The trucker’s convoy was crushed as soon as the police were unleashed. It took law enforcement only two days to remove every protestor and vehicle from Parliament Hill.
They used simple riot control techniques. Friendly and fraternizing police were replaced with tactical units, who had more protective equipment and better weapons, and unencumbered by body cameras and badge numbers. The suspension of usual protocols was likely planned to avoid accountability, since a future investigation would have been considered, especially due to the controversial invocation of the Emergency Act.
For riot control purposes, police stand in what’s called square formation, whereby officers position themselves side by side in echelons. Each echelon has a specific role. The first line was tightly formed of men, who would advance after a cannon shocked front-line protestors, forcing them back. They would only advance two or three steps at a time. This first echelon held riot shields and hardwood batons, and would bludgeon anyone who held ground. In the second row were officers with semi-automatic rifles and 40mm multi-launchers loaded with aerosol grenades containing chemical irritants. These men stood with gaps between them, so that the rear-end third line, an arresting team, could filter through and apprehend any targeted protestor who stood confronting the front echelon, as the unit forcefully advanced. It was the arresting team who were caught on video ramming gunstocks onto faces or lunging knees into ribs, to pummel already submitted protestors.
The crowds remained dignified while getting thrashed. Their resolution was powerful to observe, and useless against an opponent with training and the instruments of force. For the naive protestors who believed that their good intentions were sufficient to stay firmly planted in Ottawa, they got a lesson in the rules of power. In the zero-sum nature of conflict, impersonal violence beats unarmed conviction – and because the demonstrators maintained their pacifism, their chants to “Hold the line!” sounded like movie dialogue.
During the two and a half weeks before our dispersal, there was a campaign of fear to dissuade new arrivals and the broadcast of threats to persuade truckers to leave. The regime made clear that their enemies were known to them. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) were seen handing out information leaflets to social media users who had made pro-convoy comments on Facebook, as “proactive contact” to signal clearly that online activity was being monitored. A list of 92,000 donors to the convoy was published in which names, email addresses, and postal codes were circulated online and amplified through the state press. Even Twitter pages were created for identifying donors by neighborhood, such as this one, which remains active weeks after the convoy protest was dispersed.
Two crowdfunding platforms were sanctioned, withholding millions of dollars, under the terrorist financing rules.
Canada’s financial intelligence agency FinTRAC was given new permanent powers in monitoring online donations. The personal bank accounts of organizers and donors were frozen; some are still unable to access their funds. A class action lawsuit was filed seeking CAD $306 million in damages. The Ottawa Police, with the help of a crisis management firm called Navigator Limited, began issuing menacing statements over their Twitter page, citing their ability to use cellphone location services, drone surveillance, and facial recognition software to identify protestors for “months to come” with the guarantee of criminal and financial charges. Parents were warned about the imminent removal of their children by child protection services.
The police apprehended supporters caught furnishing supplies. Several organizers were arrested, some released without charge, while others continue to be detained for petty infractions.
Every scare tactic failed. Most backfired. It is unlikely that Canadian financial institutions will recover anytime soon—reputationally, anyway—because the de-banking of political activists is a new market risk that had previously never existed. The revolt was largely staged in opposition to the regime’s use of the pandemic as a pretext for rescinding civil liberties. When the government responded by restricting more autonomy, angry Canadians only became further emboldened.
As I noted previously, the regime faced three choices: negotiate, do nothing while handwringing, or forcibly remove the truckers. Our elected representatives never entered good-faith conversations. They stalled and head-scratched for almost three weeks, using that time to establish a political narrative upon which legal justification could be assumed. The regime’s supporters grew fervid as the convoy continued, while detractors exposed the government’s sanctimony and duplicity towards democratic protest.
But the convoy and its supporters never intended to fight, and many left when the tactical units were bussed in. Those who remained defiant were admirable in mind, but only became the police forces’ punching bag. Such physical brutality is viscerally appalling, but pales in effect compared to what will come: the dragging of demonstrators into legal quagmires. The relentless pursuit by prosecuting lawyers, over years, will make the process the punishment.
The streets of Canada’s capital are now clear, but the hostility between the regime and its people is growing rapidly, metastasizing, and will soon manifest into other conflicts. The next time Canadians challenge the state, however, they cannot do so as part of a disorganized grass-roots movement. They will have the use the lessons learned from this confrontation to prepare for the next.
Organization and Logistics
The organization came together and established three distinct command centers for the purposes of procurement, security, and media. These headquarters were based within three separate hotels in downtown Ottawa. During the first week, it was hard to put together an effective hierarchy while the occupation was in full force. Like changing wheels on a moving car, we could never pause and remove ourselves from the exigencies of the protest.
Because there were hundreds of trucks, the logistics for supplies were a priority. It was simple: no trucks; no convoy. Efficient communication channels had to be established for suppliers not to be overwhelmed with requests. The streets of Ottawa run North-South and East-West forming a regular grid pattern, over which the long-haul trucks were parked, head to tail within all but one lane, so that emergency vehicles could pass. The geography was then partitioned, and block captains appointed from each section. The block captains gathered requests from the truckers within their areas and then relayed their needs to our headquarters. The needs were then put in categories such as fuel, food, laundry, etc., for which one specific person was responsible. To no surprise, fuel was in the greatest demand. It was needed to keep the trucks running, and not only for the horns that require air compression, but more importantly for the heat that kept sleeping truckers warm while temperatures fell to extremes as cold as -13°F.
Our procurement strategy was targeted because it was essential, and bypassing obstacles became a continuous game between regime and convoy.
First, large fuel tankers were denied entry into downtown Ottawa, so we used pick-up trucks with “slip tanks,” which are in-bed auxiliary containers. We then had to fill jerrycans in nearby parking lots and wheelbarrow them in. Eventually the police started arresting anyone containing a jerrycan with fuel. In response, hundreds of protestors bought-out entire stores of their fueling containers and carried empty ones, for which they could not be arrested. One notably amusing protestor had filled his fuel jug with water, and whenever law enforcement surrounded him, he would start drinking from the yellow spout. He then would shout incomprehensible Québécois French at the police as they trudged away, having been fooled.
The security command center was much better organized than the procurement and media war rooms. The security team was made of serious men with decades long experience in policing, military, and intelligence. We had many active law enforcement officers within our ranks including Ottawa Police, veterans of the Afghanistan war, one sniper from the Prime Minister’s private security detail, and a CSIS counter-terrorism expert. This was the only command center in which there was a clear order of battle. The security operations could furthermore divide into two separate categories: on-the-ground safety and communications with the police.
The stage, where speakers would pontificate and musicians would perform, had to be secure. Suspicious characters and agent provocateurs were constantly monitored for, and at night, we had entire units survey for conflict or danger. Every morning, we had meetings in which new developments were discussed and daily updates were registered. Maps and charts with tactical information such as the number and location of trucks, and where the police were located, were shared by ex-military with reconnaissance experience.
The second prong of security was dealing directly with the regime. Only two or three members would participate in those secret meetings. These people still had access to information from the inside and they would receive intel about the regime’s plans. Through these channels we were also fed genuine disinformation—dezinformatsiya or black propaganda—that frequently caused paranoia within our ranks. For instance, on the night of February 16, the same day 2000 firearms were reportedly stolen nearby, we were informed through trusted police sources about planted weapons, some 400 guns, which the police would “discover” and use to arrest us. Such rumors had to be addressed, even when dubious, since preempting a fiction was preferable to having to do damage control.
The media team was both the megaphone for the convoy and their only shared weapon. Every conflict now is largely an information war and a public relations battle. The regime has a well-oiled propaganda machine, and they curated footage with spurious themes. For the regime, it was insufficient to have opponents; they needed enemies, which is why so much effort was expended to portray the demonstrators as dangerous ultra-nationalists and racists. They employed the stale villains of the twentieth century, and the media team spent most of its time disabusing those lies put out by the regime, its enablers, and their media sycophants. We were successful in so far as the truth was obvious for those who cared to look.
The Freedom Convoy had to play the inverse game of the corporate press—demonstrators good, regime bad—using hundreds of hours of raw footage made available by citizen journalists. Since the truth was on our side, this was easy to do, and we succeeded in a “waking up” many normal Canadians who would have otherwise believed the fabrications of the mendacious media.
It is possible, though, that revealing the peaceful intentions of the protestors made our movement easier to finish off.
We had expunged anyone who had ostentatiously called for violence, fed-posted, or planted false flags. Such cleansing efforts may have gained us sympathy from a minority of fence-straddling Canadians, but their support ultimately amounts to very little. The past two years have made clear that passive citizens can be browbeaten and intimidated into compliance.
Conversely, having unpolished yokels live-streaming their manic enthusiasm might have kept the police second-guessing. Peaceful protestors are predictable, and less risky to confront. But the media team would have found it difficult to adopt a PR strategy centered on the rowdiest elements of the protest, not least because they had more conventional, white-collar, resumes than anyone else in the convoy. Everyone in the media team had a university education, and most had worked in politics or government relations. These were people who had come from within the system. This put them under a suspicious light; however, they were also the only people who knew how to play the game—they knew how to write provocative speeches and press releases while limiting legal repercussions.
What the Freedom Convoy achieved within its pre-established, constrained parameters will become clearer in time.
We did not end the mandates nor the vaccine passports—our ostensible goals—though most restrictions were lifted resulting from our pressure.
The Conservative Party of Canada removed its feckless leader, and our contentious presence became a domino-flick that resulted in a cascade of resignations within the Ottawa Police and elsewhere in the permanent bureaucracy.
The resignations may have felt like victories but were actually defeats, since the vacated positions are now being replaced with regime loyalists.
Protests work well when they align with the aims of the regime, at which point any violence and lawlessness will be excused, as with the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020. When demonstrations contradict the regime’s agenda they only serve as a brief pressure release for discontentment, after which you are expected to go home.
But reductive analysis maps poorly onto the current fight. The convoy is best understood by allusions to the instincts and the spirit of a people. It’s not even what the protestors say that matters. This is why pundits rarely understand populism.
Even if the Freedom Convoy lost this fight, they have made the battle-lines clearer, and more people are understanding politics as a matter of distinguishing friends and foes.
It’s becoming less about thoughts and more about feelings. Very few dissidents are in consensus over anything. The West is fracturing anew, and everyone has their own ideas, ideals, and concepts to describe a good future. Most have gone down their unique rabbit hole. But what they share is the feeling of oppression by tyranny. This is especially true for the working class, who are the first to experience the material consequences of a failing country. Indeed, most demonstrators did not necessarily know what they stood for in positive terms, but they knew what they were fighting against.
The demonstration may have failed its putative goals, and only strengthened the establishment. But it also stripped off the cosmetics of democratic decorum that mask the Canadian oligarchy, exposing it as a marionette to globalized and corporate interests. The convoy made the deep state exoteric.
From my perspective within the Freedom Convoy, we both succeeded and failed; the significance of this truckers’ demonstration will only be determined by those who can claim a future victory.
Some mistakes were merely operational. There was no vetting. I gave one person my pseudonym and an invented autobiography, and within hours I was in a boardroom with all the organizers, going through maps, talking about internal weak points, looking at charts, and inputting every important phone number into my contact list. The lack of operational security was astounding.
The grass-roots organizations also meant that no one—yet everyone—was in charge. It was a classic case of “too many chiefs, not enough Indians,” but worse, as if the chiefs had all been drinking mouthwash. So much time was wasted between defective people competing for status and control, including podcasters and lawyers who thought of themselves as serious leaders, that it felt like the Special Olympics of political resistance. Resultantly, there was no distinction between strategy and tactics. Some organizers became so committed to certain small tasks, they could not understand that a bigger picture existed, while at the same time, it was rare for anyone to discuss what success would look like.
Another problem was the lack of quality men: we had some who were brave and others who were sharp, but few who were both. Most damaging of all was that nearly every organizer saw the occupation and their battle with the regime through the lens of a feminine morality, with undue concern about how we would be perceived. There was no understanding of conflict. The organizers couldn’t even fathom the regime extending its power through the judiciary or the financial system, and every time the government used the tools within their control, the organizers would become histrionic, and take comfort in videos of commentary and ranting by political celebrities who supported the convoy.
Somehow, most organizers and demonstrators held two incompatible premises at the same time.
They took for granted that the Canadian government had been acting illegally over the past two years, even harming its citizenry for their own gain; and also believed guilelessly that the government would not lie, seize donations, freeze personal finances, use brutal force, or commit any other illegal action regarding the convoy.
Every time the government demonstrated its willingness not to “play fair,” there was widespread emotional breakdown among the organizers. Some left fearful for their lives, while others became meritoriously cavalier and tried to get themselves arrested, even if their skillset was irreplaceable. There was an indulgent narcissism in the desire to be arrested for “counselling to commit mischief” and other misdemeanors. Since most organizers were released without charge, there was a sense that you could achieve martyrdom without real sacrifice.
A New Dawn
The Freedom Convoy acted as a beacon for the regime opponents. Many people who were closeted dissidents are now actually organizing. Some people will try to subvert the system technically from within. The importance of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is no longer theoretical, and people who want to extricate themselves from the centralized and captured banks have an opportunity to move their earnings from fiat currency into self-custodial ones. Others will probably buy just precious metals or pull cash from the banks. Both work when it comes to undermining the current structure.
For others, living under the thumb of the regime is no longer an option. There is already a exodus from larger Canadian cities. We will likely see rural communities establish themselves separately, like Mennonite Christians or Haredi Jews. The dizzying rate of technological advancement, and ever-increasing government control, seems to provoke a widespread desire to live like traditional peasantry, where at least people have authority over their food and their bodies. And at the rate of inflation, the only meat you may soon afford to eat is what you rear as livestock.
In the meantime, the Canadian regime will continue eroding liberties: guns, privacy, money—anything that can be controlled will be controlled, and the shift of power will always migrate towards the lever-pullers at the center.
This may seem fine—people choosing how they want to live, and segregating themselves. But the regime will never allow a segment of society which has chewed off its own leg to thrive in freedom. It would threaten their authority. A nation cannot survive internal fracturing. Therefore, it is difficult to envision a future without either complete submission to the state or violent confrontations between dissidents and the government. It will largely depend on the spiritedness of the people, and what they are willing to sacrifice to live freely.
Giles Hoffmann is the editor of The Asylum magazine.