Canadian yellow vest protests unlike French movement, despite similar attire: U of S prof

A Saskatchewan political science professor says the yellow-vest protesters are 'different' than the original movement they've taken their symbolism from.

Charles Smith says Canada protests include 'concerning' anti-immigration message

Western Canada's yellow vest protesters are part of a partisan movement against Canada's Liberal Party, in comparison to the protesters in France who are demanding a better standard of living, according to Charles Smith. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Dozens of people in vests protested in Regina Saturday, inspired by thousands who took to the streets of France during the last five weeks.

Yellow vest rallies have popped up in Western Canada and more are scheduled across the country.

The movement emerging in Canada shares iconography with the one in France, but has different motivations, according to Charles Smith, an associate professor of political science with the University of Saskatchewan.

"They're very different," he said.

"Here it's a very partisan response to a specific government that western conservatives really, really don't like." Smith said.

He said the movement in France is spontaneous and doesn't appear to be driven by a central organization. It began as a protest against planned fuel hikes, but morphed into widespread outcry against the high cost of living and policy favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Smith said people became angry and called the protests in France a push back against "regressive reforms" and the "economic model that rewards the rich." 

Last week, Macron called the anger "deep and justified," as he cancelled a planned tax increase and boosted minimum wage.

Smith said the movement in Canada targets the federal Liberal party and its actions toward the oil industry.

"No matter what they do in that sector, the Liberals seem to be criticized for not doing enough," he said.

"It's a pretty big stretch to suggest that a government that just bought a pipeline and is now passing over a billion dollars in support for oil or the oil sector is somehow anti-oil, but that's the rhetoric that comes out of the conservative protests in Canada."

People who attended the rally in Regina on Saturday said they were against Trudeau, the carbon tax and Canada's plan to endorse the United Nations' migration pact — which outlines objectives for treating global migrants humanely and efficiently.

Victor Teece, a self-identified nationalist against globalization, said the migration agreement is "destructive to Canada as a nation." Teece said he believes Canada's identity is centred around European, Judeo-Christian values.

Smith said there is a concerning, "very loud" and "very disturbing message around anti-immigration" emerging within the Canadian rallies. 

There are far-right messages that exist alongside the protests in France, Smith said, but he noted that's not the core focus.

"Whereas in Canada that messaging is much, much louder," he said.

"It speaks to how this is a movement led by the right and the far right in this country."

The "Yellow Vests" (Gilets Jaunes) movement in France originally started as a protest about planned fuel hikes but has morphed into a mass protest against President's policies and top-down style of governing. (Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP/Getty Images)

The yellow vests are readily available in France because of the law that requires motorists to keep high visibility vests handy in vehicles in case of an emergency.

"They represent a powerful symbol — they are the forgotten making themselves visible," Smith said, quoting his colleague.

While the vest is symbolic for middle-class workers in France, Smith said Canadian protesters have only "borrowed the idea."

with files from Cory Coleman, The Associated Press


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