In what should by now be a familiar shift, supporters of the right-wing “Freedom Convoy” have moved on to pushing anti-LGBTQ campaigns, according to Canadian experts.
“In terms of the organizers and the people who had the loudest voices in and around the convoy, I think it’s fair to say that their somewhat new cause du jour is the anti-trans and anti-drag and anti-queer stuff,” Hazel Woodrow of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told Xtra magazine.
Much like similar American demonstrations and attacks, the “Convoy” initially launched as a purported protest by truck drivers against measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, despite the fact that the vast majority of their colleagues had already been vaccinated against the disease and said so publicly at the time.
Convoy supporters are getting their news from a tangle of Facebook groups, Telegram channels, and random influencers, which is all then amplified and expanded by right-wing broadcasters like Carlson, The Daily Caller, or Canadian right-wing media network Rebel News. These channels promote a sanitized version of movements like the Freedom Convoy, amplifying its hashtags and turning its obscure extremist leaders into celebrities.
“It’s not a big leap,” said Christine Mitchell, a Professor of Hebrew Bible at Knox College in Toronto. “It has to do with notions of self-identity. So if my identity is tied up in a particular kind of exclusionary way, and it’s really important to me, then people who threaten that — or are perceived by me to threaten that — become dangerous. They become something that has to be shut down.”
Mitchell had previously reported on the encroachment of Christian nationalism into “Convoy” circles after spotting one supporter waving a banner bearing the New King James Bible translation of a verse from the Book of 2 Chronicles that read, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” She wrote in The Conversation in February 2022:
The combination of the verse, the signs and the Canadian flags indicates the combination of Christian identity, Canadian national identity and political beliefs.
When we look at the context of the verse in 2 Chronicles on the truck cab, one might wager that those truckers assume Parliament is the temple that will be destroyed unless people turn from their sin. And the divinely-mandated mission is the overthrow of the Canadian government in order to further God’s mission of love.
Similarly, Xtra reported, groups like “Action4Canada” — which supported the trucker protest — has latched onto Scripture for its own purposes, like the passage Mark 9:42 which reads, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” A member of the group reportedly read the passage aloud at a school board meeting in Kelowna, British Columbia, to object to school policies promoting inclusivity.
“I think it’s insinuating that there are people within this building who are causing children to stumble, who are who are messing with kids, and it would be better if they were drowned. So I think that’s quite a violent thing to say,” Woodrow said. “If they’re saying that what they believe the Bible says should determine what is allowed in our society, that’s the definition of Christian nationalism.”
As the Canadian Press reported on June 15 2023, anti-LGBTQ attacks have been on a steady increase since the Canadian Human Rights Act was expanded in 2017 to include gender identity or expression:
In 2016 there were seven alleged hate crimes targeting transgender or agender people reported to police, according to Statistics Canada. In 2021, the last year with available data, there were 33.
In 2021 there were 423 reported incidents, compared to 176 in 2016, StatCan data show.
But experts say those numbers paint an incomplete picture. The actual number of incidents is almost always higher than what’s been reported to police.
For example, the advocacy group Egale Canada recorded more than 6,400 anti-LGBTQ protests and instances of online hate in the country in the first three months of 2023.
“There are definitely many people, many policymakers, many individuals, [whose goal is] to not allow for there to be LGBTQ2S+ people in public life,” said Sophie Bjork-James, a researcher at Vanderbilt University. “That is very dangerous.”