MONTREAL — “The sweeping police operation carried out under the anti-working-class Emergencies Act against the three-week protest in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, by truckers and others opposed to vaccine mandates is an assault on the political rights of all working people,” said Philippe Tessier, Communist League candidate in a Quebec provincial by-election in the riding of Marie-Victorin. “It is one of the largest acts of police repression in modern Canadian history and should be opposed by all unions and supporters of democratic rights.
“As of today — Feb. 22 — even though the cops have shut down the Ottawa action, the federal government is keeping the act and its restrictions on our rights in place, supposedly to keep the protesters from returning,” he added.
The operation against the Freedom Convoy protest deployed hundreds of police from across Canada, supported by armored tactical vehicles, elite sharpshooters, horse cavalry, stun grenades, anti-riot weapon launchers, batons and pepper spray.
Some protesters, including trucker Csaba Vizi, were physically attacked by the cops. “They broke my body a little bit, but not my spirit,” he told the press. Close to 200 people have been arrested. If charged and convicted they face fines of up to 6,000 Canadian dollars ($4,700) and prison sentences of up to five years.
Over 200 protesters’ bank and other financial accounts had been frozen under powers granted by the Emergencies Act. Seventy-nine trucks and other vehicles have been seized and, in many cases, their windows smashed by police to forcibly remove protesters from their vehicles.
The trucks could be sold by the city of Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said. “We actually have the ability [under the act] to confiscate those vehicles and sell them,” he boasted. “And I want to see them sold,” not returned to the truckers, he said.
“This too is an assault on the working class. It amounts to government legalized theft,” Tessier said. “This makes crystal clear that when the capitalist rulers talk about defending property, they’re talking about the property of the ruling rich, not that of people who work for a living. Working people and our unions should demand that all of the vehicles that have been seized be returned immediately, all of those arrested be freed and charges dropped.”
While the government assault on the convoy ended the anti-mandate protest, truckers, including owner-operators, continue to fight the attacks of trucking bosses and thieving brokers.
Trucker Lovepreet Singh Gill, who didn’t support the Ottawa action, told Al Jazeera that there are “major issues” in the trucking industry, such as unpaid wages and exploitation of foreign workers, that need to be addressed.
Arshdeep Singh Kang, one of the truckers in Brampton, Ontario, fighting against wage theft, said that immigrants, who make up a significant percentage of truckers, are threatened with deportation, making it harder to unionize.
Richard Nunda, a trucker from Alberta, told the Militant at a truck stop near Montreal that owner-operators like himself “need a union. We must use brokers, but the rates are too low. Unions would be able to” defend our interests. “As it is now, there is no way you can complain.”
Nunda and his co-worker, Joel Ngeze, took copies of a statement by Philippe Tessier entitled “Oppose Ottawa’s Emergencies Act! Defend the democratic and political rights of working people!” to distribute to other truckers.
“Workers should organize to publicize and organize solidarity with these truckers’ fights,” Tessier said.
Rule by decree
The police operation in Ottawa was carried out under the draconian powers given to the state by the Emergencies Act, decreed Feb. 14 by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau without either a vote or even any discussion in Canada’s elected Parliament. On Feb. 21 Parliament passed a motion backing the invocation of the act and extending it for 30 days, with the backing of the Liberals, the New Democratic Party and the Greens.
It’s the growing anger and frustration of working people with anti-working-class, undemocratic measures like these that fueled the Ottawa protest and similar actions across the country, including the blockades of bridges and roads used for hundreds of millions of dollars of trade by trucks between Canada and the United States.
“The fact that governments across Canada are more and more ruling by decree is a serious threat to working people and political rights,” the Communist League candidate said.
The Quebec government, for example, has been ruling by decree for almost two years in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic under the “health emergency” provisions of the Public Health Act.
It has used these powers to impose curfews, lockdowns, and vaccine mandates; put hundreds of thousands of people out of work; banned public and private gatherings; and closed down small businesses, driving many into bankruptcy.
It has also imposed mandatory overtime on nurses and canceled health workers’ vacations. Most of these measures are extremely unpopular and have led to protest actions by nurses, other health care workers and truckers.
The New Brunswick provincial government used its COVID state of emergency in November 2021 as a strikebreaking weapon to order 2,000 health care workers back to work with fines of up to $CA20,400 a day for each worker failing to comply.
Massive smear campaign
Trudeau and the liberal press have smeared the protesters, especially the truckers, as reactionary, violent and ignorant fools. He has previously attacked the unvaccinated as being “very often misogynistic and racist,” people who should not be tolerated in a civilized society.
His remarks are a reflection of the loathing and fear of the working class by the capitalist rulers and their politicians of all stripes.
The Liberal government’s efforts to smear the convoy — which aroused sympathy from many workers sick of years of government shutdowns, travel restrictions and mandates — have extended into bourgeois politics. Trudeau has now accused the Conservatives, the largest opposition party in Canada’s Parliament, of standing “with people who wave swastikas … with people who wave the Confederate flag.” While his accusations caused an uproar, he refused to apologize.
The Conservatives, along with the Bloc Québécois, another opposition party, disagree with the implementation of the Emergencies Act, arguing the government had enough police power to bring the Ottawa protests to an end without it. A majority of provincial premiers have the same position.
The Alberta government has now decided to challenge the use of the Emergencies Act in court. As well, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has launched a suit against Ottawa’s action.
The New Democratic Party, which is supported by a number of unions, backs the government’s action. The Liberals are a minority government and couldn’t have passed the bill invoking the Emergencies Act without the NDP’s support.
“Many people are rightfully concerned that using the Emergencies Act now will mean a crackdown on protests in the future,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh admitted. However, he tried to brush that argument aside with another barrage of slander. “This is not a protest. It is not peaceful. The organizers of this illegal occupation have been clear from the beginning. They came here to overthrow a democratically elected government.”
“Singh’s arguments, also advanced by the government, are totally false,” Tessier said. “The Ottawa protest has been almost entirely nonviolent. The claim that its goal was to overthrow a ‘democratically elected’ government is a lie. It’s Trudeau and Canada’s rulers who are attacking democratic rights.”
Most of the major unions have been silent in the face of Ottawa’s repression. The Canadian Labor Congress joined in the smear campaign, issuing a statement accusing those in the Freedom Convoy of promoting a message of “hate.”
“Working people and our unions need to oppose Ottawa’s attacks as well as defending fights by truckers for their rights and helping to organize them into unions,” Tessier said.