“Freedom Convoy” — the group of protesters that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as a “fringe minority”— has been voted “2022 Newsmaker of the Year” by The Canadian Press editors in newsrooms all over Canada. The “Freedom Convoy” protest itself had also been selected as the top news story of the year, the Canadian Press revealed on Monday.
It has been a decades-old tradition of the Canadian Press to choose the Newsmaker of the Year, an annual activity meant to reflect the person or group of people that had the biggest influence on the Canadian news cycle that year.
The Canadian Press says, 49 per cent of the 104 survey respondents voted for the Freedom Convoy protesters to be Newsmaker of the Year, ahead of 28 per cent for Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September.
The Freedom Convoy protests took place in Ottawa during the winter earlier this year. The movement, which began on Jan. 29 as a demonstration by truck drivers opposing the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border travel, quickly gained momentum and grew exponentially as supporters from across the country joined in to call for an end to all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to meet with the truckers personally or have any representatives hear their grievances during the three-week protest in Ottawa. On Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government invoked the Emergencies Act, for the first time since the act replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, which had been invoked three times: during the two World Wars and the 1970 FLQ crisis in Quebec.
The Emergencies Act gave police sweeping powers to remove demonstrators from downtown Ottawa, as well as at several Canada-U.S. border crossings where protesters had set up blockades to show solidarity with those at the national capital. Most of the blockades had cleared by the time the act was invoked.
Over the weekend of Feb. 18, thousands of police officers cleared trucks and protesters and hundreds of protesters were arrested. Also, under the act’s financial measures, hundreds of financial accounts belonging to Freedom Convoy supporters were frozen without a court warrant.
On Feb. 21, the House of Commons voted to pass a motion approving the use of the Emergencies Act. Two days later, Trudeau revoked the Act saying it was no longer needed.
As required by the Emergencies Act, the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) was formed by the federal government to review the invocation. Trudeau appointed Paul Rouleau, an Ontario appeal court judge, to head the commission.
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Over the course of six weeks’ public inquiry starting from Oct. 13, the POEC introduced more than 7,000 documents into evidence and heard from more than 75 witnesses. Witnesses included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the last one on Nov. 25, and a number of high-profile members of his cabinet, as well as Canadian intelligence officers and Freedom Convoy organizers including Tamara Lich who was awarded the annual George Jonas Freedom Award by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms at a ceremony on June 16 in Toronto.
During her testimony on Nov. 3, Lich explained why she got involved in the protest movement.
“I was growing increasingly alarmed with the mandates and the harm that I was seeing the mandates inflict. I heard from families that were living in their vehicles because they’d lost their jobs. I heard from people that had lost their jobs and lost everything. I have the tears of thousands of Canadians on my shoulder, who everyday told me that we were bringing them hope,” said Lich, who got emotional several times during her testimony.
Two weeks after the POEC concluded the public hearings segment of its inquiry, a poll conducted for iPolitics finds that a majority of Canadians (55 per cent) now oppose the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to counteract the Freedom Convoy protests in February.
Mainstreet Research polled over 1,260 Canadians over the age of 18 between Dec. 6 and Dec. 8 on their political views. One question asked, “Has your mind changed on whether the prime minister was right/wrong to invoke the Act?”
Of those who participated in the poll, 39 per cent said they opposed Ottawa’s invocation of the Emergencies Act in February and still do now, while 16 per cent said they supported the act at the time and are now against its use.
Forty per cent of individuals surveyed said they continue to support the government’s use of the act and five per cent said they were originally opposed to it, but are now in support.
The POEC will table its final report on the government’s use of the Emergencies Act in both the House of Commons and Senate by Feb. 20, 2023.
According to the Canadian Press, several organizers of Freedom Convoy and protesters are expected to stand trial next year on a variety of charges.
Tamara Lich’s court hearing for her mischief charges is scheduled for September 2023. Lich was arrested in Ottawa on Feb. 17 and set free on bail on March 7. She was arrested again on June 27 for an alleged breach of bail conditions, related to a brief exchange with a fellow convoy organizer at her June 16 award ceremony. Lich was released on bail again on July 26 and her bail conditions include not talking with other convoy organizers, not using social media, and not organizing further protests.
“Love them or hate them, the convoy protesters impacted most Canadians’ daily lives in 2022 and showed the fractures in our country,” wrote Tim Switzer, managing editor of the Regina Leader-Post.