There are times when Canadians can be more than a little shocked by an event in this country that is making waves south of the border.
But what if this story helps fuel an American media narrative aimed at sowing fear and backlash against US President Joe Biden?
Join the “Freedom Rally” convoy that made its way to Ottawa this week.
The convoy received substantial airtime from American right-wing media outlets and prominent American political commentators on social media all week.
It started last weekend to protest a new COVID-19 policy for truckers. Since January 15, the federal government has required Canadian truckers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when crossing the border from the United States.
The convoy has been criticized for its inconsistency, its ties to the far right, its calls to dissolve the federal government and its wooing of those who threaten to use violence.
Some US media pundits say the story fits a perfect mold for an audience in the US that has been fed an anti-vaccine narrative for months by outlets such as Fox News seeking to make Biden look bad. and, in turn, Donald Trump looking good.
In short: vaccines, restrictions and Biden — bad. Trump and “freedom” – good.
In Canada, meanwhile, some journalism pundits say any international attention could fuel the movement behind the convoy, which some have called anti-science and potentially dangerous.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity website ran a story this week with the headline “TRUCK YEAH: Canada Forms Freedom Convoy of 10K Trucks to Protest Vax Mandates, ‘Overreach is Over'”.
The convoy, according to official measurements, is a fraction of that 10,000 truck figure that is traveling online (some have even suggested the number is as high as 50,000). Officials in Ottawa estimated it at between 1,000 and 2,000 vehicles on Friday.
Police in Kingston, Ont., said on Friday the convoy leaving that city consisted of 17 full tractor-trailers, 104 tractor-trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six recreational vehicles. Another large convoy is expected to arrive from Western Canada by Saturday.
American podcaster Joe Rogan commented on the convoy, calling Canada a “country in revolt” during a recent broadcast. Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, said “Canadian truckers dominate” on Twitter. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro has been posting about the convoy on his Facebook page all week.
“Canadian truckers are rightly demonstrating against authoritarian vaccine mandates,” Shapiro said Tuesday.
On Thursday, English comedian and social commentator Russell Brand posted a video slamming the media for ignoring the story – despite it being one of the top stories for most media outlets in Canada for days.
“Truck drivers who were once seen as heroes delivering vital goods and working during lockdown are now villains as they protest vaccination mandates,” he said in a YouTube video. .
Fox News is “naturally going to pick this up,” said Jane Hall, a communications professor at American University, who has contributed to the channel for years but has criticized it since leaving about nine years ago. The story is visual, it’s dramatic, and it fuels a narrative about how vaccine rules are a government violation of personal liberty, she said.
“Attention will breed more people and coverage will breed more attention,” Hall said. “The scale of this opposition and the representativeness of this group are very likely to be lost in the drama.”
(Indeed, while truckers are not a monolithic group, the Canadian Trucking Alliance denounced the protest, pointing out that almost 90% of Canadian truckers have already been vaccinated. Yet the group says that about 16,000 could be sidelined due to the mandate of the vaccine here and the corresponding one for truckers in the United States.)
The attention could also mean more money for the convoy, which raised $7.5 million via a GoFundMe page on Friday night and saw thousands of supporters line the roads across the country this week. as the platforms passed.
For Sean Holman, a journalism professor at the University of Victoria, coverage and amplification means more “acceleration” for Canadians resisting public health measures.
“The more coverage this convoy gets, the more it normalizes those views and the more comfortable other people with those views will feel to speak out,” he said.
“It’s sort of the story of social media and the post-truth era.”
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