Montrealers gather in counter-protest against supporters of “Freedom Convoy”
Counter-protesters met with police in full riot gear, unlike their pro-convoy counterparts
On Feb. 12, between 75 and 100 Montrealers showed up to counter-protest a demonstration in Parc-Extension and Villeray organized by supporters of the “Freedom Convoy.” While protesters were allowed to march freely, counter-protesters were not.
The SPVM kept the two groups separate, but some protesters attempted to antagonize the counter-protesters. The anti-COVID crowd gathered near the parking lot at Jarry park, waiting for its organizers to begin the march. As people arrived in droves with their signs, sirens, and megaphones, they began to chant and wave their Canadian flags. The demonstrations began at around 9 a.m.
Compared to the very few counter-protesters present in Jarry park, hundreds of right-wing protesters took to the streets, harassing passers-by. People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was present, alongside anti-Trudeau messages, conspiratorial signs, and chants for freedom.
As they observed the tension filling Jarry street, counter-protesters Caroline Schutze and Alan Lord were most worried about local residents being co-opted by the far-right. “They’re being used,” Schutze said. “Throwing around ‘liberté’ is so easy because we’re all fed up. I don’t think they get what’s going on. They think they’re victims. The far-right is getting louder and taking advantage of these people,” she added.
“A lot of people said that if this were not a trucker protest—if it had been Antifa or Black Lives Matter—the police would be out here in full force,” said Lord. “There is some kind of sympathy for their movement. We know the background of what’s going on here. Those guys across the street know fuck all.”
While over a hundred officers were present during the protest, their distribution was anything but equal. As the mass of protesters marched down Jarry and made its way around the block, a few officers in neon yellow vests patrolled them on bicycles. Yet, as the small crowd of counter-protesters stayed put in one area, dozens of SPVM officers in full riot gear surrounded them, rendering attempts of the counter-protestors to move around impossible.
One of the counter-protest’s organizers, Leila Marshy, stated that the counter-protesters remained relatively calm and entirely non-violent, but the police felt otherwise. “Within a couple minutes of us getting to Jarry park, we saw these vans pull up—they were filled with riot police. They had their shields, batons out, visor helmets on, they blocked off our group. They formed a line between us on all sides.”
Cornered by police on all sides, the counter-protesters were not allowed to leave their area until the convoy was fully out of sight. “I live really close by, and at some point I needed to use the bathroom. The cops would not let me leave. There was basically a one-to-one ratio of riot cops and counter-protesters,” she continued.
It was clear to Marshy that her side was perceived as the bigger threat to the police. “The cops are more than just ineffective, they are enablers,” she added. The riot police left the scene shortly after the counter-protesters went home.
Some swastikas could be seen in the crowd sporadically, and some protesters depicted a co-opted Yellow Star of David, likening those resisting the mandates to Holocaust victims. Marshy noted that of all the protests she’s been a part of in her life, this was by far the most aggressive to innocent bystanders. Several citizens were verbally harassed for wearing masks as they walked through their neighbourhood. Many protestors carried signs displaying anti-vaccine rhetoric and far-right talking points.
The demonstration came to its climax as protesters gathered once again in Jarry park, trudging through the unstable snow towards a parked red pickup truck, atop of which special guests were giving speeches. The centre of the rally was Maxime Bernier, who took to the microphone in front of hundreds of supporters.
Bernier called politicians and members of the media liars and deceivers, playing into the right-wing populist rhetoric with which he has come to be synonymous. He called vaccine mandates “segregation”, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others in government to end all COVID-19 measures immediately.
Chants of ‘liberté’ filled the area as protesters blew their air horns and cheered Bernier on. He ended his speech by bursting into song with his supporters, chanting “O Canada” for all to hear. After the national anthem was sung, the protest slowly dissipated. Many of the protesters began driving away, headed for Ottawa.