Plain English with Derek Thompson - What American Media Is Getting Wrong About Canada’s Big Protests


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Today, we’re going to talk about what I think is the most interesting story in North America right now, which is the protests that have paralyzed Canada for the last few weeks and the media myths about what’s driving those protests.


So first, in what’s becoming.

I hope a useful exercise for planning this listeners.

I’m going to start by laying out the facts as I see them before we layer on interpretation.

So, here is the Canadian protest Fiasco in roughly, 90 seconds in January, a rule held the truckers.


Be vaccinated to cross the US Canada border.

Now the vast majority of Canadian truckers are already vaccinated.

But with a rule went into effect on January 22nd, it became clear that some unvaccinated Canadian truck.

Drivers were going to plan a major protest of this mandate and suffice it to say this protest has now snowballed into a national Fiasco.


So at first, the trucker Convoy is sometimes called the freedom, Convoy would gather other protesters along major highways and bridges.

They block traffic and block trading routes that were critical to the u.s.

And Canada.

So one of the bridges you’re going to hear about, for example, is the Ambassador Bridge that was blocked off for awhile.


It connects Michigan into a Windsor Ontario within a week.

One Convoy got to the capital city of Ottawa and their protesters staged.

A rally at Parliament Hill.

That’s kind of like the Canadian equivalent of Capitol Hill in Washington.


The seat of the legislature by early February.


These protests were basically spiraling out of control and there were copycat protests popping all over the world.

The Canadian government has so far, been moderately successful at clearing.

The blockage and the most important Bridges.

But several cities, including the capital of Ottawa are reportedly still snarled by protesters and traffic and police and several writers.


Now, call in this essentially a Siege, and this is broadly being called and anti-vaccine protest, and I think it may have started that way but just as all protest movements have a life of their own what’s happening.

Now, in Canada appears to be some jambalaya of kooky vaccine, denial and populist nationalism, but it’s Find with sometimes reasonable protests about unjustified covid.


Restrictions in general, anger about the economy and inflation which by the way, in terms of inflation will not be helped by blocking trade routes with trucks on Monday yesterday, for the first time in Canadian history, prime minister.

Justin Trudeau, invoked.


The emergencies act that will essentially allow him to use more Force to clear, protesters from the capital city.

So, what do I find?

So interesting about the freedom Convoy protest?

Well, The protests are really interesting Flashpoint for covid policy.


We’re at a weird intersection right now with Omicron where deaths are still very high, but lots of Americans seem very eager to move on from the pandemic and that desperation to get back to normal, is putting vaccine mandates and mask mandates in the political crosshairs, in a way that I don’t think they necessarily were a few months ago, but second, there’s something bigger.


I think the media is missing here, especially about the global nature of these protests.

I don’t think this is Really about vaccines anymore.

And it’s definitely not about truckers either.

It’s about what all Global protest movements are about which is visibility.


It’s about this age that we live in this rolling age of anger, where the public seems ready to revolt excited about, shutting down and shouting down the elites.

And that’s why I think the Canadian protests are all over Fox News and all over America newspapers.


It’s because when we look to our neighbors at the North Restless angry, Three begging for this.

To be over begging to be seen.

I think what we see is a reflection of ourselves.

I’m Derek Thompson.

This is plain English.


Today’s guest is David from David, is a staff writer at the Atlantic.

He has written for the Atlantic where I also write about the protests that are roiling.

Canada, David.

Welcome back.

Thank you.

David in 60 seconds or less.


What do you think?

The Canadian trucker protest is about?

I’m first we should not call it a trucker protest.

These are protests used in trucks, but very few of the people involved in the protest.

Drive, a truck for a living.

Most Canadian truckers are vaccinated and the protest has been condemned by both the Canadian Trucking Association and by the Teamsters Union of Canada.


Well, I love it already busting media mess in the first 30 seconds.

The myth of the trucker protest.

It’s not really a protest among truckers.

So David, what are the elements of this protest movement?

So, this is a movement of protest by elements in a very familiar in American society.


People are disaffected in a lot of ways.

Ways and have found in covid, a place where their disaffection can go.

It’s a minority movement about a third of Canadians more or less back.

The protests in a broad sense.

They back the ideas.


They may not back the methods, especially the methods of gotten more disorderly 30.

That’s unpopular, but it’s not fatally unpopular.

Let’s tease apart the origins of the disaffection as you call it.

I want to read you a section of an article that I saw past.


Found online quite a bit to get your reaction.

This is an essay from Barry.

Weiss’s sub stack.

Common Sense by the writer Rupa.


I’m quoting now and the quote is this, the Mandate is a moot point, Americans, have a similar requirement.


And anyway, the vast majority of Canadian truckers are vaccinated.

So it’s about something else or many things, a sense that things will never go back to normal a sense that they, the protesters are being ganged.

Up on by the government, the media big Tech, big Pharma.


They are done being ignored that the elites, the people who have zoomed their way through the pandemic had better, start paying attention to the fentanyl overdoses.

The suicides, the crime, the Despair and quote.



This is a vast grab bag of protest.


What is your reaction to this piece?

Well, first, I would advise that particular piece be handled with flameproof tongues because one of the things having I read that piece very carefully and one of the things, the piece was very much at pains to draw cover over is how few of the protesters were the author of the piece became part of the story because Actually, I think only one person quoted drove a truck professionally and the the piece was kept referring to people as trucker protesters, even though is there any evidence that this person drives the truck?


Yes, Canada has the same rural-urban device as the United States but they’re much less just generally social.

Divides in Canada are much less extreme, one of the ways to do things to understand about Canada.

And one of the reasons why there isn’t there has been no Trump in Canada to date is Along with Germany Canada’s had if you look, if you divide the population into bands of fifths, candidates had the best performing middle fifth of any developed country along with Germany.


It’s still a very much a middle-class country.

The it has the same phenomenon of the city’s pulling away from the rest and the top 1% pulling away from everybody else.

The top 10% pulling away, but not as extreme.

So David, why did this happen now?


At Canadians have seemingly been pretty patient about That covid restrictions the last two years and the trucker vaccine mandate which to your point is not the whole of the protest but it’s arguably a spark.

It was telegraph since like the end of 2021.

Everyone knew this was coming for months.


So why is this spasm of protests happening?


The reason the protest find an audience is I think there’s Canadian governments were overreacted Omicron.

That Canada had very stringent measures in place.


I was in Canada in the Summers of both 20 2020 and 2021, for a long period of time.

And people were incredibly patient, and they were incredibly good spirit public-spirited.

They went along.


I spend my time in a very rural place where there is vaccine hesitancy or even even before covid but people with Along with the rules because Canadians do that.

And even in this, in the summer 2021, they were very good humored about Miss Canada.

Had a slow rollout of the vaccinations, and they were very patient about that.


And that there were real mistakes of the government that led Canada to be so slow, starting its vaccination program and people are tolerant about that.

But there was a real feeling in the fall of 2021.

Okay, this this now is truly over the economy can recover and then the Omicron variant appeared and governments and the Most important to the most important elements are headed by conservative premiers in Ontario, Alberta, they clamp down hard and in retrospect, much harder than was necessary.


Let me sum up what I think.

I understand so far, the protests are a minority movement.

But then again it’s supporters account for one-third of the country, which is roughly equal to prime minister Trudeau’s electoral, share.

So the protests were sparked by trucker vaccine policy, but it’s now bloomed to incorporate a bunch of cultural Public Health, maybe even economic motivations and this is a good time to point out that Canada like the u.s.


Is dealing with its own highest inflation rate and at least three decades, but that still leaves us with the question of who, who is this movement?

Would you say?

It’s fair David to say, these are working-class protesters?

Or is that a misnomer?

This idea of representing them is working class.


Is not quite right.

There is if you if you go to the place where the Artists work of Canada’s done, you will see people who are overwhelmingly immigrants or the children of immigrants making 25 Canadian dollars, an hour.

There aren’t any of those people at the protest.


These are people who own their own small electrical business, you know, if they’re not permanent right-wing agitators.

So the people who are sort of drawn into this and this is a very familiar type of the nsa’s contractors plumbers, they own it.

So they are owners there.


They may not make a lot of money and they certainly don’t have they work with their hands and they certainly don’t have the effect of Highly Educated people and their incomes are very variable and they’ve been very much hard hit in twenty twenty, twenty one.

So that kind of person has something to say.

And and that’s and there’s sympathy because of the over reaction to Omicron by provincial governments, but as always with these kinds of protests of the most radical people take over and they begin using methods that are broadly unacceptable and they take advantage of cracks in the Canadian Security System, but I There’s a real difference to how Canadians reacted to the shutdowns in the center of Ottawa versus how they react to the court closing to the borders.


And it’s the Border closings that are have provoked.

The Firm reaction that is now belatedly beginning.

Let me disentangle this.

So, there are almost two fronts to this protest.

Not that we should think of it like a war, but there are fronts like a war.

There are blockages at the border and those blockages threatened trade between the u.s.


And Canada trade of food car parts, but there There are also number two major protests that have Frozen the capital city of Ottawa and other cities throughout Canada.

And this is may be a good time to mention that.

I don’t know Canada very well and you were born in Canada and own a home there.


So what is it that Americans need to know about Canada to properly visualize everything that’s happening there.

Well, you have to remember how vast Canada is.

How far away, Ottawa is from everywhere else.

And how smallest city Ottowa?


Is and how completely government-centric it is.

So you can have people behaving really obnoxiously in the middle of Ottawa and as irritating as it is to be the people who live for the million.

Or so of the 40 million Canadians who live in Ottawa to everybody else.


It might as well.

You know it it’s something you see on television the attack on the border crossings that was putting pressure on the artery by which Kendall lives that Canada lives by trade and lose my trade with the United States and to stop That those that’s a direct threat to economic recovery.


That’s a direct threat.

I mean, you had car plant shutting down.

You’d many businesses that were that were hard.

That were hard hit.

And what you you also saw was their impact on, on the politics, you know, when, when you get these disruptions, whether it was the indigenous, people shutting down the pipeline’s in 2020, and the rails and the roads or whether it’s anti-vaxxer, people shutting down Ottawa and the border.


Crossings the first two or three days people.

Of reactions to the protests and their cause and methods by day four or five.

Certainly, I take seven.

The question is, what’s the government doing?

This is somewhat.

It’s the government’s job to keep things orderly.


And and so one of the things that the, the protesters are calculated correctly, is they are doing a lot of harm and increasing harm to Justin Trudeau.

And even though for a long time, there’s nothing Justin, Trudeau could, and I don’t know that many of the people listening.


Into, you’re going to be interested in the technicalities of the jurisdiction of the Canada’s police force.

We started in to go all the way out.

No, we don’t know, but, but you do need to know that one of the reason why Trudeau look so fabulous was because of the technicalities of the jurisdictions of Canadian police forces, but after but no, one cares about that, what they want to know is there it is the most iconic Skyline in Canada Parliament Hill.


The parliament buildings, the peace Tower.

There are people who are behaving, maybe you’re sympathetic.

Maybe you’re not, but clearly, they’re unruly, and clearly, it’s The government’s job to deal with them and the government doesn’t do it and who are the people in government, whose names?

You know, they start with the prime minister.


So the latest news, as of our recording Monday afternoon, is that prime minister?

Justin Trudeau has invoked legislation called the emergency act that gives him sweeping powers to fight these blockades across the country.

And as you’ve mentioned, fight them, most specifically in the capital city of Ottawa.


What is this emergency act?

And what do you think is going to happen next?

Well, the act that you mentioned was passed in 1988 and it replaced a previous emergency law, that was evoked by the president.

Famously vote by the famous present prime minister’s father Pierre, Trudeau during a terrorist crisis in 1970, which the Elder Trudeau met with overwhelming Force, including the deployment of the military on the streets of Montreal and and large-scale arrests.


They there’d been a murder and a kidnapping and the Elder Trudeau met very firmly.

And although it remains a controversial decision at the time was hugely popular and indeed he was able to rescue one of the two people.


His life’s wasn’t lives are in danger.

This was an attempt to come up with a law that gave the Prime Minister.

Some powers that weren’t, as Draconian as those that were invoked in 1970 among other things.

It will give him the ability to use the RCMP with, which has the federal.


What if a, which is great.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has more capabilities than it.

It Ottawa.

Most of Ottawa.

The Parliament Hill itself is policed by a parliamentary police force.

That’s quite tight.

And not very, you know, that’s more about counterterrorism than anything else.


The city of Ottawa is patrolled by its own Municipal Police and the Ontario provincial police and they don’t tend to have, they’re not again that there are little defenseless against these kinds of giant trucks.

As Weapons.

The RCMP have more capabilities and they can be used.

Plus they can then the prime minister of more ability to enact finds that go into effect, if you disrupt legislation, so, and one of the things that has been Hopeful about all.


This is, the protests have been reasonably compliant with court orders when the courts.

I don’t honk.

They don’t honk, they’ve broken that down and certainly the Ambassador Bridge was and the other border crossings was cleared very rapidly and very bloodlessly, which is a tremendous relief.


What nobody wants is any kind of casualty either among certainly among the civilians, whatever.

However, little you think of them, many of them have brought children and there are a lot of kids there.

So the police are Be very careful.

And of course, we want to protect our peace officers to this protest is not exclusively about vaccine mandates, but it does put a fine point on the benefits and the risks of vaccine mandates, which to me, cash out, something like this on the benefit side, their studies from the US and around the world.


That show that vaccine mandates, increased vaccine, uptake.

And I believe that that means That vaccine mandates do mechanically save lives, but they save lives at the cost.

Cost of making the unvaccinated and the anti-vaccine feel more isolated and censured and angry.


And often literally punished.

And there are some countries like Denmark where I recently spoke with a government advisor, which is now lifted, almost all of its basically all of its covid rules and has never had any vaccine mandates 81 percent of adults in, she’s 81 percent of the entire population.


In Denmark has gotten a vaccine and the government advisor.

They spoke to said, we’ve always thought That there is a risk to high to take with mandating vaccines because you will harden the opposition to the vaccines to me.


I know people who think this is an easy call on both sides, who think it’s obviously totality arianism to impose vaccine mandates and you think it’s a no-brainer to impose them because you’re saving people’s lives and that’s the definition of Public Health.

I’m gonna be honest.

It’s I struggle with this II, don’t know where and when vaccine mandates are perfectly appropriate.


Edit and I wonder whether you’ve done any thinking on the propriety of vaccine mandates in the context of these protests.

I am very sympathetic to vaccine mandates.

I’m open to the evidence that they could backfire.

I certainly do find it an unreasonable in position position in the context of infectious disease.


If there were a vaccine against heart attacks and you didn’t want to take it.

I think that was a pretty foolish decision.

But okay.

It’s on you your call.

But but a vaccine against an infectious disease, we all have an interest in that the fabled herd immunity.


I think, one of the things that we do see, though, you and where you are clearly, right?

Is that you will hear people say I am for vaccines.

I’m just against mandates but in the real world that turns out to be an almost untenable line and we have seen so many people in public life.


We know they start saying that, but they become in practice even if they are personal.

Vaccinated themselves, they become anti-vaxxers.

And and the reason is this goes back to our meme economy.

We who take part in public discussion, get feedback in a way in the age of social media.


We never used to do.


Social media is a huge invisible leading actor here and it’s not just that it increases the velocity of the feedback from the public to the elites.

But also, and you’ve made this point a few times, it helps to turn.


Causes into simple memes and those memes can be exported and that’s really true.

I think for the left as it is, for the right, like, for black lives matter, the raised fist or being seen as kneeling.

These were means that encircled the globe for the French protest of 2018.


These She lays on French for the yellow.

Vest that drivers had in their cars when they protested the gas tax hike.

There the yellow vests were a meme.

That went well.

And wide, the New Meme is Mega hats that you’ve got Maga hats on Canadian protesters, which doesn’t make any sense, but it does because it’s a meme I think.


Would you put it all together.

We are in an age of anger and age of rolling semi-permanent dissatisfaction among these broad swath of the middle class.

And that anger is like dry kindling that can suddenly become a conflagration wherever there’s a spark.


But when you use this image of conflagration, this relational, there’s here’s something that we can do.

And One of my favorite examples of how the modern world Works comes from.

Exactly, that protest.

One of those iconic images from the relational, probably yellow vest.

These are their, these are the best French motorists are required to wear carry in their cars.


And that the macron government put up gas taxes to fight climate change and it ignited a protest movement among people who drove, who drove a lot and they wore their yellow vests.

There’s one of the iconic images was image of the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the champs-élysées, a wreath in Flames because of the intensity of the Test and I keep on my computer, a photograph of the photographing of that scene and what you see from a different angle is a bonfire, maybe 10 inches, high and 18, reporters lying flat on their stomachs shoot with their cameras, pointing into the Flames at the Arc de Triomphe to create the image of a giant conflagration to use your word.


When in fact, it was just 10 inches high.


That is, that’s a really compelling point and it’s a good place to conclude because it allows us to come to a stop with a bit of media analysis.

It is obviously true that the media is drawn to pessimism and to exaggeration that we have a tendency to show that every 18-inch bonfire is actually an 18-story conflagration.


But at the same time, 18-story fires exist, not every crisis, is a trick of media Framing.

And I think you could possibly say that our job yours David and mind is not only to find the fires but to describe them by their actual height.


So I hope we did that today.

I hope you come back, we’ll continue to track the development of these Canadian protest is, potentially they continue to travel around the world and will try to describe them as accurately as possible.

Matter how high the Flames get so David?


Thank you again such a pleasure.

Thank you.



Planning this with Derek Thompson is produced by Devon.


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