Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer welcomed a small convoy to Parliament Hill and white nationalist Faith Goldy told Indigenous rights defenders to go back where they came from as the United We Roll protest descended on Ottawa on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“After four days of cross-country driving, the convoy mustered in Arnprior, Ontario, just outside the capital but got off to a late start Tuesday morning,” The Canadian Press reported. “With police escorts, its trucks, buses, and cars hit downtown Ottawa after the morning rush hour, disrupting the city only slightly.”
But once they got where they were going, “scores of semis, pickups, and other vehicles occupied several blocks of the street in front of Parliament as about 150 people gathered in knee-deep snow on the Hill for speeches by organizers and a handful of conservative lawmakers,” CP adds. “About 30 police officers stood between the convoy members and a counter-protest that gathered nearby, focused on Indigenous causes.”
“We’re fighting for you. We’re standing with you,” Scheer told the protesters. “It is time that Canada has a prime minister that is proud of our energy sector,” he added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's spokesperson Cameron Ahmad responded on Twitter, saying that Scheer "had the opportunity to denounce the anti-immigrant & alt-right elements attempting to co-opt the movement he so proudly endorses" but that he instead "posed next to a billboard calling for the Prime Minister to be 'tried for treason.'"
Mixed message fly as conservative politicians support #unitedweroll convoy, @mitchellbeer writes, as opponent warns if they'd looked closely "they would’ve found a death threat directed towards Trudeau, they would’ve found examples of overt racism."
“You’re not asking for handouts, you’re not asking for any privileges, you’re just asking for being sure that this country will be able to build pipelines. That’s important not only for you, that’s important for all Canadians,” said People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier.
Goldy distinguished herself after Indigenous counter-protesters booed and name-called her when she attempted to speak from the back of a truck. “If you don’t like our country, leave it,” she said, according to a report by Vice News.
Yesterday, Scheer had the opportunity to denounce the anti-immigrant & alt-right elements attempting to co-opt the movement he so proudly endorses.— Cameron Ahmad (@CameronAhmad) February 20, 2019
Instead, he posed next to a billboard calling for the Prime Minister to be “tried for treason”. This is not leadership. https://t.co/RG18KbUgRs
Saskatchewan Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, appointed to the Red Chamber in 1993 by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney, urged the truckers to “roll over every Liberal left in the country.” He told HuffPost that “people aren’t driving all the way across the country to have lunch with their neighbours. They’re driving across the country because they’re worried about losing their home and educating their children. And that’s why they came here.”
“Pro or anti #pipeline no one should ever encourage a crowd to run over their political opponents. Senator David Tkachuk did just this today at the #UnitedWeRoll rally. Shameful behavior,” tweeted University of Ottawa energy culture specialist Patrick McCurdy in response.
“Half a dozen Conservative MPs and senators blasted the Liberals’ carbon tax and reiterated their support for the oil and gas sector,” CP reported. “They left out another of the convoy organizers’ complaints: that Canada signed a non-binding United Nations agreement on migration in December.”
Ontario's Progressive Conservative government got in early with a plug for pipelines and has been silent since the message got muddied.
Premier Doug Ford welcomed the convoy to Ontario with a tweet on Feb. 16 that said "I support your call to build the pipeline and stop the job-killing carbon tax" and another with a video of Ford shot at Toronto's annual automotive show.
Stephen Lecce, Ford's parliamentary assistant and the province's minister for infrastructure, shot his own video to welcome the convoy to Ontario and tell the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray that Ontario had relinquished its veto right over pipeline approvals.
Neither Ford, nor Lecce spoke either in favour or against the immigration and race issues raised by the people in the convoy.
Natural Resources Minister and Edmonton-area MP Amarjeet Sohi was quick to point out the overlapping issues that continue to connect the convoy with a wider brew of racist and white nationalist causes—a problem that earlier forced fossil industry interests to abandon the organizing effort.
“It’s very unfortunate that the convoy that is here today, that their message has drifted away from pipelines to issues that are not relevant to the discussion on pipelines,” he said. “We will continue to focus on the real issues that matter to Albertans, which is building the pipeline capacity that is so much necessary for us to get our resources to global markets.”
This was the same tune Alberta's government was whistling in response to the convoy’s mixed messages. “What I know is that Albertans, not only in that convoy but Albertans across this province for at least two or three years now, have been doing a tremendous case reaching out to Canadians across the country making the strong case for why pipelines matter,” Premier Rachel Notley told reporters in response to a question from National Observer.
But “what I have said all along though is that we cannot stand with those that are delivering additional messages that are divisive and quite frankly not ones that we agree with.”
Along with pro-pipeline slogans, some of the messages displayed on protest signs or on the vehicles seeking to block traffic were calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be tried for treason, claims that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing climate change, calls for tougher voter identification and against a United Nations agreement on migration.
The broader context for the protest could be seen on a placard on at least one of the trucks, which declared NO to “UN/globalism, carbon tax, tanker ban, dirty foreign oil, open borders” and YES to “Charge Trudeau with treason, Energy East, yes to pipe lines, look after veterans, photo ID & Canadian citizenship to vote.”
CBC said convoy organizer Glen Carritt, who owns an oilfield fire and safety company in Innisfail, Alberta, had to rebrand the convoy to try and get out from under the controversy. “Carritt originally referred to his group as the “yellow vest convoy” but renamed it United We Roll after it was linked to extremist elements,” the national broadcaster reported. Even so, “one of the group’s other organizers, Jason Corbeil, was forced to distance the group from a Sault. Ste. Marie, Ontario yellow vest group that had boasted online about being part of the convoy. A blog run by one of that group’s organizers includes calls for specific politicians to be executed, refers to immigrants as ‘sub-human’, and argues women don’t belong in politics.”
Carritt had tried to tamp down that message in an earlier interview with CP. “The core message is we need immediate action for our pipelines to get in the ground, to get to tidewater and to the rest of Canada,” he said.
But on Parliament Hill, one of the first speeches came from Saskatoon Yellow Vest organizer Mark Friesen, who talked about “federal policies as the results of agreements with the United Nations to implement its sustainable development agenda,” CP reported.
“You cut the head of the snake off, we get our country back, all of it, including pipelines built, including dumping the carbon tax, including getting rid of the migrant pact,” Friesen said.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network Executive Director Evan Balgord “expressed frustration with how the convoy’s more extreme elements have been overlooked by politicians and in media coverage,” VICE News reported.
“How many examples do I have to provide of overt racism and death threats?” he asked. “How many examples do I have to provide of the organizers of the goddamn convoy expressing support for hate groups before people will get it?”
“This convoy is a Yellow Vests Canada convoy, and any well-meaning pro-pipeline individuals involved are in fact legitimizing and breathing oxygen into the broader Yellow Vests Canada movement, which spreads hate, conspiracy theories, and death threats targeting Muslims, politicians, and other Canadians,” Balgord added in a CBC interview.
“A movement may try to distance itself and claim a project they think is innocent, but when you scratch the surface you realize it’s a vehicle of hate,” agreed McMaster University professor Ameil Joseph, who specializes in race theory, immigration, and mental health. He called Yellow Vests “a re-visioned white nationalist, white supremacist movement.”
Carritt and other organizers stressed the convoy was intended as a peaceful protest, open to anyone who was committed to non-violence. But “several of the organizers have expressed support online for anti-Muslim hate groups, like Soldiers of Odin, the 3-percenters, and several others,” Vice reported, citing Balgord. “The head of the Canadian Combat Coalition, an anti-Muslim hate group, was welcomed as part of the convoy.” And Yellow Vests Canada, with more than 110,000 members on Facebook, “has become notorious for hateful rhetoric about immigrants, and especially Muslims.”
“Since December, members have posted conspiracy theories about Muslims to the Facebook page, and refer to them using derogatory terms,” the HuffPost report added. “There is a post calling for Liberal MP Iqra Khalid to be deported, another saying ‘euro-Canadians’ should advocate for their ‘ethnic interests.’ Last month Facebook began removing comments from the page after Global News reported members were making death threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”
Balgord said he doubted Scheer is unaware of the extremist views the convoy is fostering.
Scheer’s office didn't respond to a request for comment from National Observer.
“Your [political leader] doesn’t endorse a thing without a staffer looking at it. If they looked at this movement for even 10 minutes on social media, they would’ve found a death threat directed towards Trudeau, they would’ve found examples of overt racism,” said Balgord. “It’s that prevalent.”
with files from Alastair Sharp and Fatima Syed
Editor's note: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in The Energy Mix. It has been reprinted with permission.
This article was updated with additional background information at 3:17 p.m. ET on Feb. 21, 2019. It was updated again at 10:47 a.m. on Feb. 26, to indicate that Vice News previously reported a quote attributed to Faith Goldy.