The so-called Freedom Convoy that paralyzed Ottawa, Canada for three weeks is fizzling out as police continue on Sunday to push protesters out of the city center.
Around 170 people were arrested over the last couple of days, as police officers took a more aggressive approach to demonstrators on Saturday, carrying batons, wearing helmets, and using pepper spray.
The Freedom Convoy has dominated international news headlines as participants called for an end to all coronavirus restrictions in Canada and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be removed from office, among other things.
On February 14, Trudeau invoked a never-before-used emergency measure to give his government sweeping powers to disperse the demonstrators, and police on Friday began arresting participants in the blockade that has paralyzed downtown Ottawa.
While the protest – which most Ottawa residents called an “occupation” and officials at all levels of government described as unlawful – is coming to an end, the issues that fuelled it are not likely to go away, experts say.
Freedom Convoy shows “distrust and a sense of disenfranchisement”
Carmen Celestini, a post-doctoral fellow with The Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University, says the convoy is the culmination of the growth during the COVID-19 pandemic of online communities rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation.
“We can see that there are people who genuinely are there to protest their concerns about mandates and how it affects their families and their finances and way of life. But we also see a large component of conspiracy theorists, both about COVID and QAnon and the Great Reset, and we see right-wing extremists, as well,” she told Al Jazeera.
She says that people’s distrust and sense of disenfranchisement is not going to go away after the Freedom Convoy fizzles out. “As a whole, we didn’t take it seriously enough and we didn’t engage with it and try to counter it, and so now we’re really feeling the impacts of this.”
Protests made a mockery of governing elites
Miles Corak professor of economics with The Graduate Center of the City University of New York says that he disagrees with some analysts who suggest that the truckers achieved very little.
In a series of posts on Twitter, he argues that the Freedom Convoy has created at least three major consequences.
First, the protests made a mockery of governing elites. They occupied a capital city of a G7 country, exploiting a weakness with the innovative weaponizing of heavy vehicles, and capturing words and symbols like freedom, peace and patriotism. The political leadership of the City of Ottawa and its police force were made to look like fools, and the inability of three levels of government to work together in the face of a major threat was clear.
Second, they forced the resignation of the leader of the Conservative Party and likely halted its movement to the center. The newest leader of this party is likely to be a “Trumpette”, a little Trump, moving a major party to align itself even more with a radicalized base.
Third, they have eroded the evidence-based response to the pandemic. Further attempts to promote higher vaccination rates will be politically more challenging, as will the capacity to use expert advice in the response to future waves should they appear, Corak argues.