The eyes of the world are on Canada amid the ongoing “Freedom Convoy” protests against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 measures – and support for the movement continues to grow internationally, particularly in the U.S.
Politicians, conservative commentators and right-wing online communities south of the border and beyond have cheered on the convoys, while demonstrators continue occupy the streets of downtown Ottawa and block U.S. border crossings in at least three provinces.
“(The Canadian convoy) kind of speaks to a lot of the similar frustrations that are being shared in the United States,” Kayla Preston, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who has been studying Canadian far-right movements, told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday.
Like in Canada, U.S. President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for health care workers, the military and employees of large businesses have been a wedge issue there, sparking outrage from the Republican Party. Top Republicans like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former President Donald Trump have signal-boosted the Canadian convoy’s cause — the latter going as far as calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “left-wing lunatic.”
“I think the Canadian truckers are standing up not just for the freedom of Canadians, but for the freedom of Americans,” Cruz told reporters on Wednesday.
Fox News and other conservative media outlets have also given the convoys extensive and glowing coverage. On Tuesday, Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, who hosts the most-viewed cable news show in the U.S., praised the convoys for protesting “the tyranny of Justin Trudeau’s government.”
“This is a peaceful, political protest. No one has shown any evidence to the contrary. It’s not a drug trafficking or human trafficking operation,” Carlson said on his show. “These are Canadian citizens who drive trucks for a living, but they’re being treated like a terror group.”
Trucking groups, including the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, have distanced themselves and their members from the convoy protests, stating that nearly 85 per cent of truckers are vaccinated. These groups have also noted that many of the organizers and participants of the convoy have no connection to the trucking industry.
The convoy protests in Canada have also inspired similar protests against COVID-19 health measures internationally.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have warned that a group of U.S. truckers and supporters are planning a similar convoy starting in Los Angeles, coinciding with the Super Bowl this weekend. From there, officials say the convoy will arrive in Washington, D.C. by March 1, when Biden’s State of the Union Address is scheduled.
In Europe, a convoy of approximately 200 protesters gathered in the south of France on Thursday, from where they plan to head to Paris and Brussels. Another convoy in New Zealand also rolled through the country’s capital of Wellington on Tuesday.
MANY CONVOY DONORS MAY BE AMERICAN
After GoFundMe removed the Canadian convoy’s fundraiser, organizers moved to GiveSendGo, a website which describes itself as the “#1 free Christian crowdfunding site.”
Some U.S. state Republican officials have also vowed to investigate GoFundMe for shutting down the fundraiser — while confirming that some Americans had indeed donated.
“Many Texans donated to this worthy cause. I am acting to protect Texas consumers so that they know where their hard-earned money is going, rather than allowing GoFundMe to divert money to another cause without the consent of Texas citizens,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement on Wednesday.
Before GoFundMe removed the fundraiser, the group raised more than $10 million on the platform. As of Thursday morning, the GiveSendGo fundraiser had raised more than US$8.2 million, equivalent to C$10.4 million.
It’s unclear how much of that money is from foreign sources. CTV News sampled some 6,500 donations on the platform, worth about $622,000 during a 12-hour period.
Of those, about 35 per cent were anonymous donations, or credited to obvious pseudonyms, such as “Justin Trudeau.”
Of the remainder, CTV News counted those who declared their location or made it clear what country they were from totalled about 10 per cent. Of those donations, 52.6 per cent were from the U.S. while only 36.8 per cent were Canadian.
“The obvious impact that this has is the ability of the protesters to continue with the occupation of downtown Ottawa,” national security researcher and Queen’s University professor Christian Leuprecht told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.
“As long as somebody is effectively paying them and providing for their livelihood while they’re there, they will be able to sustain that occupation,” he added.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the federal government will be in a position to act should law enforcement detect nefarious financial support of the convoy. He said on Monday that Canada has a “robust” intelligence community that will flag to the government concerns of national security, as well as a separate branch within the RCMP that looks into these types of issues.
“That’s why I’m certainly confident that wherever there’s foul play of the sort, that we’ll be in a position to act appropriately,” said Mendicino.
However, Leuprecht says that FINTRAC, Canada’s financial intelligence agency, has little to no enforcement mechanisms and only serves intelligence functions. He also notes that some countries, such as Australia, have foreign interference laws that would allow authorities to seize money – but such laws don’t exist in Canada.
“Even if we could investigate it, even if we could track it, we really lacked the instruments to be able to interfere in these financial flows,” Leuprecht sad.
On Tuesday, Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed proposed to expand the House public safety and national security committee’s study of the “Freedom Convoy” fundraising efforts to include a study on the rise of ideologically-motivated extremism.
If passed, it would see an investigation into the influence of foreign and domestic actors funding and supporting violent, extremist ideologies in Canada. It would also include an invitation to American crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo to appear before the committee
With files from CTV News Toronto’s John Woodward and CTVNews.ca’s Sarah Turnbull and Christy Somos.
Russia bans Canadian media, sends 34 French diplomats packing
Both moves are a tit-for-tat following Canada’s decision to ban Russia Today in March and France expelling 41 people from Russian diplomatic institutions in April.
“With regret, we continue to notice open attacks on the Russian media from the countries of the so-called collective West who call themselves civilized. A decision has been taken to make retaliatory I emphasize, retaliatory measures in relation to the actions of Canada,” said Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
The government also revoked the visas and accreditations of CBC journalists and shut its offices in the capital.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it has designated 34 employees of French diplomatic institutions persona non grata, “They are ordered to leave the territory of Russia within two weeks from the date of delivery of the corresponding note to the Ambassador.”
The Ministry also declared dozens of Italian and Spanish diplomats persona non grata in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomatic staff from the countries.
However, France and Italy castigated the move with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi calling the expulsions a hostile act and emphasizing the importance of diplomatic channels.
On Tuesday, Pyotr Tolstoy, the Deputy-Speaker of Parliament said Russia’s Lower House of Parliament, the State Duma, is planning to discuss the potential withdrawal of the country from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a list of such agreements to the State Duma, and together with the Federation Council (Upper House of Parliament), we are planning to evaluate them and then propose to withdraw from them.
Russia withdrew from the Council of Europe, now the next step is to withdraw from the WTO and the WHO, which have neglected all obligations in relation to our country,” said Tolstoy.
First case of rare monkeypox in the U.S. was someone who recently travelled to Canada – CTV News
A rare case of monkeypox has been confirmed in a man in Massachusetts who recently travelled to Canada, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
A Wednesday press release stated that the adult male was tested late Tuesday and was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition,” the release stated.
The Masschusetts case is the first case to be reported in the U.S. since the U.K. announced on May 7 that it had detected a case of monkeypox. Since that first case, the U.K. has identified eight more cases. Portugal has reported five cases and Spain is investigating eight potential cases.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday that they are monitoring the situation, and that Canada has no cases at this stage.
“PHAC is aware of and closely monitoring the current situation concerning the reporting of monkeypox cases in Europe,” a spokesperson said. “No cases have been reported to PHAC at this time.”
Monkeypox is a virus that is common in wild animals such as squirrels, with most cases occurring in Western and Central Africa. Human cases are rare, with the first one recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s.
Generally, transmission to humans occurs through a bite or “direct contact with the infected animal’s blood, body fluids, or lesions,” according to Health Canada. Once a human is infected, it is possible for it to spread between humans, but it is not spread easily and has limited transmissibility.
The symptoms of monkeypox can include a fever, muscle aches and fatigue in milder cases. Most cases resolve in a few days, but if the case is more serious, it can progress to a two to four week period in which a rash spreads and develops into pustules on the body, with lesions potentially developing on the mouth, tongue and genitalia.
The virus is similar to smallpox, but is milder and involves the swelling of lymph nodes, which is not found in smallpox cases. In Africa, the case fatality rate is estimated to be around 1-10 per cent.
Bulldog willpower and work ethic: Jason Kenney led Alberta through COVID, oil crash
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, at the founding convention of his United Conservative Party in 2018, said he’d consider members’ input on policy but the bottom line was simple: “I hold the pen.”
Four years later, the membership took back the pen and made it clear to the driving force behind the reunification of conservatives in Alberta that the writing was on the wall and it was time for him to go.
Jason Kenney, the province’s 18th premier, told a shocked audience of invited guests and cabinet ministers Wednesday that 51 per cent support of party rank and file in his leadership review was not enough to quell internal dissension wracking his party.
He announced he would resign from the top job, saying that while his team had accomplished many things, a lack of unity put it all in jeopardy.
“We reunited the free enterprise movement in Alberta politics, and we won the largest electoral mandate in our province’s history,” said Kenney.
“We inherited profound fiscal and economic challenges. And then we went through three once in a century crises: the largest public health crisis in a century, the largest collapse of the world economy in nearly a century and for the first time ever we experienced negative oil prices.
“Despite all of that we got the job done.”
In his three years as premier, Kenney steered the province through the COVID-19 pandemic while seeking to expand the oil and gas sector, further diversify the economy and remake the public health system. On the strength of soaring oil and gas prices, he balanced the budget for the first time in years.
His trademark was bulldog willpower combined with work ethic and tenacity few could match.
His days often began early with a news conference, then meetings, question period, a speech in the house, party events, fundraisers and more phone calls long into the evening. There were Facebook townhalls and a radio show.
It was a brash, combative populist style that often sought to rally support by dividing Albertans against opponents, both real and perceived.
His favourite target was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government. He blamed it for hamstringing the oil and gas industry through punitive legislation and a consumer carbon tax, but often ignored the fact Ottawa was paying the freight on the TransMountain pipeline to the B.C. coast.
He once publicly dismissed Trudeau as an “empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.” He characterized a pipeline-opposing U.S. governor as “brain dead.”
He picked fights with doctors, tearing up their master agreement just as the pandemic hit in full force in 2020. His government also tried to cut nurses’ wages.
He decried the folly of fixing the economy by “picking winners and losers” through targeted investments, only to lose $1.3 billion trying to revive the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline.
His government fought with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and is still implementing a controversial school curriculum that almost all school boards have refused to test drive.
He created a so-called energy war room designed to fight with oil and gas foes. Instead, it stumbled through a series of gaffes, including a public fight with a children’s cartoon about Bigfoot.
His leadership, particularly during the pandemic, exposed contradictions that contributed to low poll ratings even as the economy started bouncing back.
He called for civility in public debate and then handed out earplugs in the house so his members wouldn’t have to listen to the Opposition NDP.
During COVID-19, Kenney tried to steer the province through the middle course, waiting until the last moment — as hospitals were reaching dangerous capacity — before imposing new health restrictions.
When the province reached dangerous levels last fall, to the point that patient triage might have been necessary, he accepted responsibility for not acting and then said he would have acted if the chief medical health officer had recommended it.
When he took over the health system, he blamed the former NDP government for problems he inherited. In recent weeks, as the system has continued to strain under COVID-19, he blamed Alberta Health Services, the front-line care provider.
The end came not from outside but from inside the caucus.
Backbenchers said Kenney had promised to bring them around the decision-making table but instead froze them out. Decisions, they said, were made by Kenney and a clutch of close advisers. Some dissenters found themselves kicked out of caucus.
With Kenney there was controversy. Always controversy.
He defeated Brian Jean in the inaugural 2017 party leadership race. It was later learned his team colluded with another candidate to try to scupper Jean’s chances. Kenney has said he didn’t know anything about it.
When the election commissioner investigated possible wrongdoing in that race, Kenney’s government, while he was away in Texas, introduced and passed a law to fire him. The RCMP continues to investigate allegations of voter identity fraud in that race.
This year, when Kenney’s justice minister, Kaycee Madu, was found to have tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling Edmonton’s police chief to argue about a traffic ticket, Kenney simply moved him to another cabinet job.
Kenney, 53, has spent much of his adult life in the public eye, famous for saying he can’t help but march to the sound of rhetorical gunfire.
He has fought for conservative principles and the concept of ordered liberty, first as an anti-tax crusader and later as a key lieutenant in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in portfolios that included immigration, employment and defence.
He is a Catholic and has spoken out against gay marriage and abortion in the past, but didn’t wade in on those issues as premier.
He is known for his drive, populist instincts and a nose for the political jugular.
To win the UCP leadership, he drove back and forth across Alberta in a blue pickup truck to meet and greet thousands of supporters and fence-sitters. In less than two years, he got 87 constituency associations and candidates running.
The blue pickup truck has become part of his persona.
Perhaps in a harbinger of what was to come, Kenney recently had that same truck at a news conference to announce a cut in gas taxes.
As the cameras rolled, Kenney filled up his tank, then pulled, yanked, yanked and yanked — at one point using two hands — in a failed attempt to pull out the hose.
Finally, he gave up, turned and looked sheepishly at the crowd.
The pickup was stuck.
And this time, there was no one to blame.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
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