Angelica Vecchiato, Review

The Freedom Convoy: The Inside Story of Three Weeks that Shook the World
by Andrew Lawton (Sutherland House, $21, 168 pages)

The three-week sojourn of Canadian truckers on Parliament Hill shattered the record for the longest lasting convoy the world had ever seen. In sub-zero February temperatures, peace-making Canadians shocked the world, breaking from their pacifist constitution and rebelling against their government in the name of freedom. True North personality and Interim columnist Andrew Lawton’s Freedom Convoy chronicles the rise of the trucker caravan, starting from its beginnings as a grassroots freedom movement to its organised mobilisation in Ottawa.

Lawton’s on-the-ground coverage offers a comprehensive account of the convoy’s struggles as the ideological movement grappled to fend itself from the domineering influences of the federal government, the mainstream media and its own organisational turmoil. In Canada, COVID-19 mandates were some of the most restrictive in the world; Toronto, for instance, boasted the longest lockdown in the world of any major city outside China. These lengthy lockdowns were complemented by heavy-handed mandates. Starting in September 2021, unvaccinated Canadians were barred from entering recreational venues and from using rail or air travel.

The tipping point, as Lawton lays out, came when Trudeau provoked the truckers. Although the Prime Minister had lauded the Canadian drivers as essential workers just a couple of months prior, he nevertheless imposed a generally unpopular, but de facto vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers on Nov. 19, 2021, threatening to dis-employ hundreds of once indispensable labourers. When Brigitte Belton found out she was about to lose her livelihood, she connected with fellow trucker James Bauder. These two foundational visionaries laid the groundwork for a national convoy to the nation’s capital.

The Freedom Convoy 2022 – initially the Convoy to End Mandates – conceived by those disillusioned with pandemic policies, assumed a focused purpose: to protest until the vaccine mandates and the passport system, including the ArriveCan app, were lifted in Canada. Guided by road captains from every province, the convoy arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28.

From the get-go, the main belligerents against the convoy were the media, publishing and broadcasting a series of critical stories against the truckers and their supporters. Global News claimed, “some trucker convoy organisers have a history of white nationalism, racism.” Trudeau gave the legacy media’s claims credibility, lambasting the convoy as a “small, fringe minority” who hold “unacceptable views” that “do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values as a country.”

Lawton argues, however, that the government’s perception and media portrayal of the truckers weren’t at all accurate. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see shinny hockey, snowball fights or bouncy castles in the streets. In the evenings, people danced. People of various ethnicities, beliefs and political persuasion ultimately united as Canadians standing for freedom.

Contrary to Trudeau’s “fringe” accusation, Lawton describes the convoy as well-managed. In fact, throughout their stayover in the capital, organisers used the Swiss Hotel as a command centre, where they maintained communication lines with the police to coordinate emergency routes for paramedics and fire trucks, maintaining good relations with crisis workers and officers. Some nurses and doctors who had been fired due to the vaccine mandates, established a medical clinic for injured truckers and protesters en route. There was also a team dedicated to working day and night to provide food, shelter, and showers for the fatigued demonstrators.

Although Lawton depicts the convoy as well-mobilised, he pointed to the “GoFundMe debacle” as yet another obstacle for the denigrated convoy. Goodwill organisers wanted to raise funds to support the expenses of truckers, for example, food, gas, and lodging, especially since so many would be sleeping in their vehicles. Although the convoy’s campaign cleared $10 million by Feb. 2, GoFundMe soon froze the money that was raised because of concerns with the convoy’s “unlawful protesting.” In the end, truckers didn’t receive the money that had been raised.

As a final blow to the convoy’s great strides, Lawton narrates the irreparable damages of the Emergency Measures Act imposition, spurred on by border blockades, but especially aggravated by the one in Coutts, Alberta, where a cache of guns was apprehended. With a justification not-so-clear, the Act allowed protesters to be forcibly removed by police from areas surrounding Parliament Hill in, somewhat despotically as Lawton describes, using pepper spray, tear gas, and gunpoint arrests as needed. The Emergency Measures Act, as Lawton writes so perfectly, showed that “in the end, the federal government was more stubborn than the convoy itself.”

Amid the hardship and turmoil, the Freedom Convoy was relatively successful. Lawton notes that three weeks following the mass protest, Quebec dropped schemes for its controversial “vax tax,” then Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called an immediate end to his province’s vaccine passport system, whose example Scott Moe followed closely in Saskatchewan and Doug Ford in Ontario. There was even considerable momentum for an American counterpart demonstration, the convoy to DC 2022, which later materialised. 

Lawton’s account narrates a moment in Canadian history that shook the world: the birth of Canada’s freedom movement.

Angelica Vecchiato, a University of Toronto student, is a reporter for The Interim.