displeasure at the movement, and the hate it has incited.
Dichter concludes the press release saying, “We’re doing it ‘cause we need change. We need to be unified for the first time. And we need to understand, the enemy is not each other, whether it be our religion, our race, our culture. That’s not the enemy. We’re all a unified country. The enemy or the problem, let’s say, is the political class, who are pushing us in to serve them.”