Josh is the main author of Northern Currents. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow me on Twitter at @josh_nc.
The covid convoy has been barrelling through our social media feeds for almost two weeks at this point. The organizers have been demanding they speak to the manager, with no luck so far.
Among convoy supporters, one can visualize a spectrum of beliefs within this predominantly conservative movement. There are some who simply desire “vaccine choice” or the “freedom to choose” – some of these supporters may even themselves be vaccinated. On the other end, the far-right elements rely on pseudo-science and conspiracy to promote an insidious agenda. Of course, many supporters find themselves somewhere in the middle of these two viewpoints.
The cause that binds these groups together, in theory, is opposing vaccine mandates. This is a long-time target of anti-vaxxers, now renewed with recent requirements for cross-border travellers.
The use of phrases like “vaccine choice” “freedom to choose” are problematic because they assume that the choice they’ve made doesn’t affect others. Also, the organizer’s own primary document contradicts this narrow objective, while openly rejecting democracy itself. So yeah, a bit beyond the scope of simply anti-mandate.
The updated vaccine mandates that affected truckers were the pretext used to promote a more insidious agenda.
Rethinking “vaccine choice” dialog
Before going any further, I’d like to point out that not all of the blame should be directed at anti-vaxxers. Our political leaders share some of the blame for our underfunded healthcare system due to decades of neo-liberal cuts and also for refusing to do all they could to keep the population safe. Our current economic system isn’t helping either. At the same time, people who choose not to get vaccinated are causing significant problems to our healthcare system. More on that below.
To those supporters on the more moderate conservative end of the spectrum, their main objection isn’t so much the removal of all restrictions or outright pandemic denial. Some may even be fully vaccinated and boosted. Their main objection is forcing someone to get the vaccine against their will. Individual freedom and all that.
There’s no denying that there is an element of pressure or coercion inherent to vaccine mandates. It’s inherent in the word mandate. That is the point. The idea is that if an anti-vaxxer really does not want to get vaccinated that badly, they don’t have to. They may lose their job or forfeit going to restaurants for a while but ultimately, nobody is going to force them to get the shot.
This was one of the main goals of vaccine mandates, and many have ignored this point. They are designed to strongly pressure people to do the right thing as much as possible, while still allowing for an out. The question is, is this justified?
Yes, preventing social harms can be justified
Here’s the thing: we all believe in the fundamental right of the individual to make choices. What the “vaccine choice” viewpoint misses out on is the limit of these freedoms. All freedoms have limits, after all. Let me make this clear:
All are free to make individual choices, but only to the extent that those choices negatively affect others.
Free speech works in a similar fashion. We all have the freedom to say what we’d like until that speech is used to harass, threaten, or otherwise harm others. This is hardly a controversial view. The same goes for vaccination. By not getting vaccinated, there is a negative social impact, so consequences are put in place.
The fact is that the unvaccinated are filling up the hospitals at a much higher rate than the unvaccinated. These negative effects impact our healthcare system and healthcare workers who are already stretched thin from the last two years. This in turn impacts the rest of us who need access to health services that are being needlessly overrun.
While cases are similar between vaccinated and unvaccinated, look at the share of hospitalizations:
If Canada’s last 20% of people got vaccinated, hospitalizations would be reduced by about 70%. That’s obviously an unrealistic goal, but that’s not the point. The point here is to show how big of a burden people who choose not to get vaccinated are placing on the healthcare system.
And yes, not everyone in the unvaccinated population are anti-vaxxers. People under age 5 are still not eligible, and some are unable for various legitimate reasons. But the point is made.
So yes, while we all support the fundamental right of the individual to choose whether or not to get vaccinated, we also support measures that strongly persuade individuals to act in a way that benefits society as a whole. Consequences to choices that harm others are not new or controversial. This isn’t a left-wing or right-wing view.
Convoys own document reveals broader agenda
On the other end of the spectrum of Covid-Karenism, the extremist right has been a part of pandemic-denial and anti-vaccine movements since the beginning of the pandemic. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has done a great job of uncovering the far-right actors in key leadership roles within the movement.
The leaders who orchestrated the truckers convoy clearly laid out their goals in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Canada Unity website. While most of the document was devoted to opposing vaccine mandates, the very first line also states that they oppose “unlawful” restrictions:
“The bond we have in common is that we stand opposed to the current unlawful restrictions and discriminatory SARS-CoV-2 (and not limited to SARS-CoV-2 subsequent variations) mandates.”
Of course, to this day, the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 have been not been deemed unlawful by any legal authority. So in the first line of the document we see opposition to more than just mandates.
We also see a theme of anti-democratism (Yes, that is a word, I checked!) throughout the MOU.
The MOU calls for the Senate and Governor-General of Canada to “represent itself as The Government of Canada as a whole” and “enter into the formula in which each Party appoints an “Entity” representing their interests and these Entities are commissioned to work together to complete the “Initiative.”
If that seems like a lot of incoherent, pseudo-legal babble, that’s because it is. Basically, they want to enter into an agreement with the Governor-General and the Senate to enact their “Initiative” – which means removing vaccine mandates and restrictions.
What is interesting is they either completely forgot about or intentionally neglected the House of Commons – you know, the democratically elected body in Parliament. They also don’t seem to care much that Justin Trudeau was democratically elected by Canadian citizens. I have many problems with Trudeau and the Liberal Party, but I’m not going to pretend that this doesn’t represent what the people of Canada have chosen.
To sum up, the far-right leaders are against all covid-related restrictions. They also want to sidestep our democratic elements of Parliament in order to enact their anti-public-health agenda.
Mandating freedom or social harm?
Of course, the idea that this convoy was strictly about mandates was silly to anyone who has watched any footage or seen pictures of the convoy. The amount of signs showcasing conspiracy and pandemic denial is off the charts. We easily can find a whole host of other reasons that brought out such large crowds, pointing to a much broader movement than narrow “anti-mandate” motivations.
So if the stated goals were misrepresentative, what were the actual goals? We cannot read the minds of the organizers, but we can clearly see the effects of the convoy.
In reality, the only real effect of the convoy is the promotion and coalescing of far-right actors within the anti-vaccine movement. They were always there, hitching a ride. Hand in hand, they’ve followed the same strain of anti-democracy, anti-public health, and pandemic-denial road up to this point. Now they have become mainstream.
What all the elements within the spectrum of supporters of the convoy have in common is the promotion of social harm. Every single one of their demands will harm others.
It is clear that the far-right elements are in control of the convoy, with the much larger common conservatives propping them up – now including the most prominent Conservative Party MPs Candace Bergen and Pierre Poilievre. One of these may just be our next manager, one sympathetic to the Covid Karens.