Convoy vs Commemoration: What the media didn’t see on the weekend

There are probably very few Canadians who didn’t know about the truck convoy to Ottawa this weekend.  The CBC, and virtually every “legacy” newspaper, and talk-radio program have droned on about the convoy for the previous week.  The media warned that though some of the protesters were merely upset and fed up with Covid restrictions, others convoy were right-wing ideologues who wanted to mimic the January 6, 2021 protest in Washington, or at least worked to disrupt the nation’s capital before Parliament re-opens this week.

Now we see them clearly.  We see Maxime Bernier, the ex-Tory MP from Beauce, Quebec who morphed from trusted cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper government, to running for Conservative party leader in 2017.  He placed a close second to Andrew Scheer.  After creating the ultra-right party, the People’s Party of Canada, he ran for Parliament under its banner, but was defeated in 2019 –after 13 years as an MP.  Since then he has led the pro-fascist People’s Party of Canada, which he had created.  We see 10,000 protestors—mainly men —  some with trucks, some with vans, some with families, some on their own, dressed for minus 30 temperatures.

Kicked out after 13 years in the Tory caucus

We see veteran MPP Randy Hillier who is an independent member of Ontario’s provincial parliament.  Just the other day on Twitter, Hillier called Canada’s federal Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, who is Muslim, a “terrorist”.  Hillier accused Alghabra of contributing to the problem of empty supermarket shelves because of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for truckers who cross the U.S. border.  From 2007, Hillier sat in the Ontario legislature as a Tory.  But in 2019, Doug Ford booted him out of the caucus because Hillier taunted parents of autistic children.  The MPP’s conduct has been “hateful, ignorant and absolutely unacceptable” for years – some say he should not be allowed to sit as an MPP.  In the upcoming provincial election, Hillier plans to run in his riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston for the Ontario First Party, an offshoot of Bernier’s People’s Party.

He’s a popular politician. If he wins his seat again, he’ll be the first Ontario politician to represent an ultra-right wing party.

From Left (clockwise): credit: Patrick Doyle, Reuters; Photo via Twitter; Dave Chan/AFP; credit: Justin Hardy; Montrealers came out to support Quebec truckers joining the protest — credit: Lorraine Carpenter

With those two politicians, perhaps the media can be forgiven for not observing Saturday Jan. 29 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action Against Islamophobia, declared by the federal government in 2021. marked five years since a young white male terrorist shot and killed  six men, left five seriously injured, 17 children without fathers and six women widowed at the Quebec City Mosque. 

The Green Square Campaign

The Coalition of Muslim Women K-W (Kitchener-Waterloo) started a Green Square Campaign.  In addition to asking Canadians to wear small green felt squares as a reminder, the Coalition called on municipalities to participate by shining green lights on public buildings the night of Jan. 29.   As  Fauzia Mazha, the Coalition’s executive director noted,  after the shootings, the bright green carpet in the mosque was stained with blood.  Mazha said,  “The idea of using green for me is that we are making a commitment that we will do everything to keep that carpet – symbolizing that something was destroyed, lives were destroyed – green.” 

In the Waterloo Region, trees in uptown Waterloo, the pedestrian bridge in Galt, the sign for Cambridge outside its city hall and the Schneider Haus in Kitchener were all lit up in green.  Kingston, Ont. displayed green lights on its city hall.  Calgary lit up the Calgary Tower and the Telus Spark building.  Victoria BC’s mayor gave a heartfelt speech and bathed city hall in green light. 

In Ottawa, supporters of Canadians United Against Hate had planned a vigil for Jan. 29, but they had to move it online when the truckers’ convoy occupied the downtown.

Islamaphobia writ large

What about London, Ont. where seven months ago, a 20-something year old white man drove a truck into the Azfaals, a Muslim family out for an evening stroll.  He killed a grandmother, a mother, a father, a sister — and grievously injured a young son.  London is one of Ontario’s largest cities; it has a large Muslim population.   There was an outpouring of grief from people in cities and towns across Canada.  “This isn’t us” everyone told everyone else.  “Canadians are not like this.” 

The media had a field day: they ran stories about the family members, what good people they were, how the mother was completing a PhD and the father was a much-loved physiotherapist in a local care home.  All politicians, faith-based communities and activists came together to deplore Islamophobia and rail against racism.  There were inter-faith services, and other events.

From left, clockwise: credit:CBC.ca; four killed in Azfaal family (credit: Sana Yasir); Snowbirds fly over London to honour the family (globalnews.ca); banners depict four of the murdered men at the Quebec City mosque (CP/Jacques Boissinot); placards held by supporters at the first anniversary vigil in Quebec City (CP/Jacques Boissinot).

“Islamophobia is real,” thundered Trudeau.

“London is not a racist city,” insisted one Tory candidate in the then-upcoming federal election, “This event does not define us.”

Thousands marched in London and cities across the country with signs reading “racism has no place in this city”. Media reports decried the “brutal, cowardly brazen act of violence” against the family. A Google search reveals more than 15 pages of news articles, pronouncements, and police statements about the family massacre in London.  A go-fund-me page for the surviving orphaned son garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After one article titled “When is London Going to Wake Up?”, the media began to  half-heartedly explore the roots of Islamophobia in that city and tied it and other atrocities to the persistent anti-Muslim animus generated since 9-11. 

There is a long history of Islamophobia in London, which few wanted to raise. 

For example, in 2017, seven months after the mass-shooting at the Quebec City mosque, right-wing protestors  gathered in front of London’s city hall. There were members of three groups: III% Canada (they call themselves the Three Percent), a US-styled, heavily armed militia ready for “war” on Canadian turf; the Canadian Combat Coalition (an avowedly anti-Muslim group ) and PEGIDA (a Canadian offshoot of the Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation in the West). 

When questioned , back in 2017, the RCMP initially said they’d never heard of the III%, then they put out this statement: “The RCMP is aware of this group. The RCMP does not investigate movements or ideologies, but will investigate the criminal activity of any individuals who threaten the safety and security of Canadians.”

“…anti-Islamic groups [are] fueled by the Western media, blurring the distinction between Islamic terrorists and mainstream Muslims. As a result, anti-mosque incidents have escalated in recent years, and hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise.”

Hassina Alizai

Indeed, in 2017 – just months after the murders at the Quebec City Mosque, Hassina Alizai published her thesis which highlighted the violent attacks against Muslims mainly  in Ontario.  In Alizai’s Master’s thesis at Western University, “Impact of Islamophobia  on Post-Secondary Muslim Students Impact of Islamophobia,” she contends the attacks on Muslims are part of “Othering” them after 9-11. 

In part, Alizai blames the media, “This is largely due to the rhetoric of anti-Islamic groups fueled by the Western media, blurring the distinction between Islamic terrorists and mainstream Muslims. As a result, anti-mosque incidents have escalated in recent years, and hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise.”

Since 9-11 attacks on Muslims have mounted, around the world and in Canada.  In 2017, there was the massacre at the Quebec City mosque.  Five years later, a Muslim family is murdered in what no one denies was a hate crime.  There were warning signals about the ubiquity and the dangers of Islamophobia – but what did the government actually do?  What did the media do?

Truckers’ Convoy & its right-wing base

We have a truckers’ convoy that, on the surface, claims it’s only about opposing all COVID mandates by the government.  But underneath some of the leaders harbour long simmering racism, Islamophobia and support for white nationalism.  It is telling that while 18% of Canadian truckers are South-Asian, virtually none of them are visible in the media’s coverage of  the convoy. Some of the South Asian truckers have admitted they knew nothing about the protest. 

But the evidence of Islamophobia is there as protesters are speaking “their truths”.  Jim Doerksen, a Saskatchewan convoy supporter said “I advocate civil war. If people don’t want to stand up, we’ve got guns – we’ll stand up and we’ll bring ’em out.”

A leading voice of the truckers’ convoy is Tamara Lich.  Lich is “an organizer for Yellow Vests Canada, a regional coordinator for the separatist Western Exit or ‘Wexit’ movement in Alberta, and now as the secretary for the Maverick Party – another separatist movement and fringe political party”, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Another convoy leader is  BJ Dichter, who attended the 2019 People’s Party of Canada convention to publicly warn against “political Islamists” and that the Liberal party is “infested with Islamists.”

According to the Toronto Star, Dichter noted, “Despite what our corporate media and political leaders want to admit, Islamist entryism and the adaptation of political Islam is rotting away at our society like syphilis.” According to the Canadian Jewish News, Dichter is a “a Jewish activist from Toronto. When asked specifically about the swastikas at the convoy rally, he brushed the question off: ‘People troll, do stupid things, whatever. Who cares?’”

Patrick King, another convoy spokesman can be seen on a Twitter video saying, “there’s an endgame, it’s called depopulation of the Caucasian race, or the Anglo-Saxon. And that’s what the goal is, …to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines.”

Leadership of the convoy is all but fascist.

The convoy is about standing up for racism, not about destroying the vaccine mandate. Fighting a vaccine mandate is a non-issue, since fewer than 10% of truckers have not been immunized. And we know that no matter what Canada does about the vaccine mandate, the US will not allow our truckers to drive over their border without being vaccinated. 

But why is our media so reluctant to link the convoy with Islamophobia? Why is our media – though not sympathetic — so quick to boost the truckers’ COVID mandate concerns– and ignore the Islamophobia which lurks below. 

The media dropped the National Day of Remembrance and Action Against Islamophobia from their radar, and the radar of most Canadians.  Yet surely hatred of Muslims is what fuels the convoy and many of its supporters.  Let’s not forget that Tamara Lich’s Go- Fund-Me campaign, Freedomconvoy2022, has already raised $7.5 million.

In the last week, the media has been carried away with talking about numbers of attendees (10,000) who gathered in Ottawa; about national party leaders’ reactions to the convoy; about the convoy’s chance of shutting down the city; about some participants’ flagrant disrespect for the Terry Fox statue and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Patience worn thin, now the media just wants to know when the protestors will finally go home.  

Featured Image: illustration from Wall Street International Magazine; see the article Exposing Islamophobia In Canada, by Matt Hanson (Dec. 14, 2019) here.

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