For weeks in February, Canadian truckers occupied Ottawa, the country's capital, and blockaded major international crossings in a protest against COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Canadian law enforcement eventually cleared out demonstrators, bringing the city and the rest of the country back to normal. Then, as the Canadian protest came to an end, the US version began, but it too now appears to be over.
Demonstrators in semi-trucks and other vehicles drove around Interstate 495 -- better known as the Capital Beltway that surrounds the Washington, DC, metro area -- as part of their protest, with occasional ventures into the heart of the US capital. On Sunday, leaders of the protest, referred to as the "People's Convoy," said they were beginning to pack things up from their staging point at Hagerstown, Maryland, according to a report from The Daily Beast Monday.
Organizers of the trucker convoy spoke with some members of Congress during their time protesting, while also sharing misinformation and making references to conspiracy theories such as QAnon, the fringe right-wing theory that posits former President Donald Trump was fighting a secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles.
The organizers demanded the end of the pandemic state of emergency and the end of vaccine mandates, and for elected and unelected officials to be held accountable for the origin and response to the pandemic. None of those demands were met.
The US convoy took inspiration from the Canadian truckers that called themselves the "Freedom Convoy." Demonstrators across Canada set out in late January to protest the country's vaccine requirements. Their presence in Ottawa led to disturbances, including truck horns blaring night and day, and alleged property damage and hate crimes.
Like the US counterpart, the Canadian protest didn't accomplish its goal of stopping vaccine requirements in the country, but it put stress on supply lines between Canada and the US. It also inspired similar protests against pandemic restrictions in other countries around the world, including New Zealand, Australia and France.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, and public health measures like masking and social distancing have helped slow the spread of the virus. The dangers of the illness are clear. To date, more than 900,000 people in the US have died of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Both Canada and the US agreed to vaccination requirements in October for truckers going back and forth across the border. A vast majority of Canadian truck drivers have already been vaccinated, leaving a small but vocal minority of a few hundred truckers behind this convoy. They've been joined by other people who are also opposed to vaccine requirements.
Here's what you need to know about these trucker protests.
How did these trucker protests start?
In October, the Canadian and US governments established a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for truckers crossing the border between the two countries. It was set to take effect Jan. 22 for the US and Jan. 15 for Canada. Drivers of commercial vehicles who didn't show proof of vaccination would be barred from entry.
A group called Canada Unity protested the requirement and raised funds on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe for a cross-country convoy in mid-January. According to Sky News, the group's founder is a "supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory" and has called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be "put on trial for treason over his COVID policies."
Protesters departed from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, with a plan to travel across the country to Ottawa. They have since demanded that the Canadian government stop the vaccine passport, contact tracing programs, vaccine mandates and divisive rhetoric.
On Jan. 22, the Canadian Trucking Alliance came out against the protest, saying that interfering with public safety isn't the way to demonstrate disagreement with government policies.
"The government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing, so as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate," CTA President Stephen Laskowski said. "The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated."
The Canadian Trucking Alliance also said the vast majority of truckers were already vaccinated, and Trudeau has said almost 90% of truck drivers in the country are vaccinated, according to Global News.
In the US, two convoys began their trek across the US at the end of February. The "US Freedom Convoy" only made it to Nevada, which led to all protesters joining the "People's Convoy." The convoy had less attention than the Canadian protest since more states and the CDC began dialing back COVID guidelines.
What happened when the Canadian convoy reached Ottawa?
The convoy reached Ottawa on Jan. 29 with an estimated 300 to 400 trucks, along with hundreds more passenger vehicles and thousands of participants. Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said 3,000 trucks entered the city. Sloly resigned as police chief on Feb. 15 amid criticism over his handling of the protest. He was replaced by interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell.
In the almost three weeks since they arrived in Ottawa, protesters have parked their trucks across the city and have organized multiple demonstrations. Though some protests continue to be focused on the vaccine requirements, others have reportedly grown to include various far-right and anti-government causes.
The CTA has said many of the protesters "have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements," according to M Live.
There's also a significant showing of adherents of QAnon, the bogus right-wing conspiracy theory that Trump supposedly led a secret war against a cabal of Satanist pedophiles within the Democratic Party and Hollywood.
On Feb. 5, Ottawa's police department said on Twitter that it received hundreds of calls for service since the demonstrations started, with more than 50 offenses being investigated, including hate crimes.
Truckers blared their horns day and night during the demonstration. On Feb. 7, an Ontario Superior Court judge granted a 10-day injunction to stop the horns, after a proposed class action lawsuit for $98 million was filed over the constant honking.
After the convoy reached Ottawa, other protests across the country kicked off, including blockades of bridges between the US and Canada. This compelled auto factories in and around Detroit to curtail operations due to lack of parts, causing an estimated $51 million in lost wages for workers. On Feb. 13, border crossings were cleared. The Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported Feb. 14 that it found handguns, long guns and a large quantity of ammunition, resulting in 11 arrests at one of the blockades that was cleared.
How did the Canadian government react?
Most law enforcement activity since demonstrators arrived in the capital on Jan. 29 came at the local level, largely leaving the Ottawa police to handle the problem. That changed on Feb. 14 when Trudeau invoked the federal Emergencies Act, the first time this act has been used in half a century.
Under the Emergencies Act, Trudeau has powers to mobilize federal law enforcement and even the military to defend against threats to Canada's security. He said that the measures will allow the police to administer fines and imprison offenders, as well as secure critical places and infrastructure.
"The blockades are harming our economy and endangering public safety," Trudeau said at a news conference. "We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue. The time to go home is now."
Along with mobilizing federal forces to quell the protest, Trudeau also has the authority to bar travel across borders, evacuate people from areas and freeze bank accounts, which police began doing Feb. 17. The Ontario Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police also sanctioned 34 crypto wallets.
The Canadian House of Commons voted to approve Trudeau's emergency powers on Feb. 22 by a vote of 185-to-151. The usage of the Emergency Act will last for 30 days. The Prime Minister then revoked the use of the powers on Feb. 23 as the protest was cleared out.
Who organized the Canadian trucker protest?
It's hard to pinpoint all of the individuals who were involved with organizing the trucker protest, but there are a few standouts.
Tamara Lich was one of the most prominent individuals in the protest for creating the original GoFundMe campaign. She was previously a member of the Maverick Party, a Canadian political party seeking independence for Western Canada. She was arrested at the protest along with Chris Barber, a trucker and another organizer.
Benjamin "BJ" Dichter created the GoFundMe with Lich. Ditcher has reportedly made anti-Islamic statements in the past and is critical of the Canadian Liberal Party.
Pat King is another organizer of the convoy who was arrested during a demonstration on Feb. 18. Before the protest, King regularly uploaded videos to social media claiming Canada was being flooded by refugees and falsely saying there's a plan to "depopulate Anglo-Saxon race" in the country.
Due to the nebulous nature of the trucker protest organization, some of the people doing the organizing may not be who they claim to be. One
account behind multiple groups supporting the protest ended up being a stolen profile of a Missouri woman, reported by Grid News. Content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania and other countries also appear to be behind the promotion of other Facebook groups dedicated to the cause.
What was the controversy with GoFundMe?
As word spread about the trucker protest, its GoFundMe campaign grew substantially. The campaign had reached nearly $8 million when the crowdfunding site pulled the plug.
A statement from GoFundMe on Feb. 4 explained the decision to stop the "Freedom Convoy 2020" crowdfunding campaign, citing multiple instances of crimes being committed.
"We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity," the company said in its statement.
GoFundMe said such activity goes against its terms of service, which prohibits the promotion of behavior that supports "hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind."
Initially, GoFundMe said it would donate the funds from the campaign to charities approved by the campaign organizers, while providing a refund to people who requested one. Then on Feb. 5, it updated its statement, saying that due to donor feedback, it would automatically refund all donations made.
Organizers of the protest moved their campaign to the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, which is reportedly a safe haven for far-right figures looking to raise money online. The trucker protest has since raised more than $8.6 million.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted a request on Feb. 10 to freeze the distribution of donations made through GiveSendGo. Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey submitted the application to the court to prohibit the distribution of funds, citing a section in the province's criminal code.
GiveSendGo was reportedly hacked and more than 92,000 donors' information was leaked online on Feb. 13 According to screenshots shared online, a hacker left a message on the front page of the site saying, "On behalf of sane people worldwide who wish to continue living in a democracy, I am telling you that GiveSendGo itself is frozen."
GiveSendGo stayed down the day after but came back up on Feb. 15. In a tweet, the company said no credit card information was leaked and no money was stolen in the hack. However, the DailyDot reported that a leak appeared online containing partial credit card information.
GiveSendGo said its cybersecurity team took down the site to prevent any further hacks and conducted audits to make sure the site was secure. The site said in a Feb. 18 tweet that some funds had been paid out to one of the campaigns, but that there are discussions on what legal options are available to disperse the rest of the money.