A convoy of trucks arrived in Ottawa Tuesday to protest the Trudeau government’s alleged lack of support for Alberta’s oil industry.
But what began in Red Deer last week as a pro-pipeline campaign has transformed into a platform for right-wing activists who have promoted white nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Indigenous and other racist messages at rallies along the way.
A group of Indigenous, anti-fascist and migrant justice activists greeted the United We Roll and convoy in front of Parliament Hill, where around 100 people watched the groups spar as police monitored the situation.
The protestors want the Liberal government to scrap the carbon tax and two bills that overhaul environmental assessments of energy projects and ban oil tankers from the northern coast of British Columbia.
Organizer Glen Carritt said participants also are unhappy about the government’s recent signing of a non-binding United Nations compact on global migration.
On the Parliament Building’s front steps, a speaker from Saskatchewan said his home town of Estevan is hurting from the fossil fuel industry’s downturn in that region.
“There were so many jobs there you couldn’t even get an apartment,” he said, referring to employment associated with local coal mines and oil fields.
“Now there’s vacant houses, there’s people suffering, and there’s no jobs. People are having to move out. It’s almost like a ghost town.”
Several speakers at the event took aim at the Liberals’ carbon tax, saying it would further erode fossil fuel industry jobs.
Oil industry supporters’ messages have frequently been overshadowed by racism and hatred emanating from factions of the United We Roll campaign. Justin Brake/APTN.
But protestors’ messages went beyond energy and environment policy.
Rick Boswick, a self-identified yellow vest activist from Ottawa and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte who identifies as “half Mohawk” and says he doesn’t have much connection to the community, said Canada’s energy industry is “being hit as part of a bigger agenda,” citing the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“I understand that there’s a lot of hatred over colonialism,” Boswick said, asked how he feels protesting against Indigenous people who are fighting for their rights.
“But globalism is corporate colonialism 2.0. Instead of having the white man or the leaders in Canada not listen to you, they’re giving up that authority to unelected leaders in Brussels and the United Nations.”
He said First Nations opposed to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and other pipelines “need to be in the game.”
“But we have to find a solution to kickstart the economy, to keep it going, because without an economy Canada can’t do anything.”
The yellow vest movement follows from another of the same name that began in France last year in response to the Emmanuel Macron government’s planned gas tax hikes.
But an administrator on the Canadian group’s Facebook page, which has more than 100,000 members, admitted that in Canada, “there are racist elements within the movement.
“It is reflective of Canada as a whole and has some bad apples,” Mark Friesen told the Huffington Post.
On Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill men in yellow vests heckled Indigenous people and allies who joined together in a round dance.
Others yelled over an Indigenous man who drummed and sang, and as a woman burned sage.
Faith Goldy, a known white nationalist and neo-Nazi sympathizer, was given a platform at the event, but when the former Rebel Media reporter tried to speak she was drowned out by Indigenous, anti-fascist and migrant justice demonstrators who chanted “Nazi scum off our streets!”
Former Harper cabinet minister Maxim Bernier also tried to make an appearance on the makeshift stage on Wellington.
The right-wing People’s Party of Canada leader was greeted by yellow vest members and later addressed the United We Roll crowd gathered nearby on the steps of the Hill.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer also addressed the crowd, offering his party’s support for the ailing oil industry.
Convoy organizers have attempted to distance themselves from the yellow vest movement in recent weeks, saying the convoy protest is inclusive of everyone.
Carritt originally referred to the convoy as a “yellow vest convoy” but renamed it United We Roll after it was linked to people spewing hateful rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants.
Before the convoy reached Ottawa Evan Balgord, the executive director the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, warned that the group is giving a platform for hate.
“This convoy is a Yellow Vests Canada convoy and any well-meaning pro-pipeline individuals involved are in fact legitimizing and breathing oxygen into the broader Yellow Vests Canada movement, which spreads hate, conspiracy theories, and death threats targeting Muslims, politicians, and other Canadians,” he said.
Crystal Semaganis, a Cree woman who lives in Ottawa, told APTN News she attended the protest Tuesday to “provide another narrative” to the “confrontational, abrasive and divisive” one she knew would unfold.
She called what she saw Tuesday “depressing, because this is not the Canada that I want to give my children.”
Crystal Semaganis said she attended Tuesday’s United We Roll protest and the Indigenous-led counter protest in Ottawa to “provide another narrative” to the “confrontational, abrasive and divisive” one she knew would unfold. @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/Uk7XviIxxT
— Justin Brake (@JustinBrakeNews) February 19, 2019
She said the complacency over climate change, and the divisiveness and racism, are hurting everyone.
“There are green energy alternatives. The pipeline is a finite resource. Oil is a finite resource. There is only so much,” she said.
“Nobody understands about climate change. And our enemy is actually complacency. When people think that it doesn’t affect them, well very clearly it does.”
Wolf Tabobondung of Wasauksing First Nation stood on the frontline against the Yellow Vests Tuesday.
He said for him the issue “comes down to how society and these organizations are disrespecting the land and taking away from our people.
Wolf Tabobondung of Wasauksing First Nation was at Tuesday’s United We Roll protest. For him everything “comes down to how society and these organizations are disrespecting the land and taking away from our people.” @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/7557kBh8IN
— Justin Brake (@JustinBrakeNews) February 19, 2019
“We have to remain calm and clear to say that we are here for one positive reason, to protect the land, to protect the environment. We’re here to protect the water for future generations.”
With files from the Canadian Press.