Free Speech Becomes Roadkill in the Crackdown on Canadian Truckers

Below is my column in the Hill on the government and media campaign against the Canadian truckers. The Canadian government has now cleared the Ambassador Bridge. However, there was lasting damage done to the rights of free speech and association after an alliance of the government, corporations, and the media sought to isolate the protesters politically and financially. The most disturbing element was the freezing of donations by companies and the courts. Most recently, the TD Bank joined in blocking support from thousands of citizens. The organized effort to cut off access to donations is alarming, particularly in conjunction with efforts to curtail social media and other informational avenues for the protesters.

Here is the column:

Canada appears to be facing its greatest threat since Benedict Arnold came close to seizing Ottawa in 1775. The source of this “insurrection” and “attack on democracy,” however, is not a foreign government but Canadians who have descended on their own capital to protest continuing COVID-19 mandates.

The protest has been peaceful — and highly successful in cutting off key highways. But the most alarming development has not come from the convoy but from the commentary about it, including calls for mass arrests and even vigilantism. The Ottawa Police Services Board chairman has called it a “nationwide insurrection,” adding, “Our city is under siege.”

CNN analyst and Harvard professor Juliette Kayyem was apoplectic at the thought of truckers shutting down roads and interfering with trade. She tweeted out a call to “slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.” CNN correspondent Paula Newton said this act of civil disobedience was nothing less than a “threat to democracy. An insurrection, sedition.”

Blocking streets, occupying buildings and shutting down bridges have long been tactics of protesters. Yet what constitutes a protest or an insurrection often seems to depend on the cause involved. When rioters caused billions of dollars in damages, burned police stations and occupied sections of American cities in the summer of 2020, for example, few in the media declared them to be terrorists or a threat to democracy. But CNN’s Kayyem once called conservative protesters occupying a state capital “domestic terrorists.” GoFundMe, which previously helped in the funding of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters, froze more than $10 million raised for Canadian truckers to prevent it from being used to support them.

After the money was frozen by GoFundMe, supporters switched to GiveSendGo to “adopt a trucker.” The Canadian government then moved successfully to freeze millions of donations to the truckers, and the Supreme Court of Canada approved the freeze in a major blow to free speech and associational rights in Canada.

In the meantime, the government has demonized the convoy. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who praised truckers just two years ago as heroes, has denounced them as “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy.”

This is the same Trudeau who praised BLM protesters and stressed that “I have attended protests and rallies in the past when I agreed with the goals, when I supported the people expressing their concerns and their issues, Black Lives Matter is an excellent example of that.”

Protesters are routinely arrested for blocking roads, of course, and Canada certainly can enforce its public safety laws. But government responses, in the U.S. and now in Canada, seem heavily dependent on protesters’ viewpoints — just as much of the media coverage of Canada’s trucker movement could not contrast more strikingly with how protests across the U.S. in 2020 were often reported. Back then, many of these same journalists praised the civil disobedience legacy of the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who charged the next generation to go out and make “good trouble.”

In cities such as Washington, D.C., police allowed BLM protesters to take over streets and stood by as some protesters toppled historic statues. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked about the destruction, she shrugged and said, “People will do what they will do.” In Seattle, the seizing of a police station and the occupation of an entire section of the city was tolerated by the Democratic mayor, who likened it to a “summer of love.” And when BLM protesters flouted COVID-19 mandates, health experts lined up to declare they should be exempted from pandemic rules because racism is a health crisis too.

What is most concerning now is the unwillingness to consider Canadian truckers as anything other than knuckle-dragging, racist insurrectionists. Like so much in our age of rage, our political opponents cannot be anything but caricatures or cutouts, because reason no longer has a place in our national discourse. Yet it is precisely the isolation of dissenting voices and groups that leads to such acts of disruption and disobedience.

Canada’s truckers obviously feel marginalized and dismissed by their government. That feeling was magnified when Trudeau fled to a secure location and refused to meet with them. Officials then threatened anyone giving aid or gas to the truckers.

There is a worldwide movement against COVID-19 mandates and rising complaints over the censorship of those with opposing views of these policies. Many of those objections are now being treated as mainstream questions, from the efficacy of masks to the value of lockdowns, from the origins of the virus to the protection of natural antibodies.

Once again, an alliance of government, social media companies and the mainstream media is fueling public divisions, even as such condemnation of the truckers appears to be having less and less impact. Rage gives a license to treat opposing views as unworthy of expression or tolerance. But people who feel marginalized tend to get mad and find their own outlets for speech.

I believe the truckers are wrong to continue the blockade unless the government yields to their demands. But the government also is wrong in how it has dismissed the truckers and cracked down on fundraising and other support for the movement.

The freezing of funds supporting the truckers laid bare the anti-free speech trend sweeping across the world, including in the U.S. There is no principled basis for cutting off the ability of citizens to support other citizens in a campaign of civil disobedience. Although ignored by most in the media, the same claim used by the Trudeau government today could have been used to freeze support for the civil rights era’s freedom marchers or for BLM protesters in 2020.

Ottawa is not under siege; the roads can be cleared. However, our politics and media have become bunkered and blockaded. Free speech is being curtailed through government actions, including the freezing of these funds, or through corporate censorship now embraced by the left. And lost in all this is an outlet for our political tensions and channels for dialogue.

Acts of civil disobedience like these will remain part of political movements. However, if we want to reduce the impulse to take to the highways to protest, then we need to open up the information superhighway for full political expression and dissent.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

323 thoughts on “Free Speech Becomes Roadkill in the Crackdown on Canadian Truckers”

  1. “And lost in all this is an outlet for our political tensions and channels for dialogue.”

    Nope. There is all sorts of stupid stuff on the internet. QAnon reaches millions of people into an ignorant stupor. OANN has millions believing Trump won the last election. We do not need more outlets, we just need a less gullible populace.

  2. I think everyone should know who is donating to the truckers and other causes. People should not be able to hide behind corporations to hide their political donations either.

  3. This is a no-brainer. All trucks going into Ottawa simply pull off, take the keys with you, and go home. I’m sure the politicos in Ottawa aren’t used to missing meals; a little of it might help them think clearly.

  4. “However, there was lasting damage done to the rights of free speech and association after an alliance of the government, corporations, and the media sought to isolate the protesters politically and financially.”

    Absolutely. Every time that the rights of free speech and association are used to defend pretty indefensible causes, it damages those rights. Free speech in Germany is even to this date damaged due to the mis-use of those rights committed by the Nazis. Those rights are only defensible for as long as people use them responsibly for reasonable causes. If people don’t, then they’ll discover the hard way that concepts like blasphemy laws and similar are only dormant and it’s perfectly possible for them to re-appear. Societies defend themselves, and if that requires a culture change, the culture will change.

  5. Paul Krugman points out that the protesters were/are, in the main, not truckers.

      1. Wen Bars, Paul Krugman is a Nobel prize winner in economic science. Well worth paying attention to.

        1. A long time ago there were discussions about Krugman and what happened to him. His NYT columns conflicted with his own textbook on economics.

    1. And you believe Paul Krugman, the man that predicted the Stock Market would completely crash and never recover if Trump were elected? I wouldn’t use him as a source for a child’s 2nd grade math test. he is just dumb, dumb as a partisan rock can be.

  6. What, if any, rights will gofundme and givesendgo donors to the freedom convoy have now that donor information was leaked to the media? I donated to support free speech before I realized how controversial this was. I did not disclose my name. However, yesterday I received an email to my
    Donor email address sent from someone I don’t know at a private Gmail address asking me to confirm if I made the donation I made. I have no idea how they got my email and donor information and am shocked that this information is being published. Rather than outrage at the privacy breach and theft by hackers, the main stream media seems perfectly willing to mine the stolen data to create a narrative. Now I fear I will be put on a government watch list and worry that my email will bombarded with emails from people on all sides. Are they’re legal options to protect the further spread of this data?

    1. Don’t open it. Give Send Go was hacked. How do you know you are not on it already?

  7. Does anybody remember the watergate break in? Does anybody remember a young lawyer who doggedly worked to get evidence to prosecute Richard Nixon. Yeah that was Hilary Clinton. Talk about glass houses.

  8. Uncool But Rebellious

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson has been making a strong bid to become the Hanoi Jane of the Ukraine conflict, calling for kumbaya with Russia.

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) hailed the truckers as modern-day Freedom Riders, “heroes” who are “marching for your freedom and for my freedom,” while Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said they want only “what God gave them: freedom.”

    “Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal.

    Edited from:

    Republicans used to be known as the party of ‘grown-ups’; dull but sensible voters who valued law and order.

    Richard Nixon won the White House because Democrats were seen as coddlers of criminals. And ‘liberal’ Democrats actually listened to hippie radicals.

    But now, decades later, conservatives are suffering a delayed mid-life crisis. One that has them aping hippie radicals of the 1960’s. They’re rebellious but older while distinctly uncool. Adults stoking chaos with malicious glee.

    1. Would it not be better to cultivate Russia as a friend and away from China and Iran? US actions in the past decades has not made anything better for those countries. European countries have warred with each other for centuries before the US existed. Conflict will be devastating for the Europeans. Half of Germany was occupied by Russia and they deal with them.

  9. Thank you Prof. Turley. I have the thoughts but neither the eloquence, position or platform. So glad you do.

  10. FYI there’s an alternative to funding that has already bypassed the Canadian Government Tallycoin, using bitcoin and Lightning:
    reaching its goal of ~1 million USD worth, but note that the actually monetary units in Bitcoin or “SATs” Satoshis (smallest unit; 0.00000001 BTC)
    Details on it:

    The campaign is done, and there are others that have sprouted up to continue it, though I’m not sure how trust worthy those others are.

    1. Why would the Judge Dismiss the Case AFTER sending it to the Jury and WHILE the Jury was deliberating a Verdict?

      Imagine being the Jury….having been required to sit through the Trial….removed from your daily routine at some cost to you financially and for sure cause you lots of inconvenience…..and finally being sent to the Jury Room to decide the Case.

      Then…assuming you had not heard of the Judge’s Dismissal decision….arrived back with a Verdict finding for the Plaintiff only to discover the all that Deliberation was wasted?

      Just where is the Justice in this?

      The Judge is a Clinton Appointee….plainly a Democrat….and appears prejudiced re Governor Palin.

      Come January 2023… of the first things that the Republicans need to do is Impeach this Judge and remove him from the Bench.

      He should have dismissed the Case BEFORE sending it to the Jury OR accept the Verdict and if the Defendant wanted… could Appeal the Verdict to the Appeals Court.

      But to do what he did….is corruption on public. display!

      1. It’s not corruption on public display.

        The judge knows that the case will be appealed (whatever the verdict and despite his judgment that the suit hasn’t met the actual malice standard), and he believes that it will be useful for the appeals court to know the jury’s conclusion along with knowing his judgment about actual malice. He’s doing his job both in his judgment and in giving the appeals court more information via a verdict.

        1. The judge’s actions were inappropriate, or at least the timing for such a decision was wrong. I take note of how the leftist know-nothings pounce the second the news comes out without all the data or thought. They have no time for reflection, for reflection would tell them their initial impulses were wrong. That is why this fellow in particular has been wrong on almost every major issue discussed on this blog.

        1. There’s nothing corrupt in the judge’s action. Here’s a good brief discussion:

          Jan Wolfe: “The abrupt ruling in Sarah Palin v. NYT has sparked some debate and confusion. I interviewed some media lawyers about it. Here’s a thread on what Judge Rakoff was thinking and why jury verdict we’re waiting on still matters. (1/10) …”

  11. ‘Trudeau and his cabinet invoked emergency wartime powers, labeled protesters terrorists, denounced them for carrying out an “illegal occupation,” eliminated due process to freeze assets, extolled the primacy of the economy, and empowered police. Definitely not “fascism” though’ @mtracey

    1. This is what happens when former high school drama teachers and black-face-loving lunatics obtain power over people.

      Trudeau must be run out of town and the country. For good.

    2. “Trudeau and his cabinet invoked emergency wartime powers . . .”

      In other words, Trudeau goes full dictator. And to avoid the taint of another Tiananmen Square, he’s using his dictatorial powers to force two truck operators to remove the trucks.

      Don’t surrender. Don’t submit.

  12. Listened to Shostakovich’s Symphony 13, Babi Yar, which I found much better than I had anticipated. The recording is from the Mariinsky, available on YouTube. But 14 is for another time, went on to 15 by the same orchestra.

    Oh yes, 11 and 12 were earlier this St Val’s day.

      1. If you like violin concertos, I recommend Prokifiev’s #2, one of my very favorite pieces of music.

  13. Martial law has been declared in Canada by the petty tyrant Trudeau.

    This is a very scary time to be a conservative in America, let alone Canada.

    The November midterm elections MUST BE A DECISIVE SWEEP OUT OF OFFICE OF THESE Communist DEMOCRATS. THEY ARE EXISTENTIAL THREATS to our Constitutional Republic. Every last one of them must be swept out of office in November.

  14. What is the liklihood that Canadians will now withdraw their money from banks and start hiding cash under their mattresses?

    Canada has fallen.

  15. Headline: “Louisville Democrat shot at by assailant. “

    Turley: “ Are there First Amendment expressive aspects of pulling the trigger of a gun?”

    Turley’s Trump Tools: “Everyone has second amendment rights.”

    1. A communistic Black lives matter criminal. Typical Progressive. The left is trying to kill each other off.

    2. Shooter Quintez Brown is to be mentally evaluated. Police have no reason yet for his actions..

  16. Hello all, just returned from very nice day, happy valentine’s day to all. upon fast perusal of comments of the day, here are the ones that I find most….interesting:
    Svelaz at 1:04: “BLM protests involved blocking highways peacefully.”
    Anonymous at : “Rightwing agitators like Johnathan Turley are generous with other people’s money.”
    Natacha at 4:24: “…the longer it will take to reverse the Trump Recession…”
    Natach, id: “One report I read said that the truckers were also demanding the resignation of Justin Trudeau. Their conduct has nothing to do with freedom of speech.”
    Natacha at 4:48: “These are the people who are told by alt-right media that they’re smarter than everyone else.”
    Svelaz at 6:26: “Umm no. It was a law that the Republican Governor wanted and pushed for. Not the people of Florida.”
    Anonymous at 7:25: “Turley Cheers White Grievance Movement”
    Jeffsilberman: “Trump. Turley. Trump. Turley. Trump. Trumpists. Turley. Lyin’ Trumpists. Turley. Trump. Trump. Turley.”

    1. Hello Lin,

      Happy Valentine’s Day! It has been a beautiful day here as well. Thanks for the blog update but it is no surprise that the usual suspects are up to the usual mischief.

      1. Ray says:

        “it is no surprise that the usual suspects are up to the usual mischief.”

        Better get used to it. It will get only worse for you Trumpists when the 1/6 House committee public hearings begin. So far, Turley has had nothing about which to object regarding the privilege claims raised nor the damning revelations made to date except to recently comment that Trump’s ripping up of White House documents exposes him to criminal liability.

        It is not a good sign for you Trumpists when Turley won’t defend Trump’s claims of executive privilege:

        It seems that Trump is running out of options and his day of reckoning is nigh.

  17. “It’s Our Turn To Riot”

    Turley Cheers White Grievance Movement

    Parents threatening school board members? No problem! Thugs menacing poll workers? Go get ’em! Truckers occupying cities and sending our workers to unemployment lines? Swell! You would never guess this is the party that inveighs against Democrats for being weak on crime or anti-business.

    Whether it is amplifying Russian propaganda — as Johnson, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have done — or rooting for Canadian right-wing rabble-rousers to make life miserable for ordinary Americans, the GOP’s white-grievance movement is increasingly anti-American.

    Edited From:

    “The Major Fixation With Chaos Overrides America First”

    Today’s Washington Post

    Yesterday, Johnathan Turley was telling us, for the fourth or fifth time, that the talent pool of Black women is too shallow to support a qualified Supreme Court nominee. And now today, Turley is back to cheering the White grievance movement.

    Nowhere are Republicans demanding better compensation for Truckers, a notoriously underpaid profession. Republicans, in fact, champion Right-To-Work laws with the sole intention of weakening labor unions. So anyone who thinks Republicans honestly ‘care’ about Truckers is oblivious to the GOP’s record on labor issues.

    Republicans are simply USING Truckers for the purpose of undermining the government of Justin Trudeau. Then they want to bring these protests south to undermine the Biden Administration. And ‘hey’, if the protests distract Biden as Putin invades Ukraine, that’s all the better! After all, Putin is Trump’s buddy which makes him cool to White Nationalists in these United States.

    But if Truckers expect Republicans to help them unionize the trucking industry, forget it!! Collective Bargaining is unthinkable to Republican donors. What Truckers will get instead are stupid lectures about the importance of ‘free markets’ and the ‘rights of shareholders’.

    1. Sure are a lot of Black & Asian ‘racists’ among the truckers. But ‘Progressives’ never let inconvenient facts get in the way of their own ‘illiberal liberalism’, much like the ‘Fascists’ they claim to abhor.

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