How Canada’s Truckers Protest Reawakened my Venezuelan Trauma

The demonstrators against vaccine mandates deployed the same hostility against the press, officials and citizens I saw from violent chavista groups

Photo: REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

Is it early 2000 and am I living in Venezuela again?

I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. During my childhood, I lived through El Caracazo and two coup attempts. When I was a teenager, Chávez ran for president and he won, changing our lives forever. 

So, it’s fair to say that I’ve experienced a dictatorship, chaos and violence long enough to feel triggered by anything that reminds me of that. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to move to Canada in 2015.

I’ve been living peacefully since then, I haven’t been worried about political disasters or afraid of a coup. 

Until recently, when I started feeling waves of trauma response coming back. I feel trapped in the same storyline, with different characters.

It all began on January 15th, when a vaccine mandate for truckers came into effect, who were designated essential workers since the beginning of the pandemic. From that moment on, every trucker must show proof of vaccination. Otherwise, they won’t be able to cross the Canada-U.S. border, which is quite common for them given the intense trade between both countries.

At least 80% of truckers are fully vaccinated, according to the unions, but those who refuse to get their shots joined a protest, called the Freedom Convoy. The protest has brought truck drivers and their supporters together. They drove to the capital, Ottawa, from all parts of Canada to express their disagreement with the mandates, claiming they violate their freedom.

Initially, a campaign was created on GoFundMe, in order to cover the costs of gas, housing and food for protestors. This campaign managed to raise over 10 million dollars in very little time. People started researching who was behind the campaign, and what was its true purpose. 

As soon as I found out who was behind the GoFundMe campaign (a far-right supporter), I knew this had nothing to do with mandates. It was another expression of white supremacy, othering and violence.

I wish I could say I was wrong, but I wasn’t. 

On January 28th, the convoy started arriving in Ottawa. The next day, the main rally for the protest was in full swing. That was the infamous day when we saw not only the Confederate flag, but also a swastika on a Canadian flag. We saw hatred, in a nutshell.

The convoy’s supporters portrayed it as a peaceful protest to end division among people and to get “our lives back” because these mandates violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that seems far from this protest’s real intention. It seems that the goal is to deepen the division, not eradicate it.

This convoy is a vehicle to spread far-right propaganda. It embodies white supremacy and white nationalism. It’s filled with hate speech, especially antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobic rhetoric. It also holds space for separatist movements in Canada, coming from Alberta and Quebec.

New Age healers, conspiracy theorists and QAnon members also supported the protest. The endorsement comes not only from people in Canada, but also from the U.S. Actually, hundreds of donations for the GoFundMe campaign came from outside Canada, and  some U.S. states are investigating GoFundMe after the platform banned donations.

As you can see, this protest goes beyond lifting vaccine mandates. It has a political intention because they’re also asking for Trudeau’s resignation, despite the fact he was elected Prime Minister, again, four months ago (and won more seats than in the previous election). They’ve created an unsafe and violent environment. The convoy has been blocking the streets of Ottawa, making noise all day, yelling at people wearing masks. There are reports of assaults coming from protestors. 

They’re attacking the media, too, saying they’re lying or not telling the truth, and when they say “truth,” they mean exactly what they want to hear. Journalists became another enemy to target. On February 7th, a judge granted injunctions against noise, idling, and fireworks, after a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Centretown residents.

This protest went as far as closing the Ambassador Bridge which connects Ontario to the U.S. (Detroit, Michigan), hindering free transit between the two countries. The bridge was finally cleared after a week, but it required the intervention of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (without police brutality, which differs greatly from the way Indigenous and Black protests have been handled so far). 

Ontario, the epicenter of the convoy, announced on February 14th that the province is ending proof of vaccination as soon as March 1st. Despite these decisions, the  convoy is no longer considered a protest, but an illegal occupation, which has required federal intervention, pushing Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in history.

This chaos has been triggering for me, and for every person who has experienced tyranny, political violence and racism. I believe this has been a hard pill to swallow to all Canadians who thought we were way different from the U.S. We are not.

All of this is too familiar for a Venezuelan who experienced chavismo first hand. 

If you point out something outrageous, like a Confederate flag waving during the rally (known symbol of white supremacists), they will say “It was one flag!”; which reminds me of “Just a few apples,” the way Chávez supporters’ said there were only a few ministers who were corrupt, in the early years of chavismo.

Swastikas and other flags at the truckers protest in Ottawa

Photo: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Twitter

If you talk to someone supporting this protest and mention the violent acts, they would say “you’ve been brainwashed” and that “the media is making this up.” The same way a lot of concerned Venezuelans talked about Chávez’s actions and how they showed his dictatorial style, got a “you are watching Globovisión too much.” 

If you dare to challenge their idea of freedom, suggesting that they are the ones affecting other people’s freedom (like Ottawa residents), you could be insulted or even assaulted, colectivo style.

They don’t seem to care about the greater good, they just want what they want. And they want it now, whether you like it or not. Is this too familiar? 100%. This whole thing gives me all the authoritarian vibes that I know all too well, after 17 years of living with chavismo and its sequels.

Division among Canadians is growing too. It’s not about the vaccine itself; it’s about this protest. I can see myself feeling angry and easily frustrated when I hear people supporting this, regardless of what has been explained so far. 

I feel that we are creating sides, them vs us. “I know the truth, you do not.” Exactly what I mentioned earlier, division was a goal for this movement. And I know that nothing good comes out of that. 

I’m feeling more unsettled and concerned. I hope the new intervention from the federal government allows the convoy to disappear for good, so people in Ottawa can go back to living their lives.

But even if they manage to end it tomorrow, a lot of people, especially people of color, have been reminded that white supremacy is alive and well in Canada. 

Also, this was a reminder that we can never take democracy for granted, any given day, a bunch of violent people can show up and declare that they won’t move until they get what they want, and they’ll get it.

So, stay tuned. Nobody knows when it’ll end.