A gas company wants customers to pony up for its multibillion-dollar expansion in Ontario. Alberta’s oil and gas companies could get a no good, very bad $20-billion giveaway. Out east, Canada’s only underground coal mine is officially on the hook for its greenhouse gas pollution, and in the west, a pipeline company took a hefty hit over a contentious project.
This week, I’m looking at a three-part series from social sciences scholar Caroline Orr, who dug into data about how the world covered last year’s so-called “Freedom Convoy.” As it turns out, a Russian propaganda outlet was among the first to follow the protest internationally, and as Caroline explains, its motives weren’t exactly pure. Read on to find out more.
This will be the last edition of The Weekly for a couple weeks — I’m taking some time off for a much-needed break, but I’ll be back in your inbox on Saturday, March 11.
Until then, stay safe, take care and have a great weekend!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
Caught in the crosshairs
The grievances that led to last year’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” are homegrown — but as protesters occupied the capital in 2022, a Russian propaganda outlet did its level best to inflame tensions among Canadians.
Just as it has in other countries — namely our neighbour to the south — a state-funded Russian propaganda site sought to capitalize on this dissonance, social sciences scholar Caroline Orr writes in a three-part series for Canada’s National Observer. Caroline analyzed international media coverage of last year’s convoy and found propaganda outlet RT zeroed in on the protests early, producing sympathetic coverage of the convoy and painting the Trudeau government as oppressive.
This sentiment lines up with the outrage of many grassroots convoy organizers and supporters online. But while that group included Canadians opposing vaccine mandates, it also counted anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and far-right agitators among its ranks — part of a growing far-right movement in Canada spreading misinformation on everything from COVID-19 vaccines to the Trudeau government to racist conspiracy theories.
For their part, Caroline writes, Russian propaganda outlets and proxy websites covering the convoy sought to fulfil a larger mission: destabilize western democracies by peddling narratives that suit Russia’s foreign policy interests.
Then, just as swiftly as its convoy coverage began, RT dropped the story. Its mission was complete, Caroline writes, but Fox News was just getting started: the American outlet ramped up its coverage on the Ottawa convoy as RT’s wound down. But, she adds, Fox’s motive was different: where Russian coverage sought to reach Canadians and inflame tensions within the country, Fox used the convoy to appeal to American audiences and push the idea of a similar protest down south.
That narrative hasn’t let up in the year since the convoy ended. Just last month, Tucker Carlson was suggesting the United States “liberate Canada” from the Trudeau government.
But Russia’s interference underscores something much more sinister: Canada is not merely a bystander in the rise of the global far right, Caroline writes. On the contrary, our country is caught “in the crosshairs of a growing transnational far-right movement that has seized on pandemic-related grievances to recruit new members and expand its global presence.”
What does this mean for everyday Canadians? Already, conspiracy theories have spread like wildfire at home, pulling friends and family members down the rabbit hole of alternate reality. A survey last year found a quarter of Canadians believe in online conspiracy theories.
For many drawn into this swirl of mis- and disinformation, that’s as far as it goes. But online movements can lead to real-world violence, and as far-right movements grow in Canada, so, too, have Islamophobia and other forms of hate. Court documents show the man accused of deliberately hitting and killing a Muslim family with a car in London, Ont., in 2021 may have accessed neo-Nazi websites online. The alleged killer of a mosque caretaker in Toronto the year before reportedly shared content from a hate group on social media. The perpetrator of the Quebec mosque shooting, who took the lives of six people in 2017, was radicalized online.
Meanwhile, the army reservist who crashed through the gates of Rideau Hall in 2020 with a truck full of firearms and plans to arrest the prime minister was motivated by conspiracy theories. And during the height of the convoy protests last year, four men allegedly plotted to murder police officers at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing, two of them apparent supporters of a military accelerationist group that seeks to hasten society’s collapse.
Russian propaganda did not create any of these problems, but it has sought to make them worse. And while it’s unclear how much of an impact these efforts had on Canadians’ view of the Ottawa convoy, Caroline writes, “the message being sent to Canadians is quite clear: The world is watching, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
More CNO reads
Big Pharma stepped up its lobbying game after Ottawa promised progress on pharmacare. Pharmaceutical companies and lobby groups were three times more active in the wake of the Liberal-NDP deal than they had been from 2015 to 2019, Natasha Bulowski reports.
How “15-minute cities” became the latest global conspiracy theory. In an age of impossibly dumb conspiracy theories, this one might be the dumbest yet, writes columnist Max Fawcett.
Take off the blinders, Bay Street. A new study finds Canada does not have adequate rules for investing in an era of climate change and lays out recommendations to reshape how the financial sector invests, John Woodside reports.
A mayor’s affair shakes young people’s trust in political leaders. Toronto Mayor John Tory officially resigned this week after admitting to an affair with a staffer. But young people were losing faith in their leaders even before the news, Nairah Ahmed reports.
Overcrowding. Mould-infested homes. Families sleeping in shifts. The housing crisis is dire across Canada — but in Indigenous communities, NDP critics say, the federal government isn’t doing nearly enough. Matteo Cimellaro reports on a critical housing gap and the billions of dollars it will take to fix it.
“We never agreed to this.” Nova Scotia residents are fighting the reopening of an underground coal mine with a record of safety violations. Cloe Logan reports on the environmental group that appealed to the province this week to shut the mine down for good.