Images, symbols of hate among truck convoy condemned, labelled deplorable by Manitoba premier, others

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has issued a statement condemning the use of images or symbols of hate during protests after opposition parties called for her to denounce individuals who used such symbols in Ottawa, Winnipeg and other spots in the province.

Residential school survivor, Jewish city councillor affronted by protest symbolism

A group of people against vaccine mandates and public health orders hold up signs near traffic driving down Main Street near Winnipeg City Hall. (CBC)

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has issued a statement condemning the use of images or symbols of hate during protests after opposition parties called for her to denounce individuals who used such symbols in Ottawa, Winnipeg and other spots in the province.

"We have to stand strong and firmly against those who wish to use protest platforms for hate," Stefanson said in the statement issued on social media.

Nazi symbolism, antisemitism, racist imagery and desecration of war memorials are "deplorable," she said.

Earlier Monday she'd issued a statement saying "we do not condone the use of anti-Semitic, racist imagery, and desecration of war memorials or statues."

A cross-country convoy opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which began as a peaceful protest led by semi-trailer trucks, included protesters displaying symbols and images of hate.

The truck convoy, which left British Columbia a week ago and rolled through Winnipeg on Wednesday, was still in Ottawa more than 72 hours after arriving in the nation's capital.

"It is insulting to the history, truth and memory of atrocities that used those symbols and ideologies. When we see this type of hate, we all need to speak up and stop allowing people with that hatred to have a platform," Stefanson said in her statement.

"Those who have been displaying racist symbols, uttering threats towards public officials and those tied to hateful groups need to be condemned in the strongest sense possible. These actions are divisive, wrong and un-Canadian."

Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP MLA for St. Johns, earlier said she wanted to know Stefanson's thoughts about what had transpired.

"We saw racism, we saw xenophobia, we saw we saw antisemitism, we saw Confederate flags, Nazi flags and not one single member of the PC caucus, including the premier, has condemned these actions," Fontaine said earlier Monday.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont had also called for the premier to speak, saying the Progressive Conservatives' silence on the matter, as well as Borderland MLA Josh Guenter's support for the truck convoy, is irresponsible.

"Given the nature of the threats we are seeing, it is also cowardly and dangerous," Lamont said.

The premier said earlier that the pandemic has been a monumental challenge and without truckers, we would not have food, clothing, or other household materials.

Stefanson believes the truckers' concerns about vaccine mandates "do have merit" and should be looked at more closely by the federal government, she said earlier.

Bergen under scrutiny

Guenther isn't the only Manitoba politician who's supported the convoy.

Candice Bergen, the member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar, spoke in support of the truck convoy in the House of Commons on Monday.

"Contrary to some, there are thousands of passionate, patriotic and peaceful Canadians on the Hill right now who just want to be heard," the Conservative Party of Canada deputy opposition leader said.

Like Stefanson, Bergen condemned the "hateful and destructive acts" of those displaying hateful symbols and images throughout the country.

But the fourth-term MP received flak for likening the beheading of the statue of Queen Victoria in Winnipeg on Canada Day to displaying Nazi flags in the streets. The statue was toppled and its head later removed after a walk to remember the many Indigenous children who died at residential schools the government forced them to attend.

"Whether it's beheading the statue of Queen Victoria in Manitoba, tearing down the statue of Sir John A. in Montreal or putting flags on Terry Fox, whether it's burning churches, whether it's wearing blackface, whether it's Hezbollah flags or Nazi flags … we all condemn it," she said.

Vivian Ketchum, a residential school survivor who lives in Winnipeg, doesn't think it's right that Bergen likened the demonstrations that condemned Canada's violent colonial history to acts of racism and hate.

"That was a totally different reason why that statue was torn down. She shouldn't have lumped that in there and she doesn't know what she's talking about," Ketchum said.

"I think she's just trying to keep two feet in two camps, and you can't do that."

Ketchum would like to see federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole discipline Bergen in some way.

CBC News reached out to Bergen for comment but there was no response.

Symbols bring up emotions 

Ketchum said she was struck by one photo from the weekend protests in particular.

A truck had a 215 poster on it, a reference to an unmarked burial site at a former residential school in British Columbia where ground-penetrating radar initially found 215 suspected graves.

"It's a really sensitive topic for me. I walk it. I live it. I have family there," Ketchum said, fighting back tears.

She and other Manitoba First Nations leaders travelled to the West Coast last summer to bring condolences and show dignity and respect. That's something the protester's display of the 215 poster does not do, Ketchum said.

A statue of Terry Fox is decorated with a Canadian flag, protest sign and hat in Ottawa on Saturday during the protest against measures taken by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 and vaccine mandates. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"They are racist — plain and simple. They are using this movement to hide their true agenda, but they feel comfortable in a large crowd to speak out like this so openly," she said.

Tamara Lich organized the national convoy. Last week she spoke against protesters who incite violence or hate.

"If you see participants along the way that are misbehaving, acting aggressively in any way or inciting any type of violence or hatred, please take down the truck number and their licence plate number so that we can forward that to the police," she said.

People continue to protest in Ottawa on Monday after the protest convoy arrived earlier. (Frédéric Pepin/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Winnipeg city Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort-Rouge East Garry) said she saw people in Winnipeg with swastikas while driving her 11-year-old son to and from hockey on Saturday.

Rollins, who is Jewish, said there are no words to describe what she saw and having to explain it to her son.

"It was a series of visual assaults on the weekend and it just needs to be acknowledged. It's super painful," she said. "My jaw dropped. My husband's jaw dropped too … and my son discovered his middle finger."

The entire Winnipeg city council denounced extremist protesters in a joint statement Monday.

Rollins said there is a difference between free speech and hate speech, and that more public education is needed to separate the two.

A woman smiles.
Belle Jarniewski is the executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, also believes education is needed.

"They need to educate themselves. They need to understand that this is not the same thing, that an attempt to annihilate an entire people from the face of the Earth is not the same as requiring truckers to be vaccinated," Jarniewski said.

Seeing an image like the yellow star among the protesters is especially insulting to Jarniewski.

"It makes me very angry. It shows an absolute lack of respect, total ignorance for what the star was," she said.

"Jews were forced to wear the yellow star was a way for them to be further persecuted because they could be singled out. They were not allowed to shop, they were not allowed to go to school, they were put in ghettos, and this is simply not the same as the restrictions of those who choose not to be vaccinated. Nobody is preventing them from feeding themselves and their families. Nobody is preventing them from getting medical care."

CBC reached out to local organizers of the protest and they declined to be interviewed for this story.