Politics

Organizer behind anti-vaccine mandate convoy says it won't tolerate extremists as online rhetoric heats up

A key player behind the convoy travelling to Ottawa to protest a vaccine mandate for truckers is distancing her movement from the increasingly extremist rhetoric online being associated with the protest.

Extremist groups and individuals have made efforts to join the protest, raising security concerns

Opponents of COVID-19 restrictions and supporters of Canadian truck drivers protesting the vaccine mandate on that cross-border industry cheer on an Ottawa-bound convoy of trucks on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg on Tuesday. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

A key player behind the convoy travelling to Ottawa to protest a vaccine mandate for truckers is distancing her movement from the increasingly extremist rhetoric online being associated with the protest and asking members of the convoy to report any extreme behaviour to police.

Addressing her Facebook followers in a video posted on the Freedom Convoy 2022 Facebook page, Tamara Lich said the convoy is expected to arrive at Parliament Hill in Ottawa over the weekend to protest what she calls infringements of personal liberty caused by public health orders.

"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.

Since the convoy of trucks and other vehicles left B.C. and began snaking its way to Ottawa, extremists and fringe groups have taken to social media to encourage their followers to descend on the capital when the convoy arrives, calling on them to destroy property and threaten elected officials.

Some have called for another Jan. 6 — the day last year when Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building. Others have called for politicians to be targeted, in what amounts to a growing threat that has security officials concerned, according to one senior government official who spoke to CBC News on background.

Lich said that everyone participating in the convoy must be registered with their "road captains" and anyone who does not behave in an orderly fashion "will be immediately removed."

WATCH | Truckers' protest convoy picks up support on Prairies:

The people and politics of a protest convoy heading to Parliament Hill

5 months ago
Duration 3:30
Large crowds of supporters met a convoy of truckers and other protesters as it rolled through Winnipeg heading to Parliament Hill, where the mandate has become a political issue. Many involved in the convoy oppose the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but there’s growing concern about extremists within their ranks.

"The only way that we are going to overcome this is through love and light, not hate and division," she said. "I think as Canadians, we've all seen enough of that. It's time to move past that."

The federal government announced in mid-November that by Jan. 15, all foreign nationals working as truckers would have to be fully vaccinated to enter Canada. Those not fully vaccinated are to be turned back to the U.S. 

All Canadian cross-border essential workers — including truckers — must also show proof of vaccination at a port of entry to avoid stringent testing requirements and quarantine.

Truckers travelling within Canada are not affected by these new measures. The United States has implemented a similar mandate, requiring that all U.S.-bound travellers show proof they've had the required shots.

Funds being held back

A GoFundMe campaign organized by Lich — who has ties to the Maverick Party, a federal party with roots in Alberta separatist circles — has so far collected more than $4.7 million in donations to support the convoy.

The fundraising platform issued a statement Tuesday saying that the funds are being held back until GoFundMe receives more details about the group and its financial management.

"We require that fundraisers be transparent about the flow of funds and have a clear plan for how those funds will be spent," the GoFundMe statement said.

"In this case, we are in touch with the organizer to verify that information. Funds will be safely held until the organizer is able to provide the documentation to our team about how funds will be properly distributed."

In her Facebook video, Lich said she launched the page to raise money to support the truckers on their trek across the country, but was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of donations.

"When I started this … I was expecting a few thousand dollars, which I was very happy to manage. But wow, did you guys come through," she said. "We were not expecting this, put it this way, so we've had to get prepared in a very short period of time."

A convoy of protesters, shown here west of Winnipeg, are upset by the requirement that all cross-border truck drivers be fully vaccinated. They are heading to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to voice their concerns and are set to arrive this weekend. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Lich said she has had her bank card disconnected from the account that will receive the money. She said all the money raised will go to cover convoy participants' costs.

She did not offer specific details about how the money will be managed. She said she is working with a "finance committee" to organize its dispersal.

Extremist elements latching on

Lich started the GoFundMe page on Jan. 14. Since then, a number of fringe groups and extremists have tried to latch onto the movement by promising to show up in Ottawa when the convoy arrives.

On the convoy's GoFundMe page, an organizer publicly disavows any connection with one person known to have extreme views. But the Freedom Convoy 2022 Facebook page provides a link to a website with convoy information which lists that same disavowed person as a contact for the convoy.

Multiple messages sent to Lich seeking clarification were not returned. 

Some individuals have said online they intend to travel to Ottawa for the protest and hope to see it turn into Canada's own version of the Jan. 6 riots.

Stephanie Carvin, a security analyst and associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said she has seen groups cite plans to smash through walls, bring rope to hang politicians and generally cause violence.

While it's not clear how serious any of these threats are, Carvin is urging caution.

"From a national security perspective, I do think a lot of people do have Jan. 6 in mind," she said.

"When you have a convergence of a number of angry people, who are angry at an establishment, and a symbol of that establishment [the Parliament buildings] right there, there is, I think, the potential — not the guarantee, but the potential — for things to escalate."

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