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Center for the Study of Canada director talks about Canadian trucker protests

U.S. and Canadian flags at SUNY Plattsburgh's Center for the Study of Canada
Pat Bradley
U.S. and Canadian flags at SUNY Plattsburgh's Center for the Study of Canada

This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imposed a little used federal law called the Emergencies Act to clear the protests and open the bridge.

SUNY Plattsburgh Center for the Study of Canada Director Christopher Kirkey spoke with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley about the significance of the move.

The Emergencies Act came about in 1988. Prior to that Canada had something that came in during World War I called the War Measures Act. The War Measures Act was more of a blanket authority for the federal government to address quote unquote emergencies that emerged in Canadian society. The 1988 Emergencies Act has sort of five key sections and it's more restrictive in terms of the moves that the federal government can do. The prime minister and the federal cabinet simply can't go and do what they want. They have to present plans to Parliament. In this case it's a 30 day window that the Prime Minister has and the federal government has to act. It can be renewed, but ostensibly and whatever actions are taken have to be consistent with the Canadian, 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution Act of 1982. But the bottom line is that it affords the government greater flexibility in terms of powers to prevent blockades. In this case to remove blockades. As the Prime Minister has said we're not going to allow key border crossings, downtown Ottawa, airports to be blockaded and interruption in daily life and services. They don't have any interest in and they're not inclined to send in the military to solve this. It gives law enforcement powers, particularly federal powers under the RCMP, gives them greater leeway to move in and empowers them as law enforcement agencies to take action. And in this case, particularly in the case of Ottawa the nation's capital, to effectively remove the blockades that are there. Having said that, I think what's really important to underscore is the fact that as much as it looks like this is sort of a spontaneous, uncoordinated series of actions that have been going on for about 21 days, the fact is that this is not a spontaneous, uncoordinated series of actions by a group of disaffected truckers. Yes there are truckers who are involved in this. But this is a very closely coordinated series of actions by alt-right, extreme right of center conservative groups, former military folks, former police officers who are organizing this. It's tightly organized. This is a group of individuals who really have a deep hatred of the current prime minister and the Liberal Party of Canada because they think they're too progressive and too liberal. But they basically are looking to overthrow the government. This is not unlike what happened in some respects on January 6th in Washington, DC. There is a group of disaffected individuals who are strategically planning to try and overthrow the Trudeau government. New York Times had a fabulous article, a couple of articles the last couple days where they've sort of infiltrated this network and got behind the scenes and it's amazing.

Chris Kirkey at the same time that's occurring you have Prime Minister Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act and you have conservatives in the Parliament criticizing him for that. What are the repercussions for the federal government as all of this becomes intertwined?

It's a very good question, Pat. I think in Canada right now of course Prime Minister Trudeau leads the Liberal Party. He has a minority government. The Conservative Party is in complete disarray right now. They had a purge a few weeks ago of Erin O'Toole who was the leader. They had an internal vote and they tossed him. But they've really stumbled badly with this. They've been unwilling to criticize, if you will, the overall movement and I think it's going to hurt them because disproportionately the public opinion polling in Canada, showing that Canadians are fed up with these tactics. And not only are they fed up with it they're anxious for the Canadian public authorities, specifically law enforcement, to take some action to put an end to this.

Chris Kirkey, the protests at the Ambassador Bridge really disrupted trade between the US and Canada. How long do you think it'll take to recover from the economic losses incurred during that protest?

I think it'll be, it'll just be a blink of an eye. Which is to say that, you know, it's fascinating that the United States and then the White House chose not to reach out to the Prime Minister until they were observing what was going on in Ottawa and various spots. But when this major economic thoroughfare as you point out, the Ambassador Bridge, came under siege they were quick to pick up the phone and say get this fixed, right? Governor Whitmer of Michigan was very outspoken on the need to get this resolved quickly because of the health of the Michigan economy particularly, if you will, the automobile industry. The bottom line is if even a very major artery like that were shut down for more than say 10 days, two weeks, three weeks then it's problematic. I mean a lot of what was happening is, you know, they pivoted. A lot of these automotive companies they just basically chartered cargo planes and flew their stuff back and forth. It adds costs. Short term inconvenience but no long term lasting impacts as long as the thing stays open.

Many of the trucker protests, as you noted, were at border stations in large, urban areas. And obviously, the Ottawa and Ambassador Bridge to Detroit is the largest urban area that crosses the US Canada border. But basically crickets up here at the Champlain-Lacolle crossing. Is that because it's such a rural setting do you think? It is a busy border crossing for trade.

It certainly is. No, I think we need to be grateful that nothing has to date occurred here. Because of its remote location that may in fact have something to do with it. But I think in Surrey, British Columbia, Coutts, Alberta, Emerson, Manitoba, the Ambassador Bridge and other spots, this is once again, not a case of a bunch of truckers who were upset and they spontaneously chose to show up here. This is a well funded, well-coordinated politically and ideologically driven movement to use the trucking industry for their purposes. Why they haven't come to our neck of the woods? Let's just hope they don't.

Chris Kirkey, this week also Canada decided to ease the land border crossing rules. Is that in any way a reaction to the protests?

No. And I think I can say that with sincerity. Because if you take a look at the steps that a number of states, that a number of Canadian provinces, and most recently the Canadian federal government have taken, these series of actions have been unfolding for a couple of weeks now. And they're directly tied into dropping COVID-19 rates in terms of positivity rates and fundamentally it's really science driven.

Chris Kirkey extended.mp3
Extended conversation with SUNY Plattsburgh Center for the Study of Canada director Christopher Kirkey

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