Did the ‘Freedom Convoy’ Change the Meaning of Canada’s Flag?

Whether or not you have been in Surrey, British Columbia, or Coutts, Alberta, or Windsor, Ontario — or, particularly, should you have been in Ottawa — you noticed a sea of red-and-white Canadian flags rippling within the winter wind throughout this 12 months’s protests in opposition to the federal authorities and pandemic mandates, recognized to some because the “Freedom Convoy.”

Within the months since, the sight of Canadian flags mounted on automobiles and pickup vans or flying exterior houses has some doing double takes: Is that flag an emblem of protest or of unity?

Canada adopted its maple leaf flag in 1965, the ultimate chapter in an extended and intensely contentious debate over whether or not to desert the Canadian Red Ensign, the previous flag with a Union Jack within the high left nook and a coat of arms on the underside proper.

Far-right teams — together with the Proud Boys, which was co-founded by a Canadian, Gavin McInnes — have latched onto the Pink Ensign in veneration of white settler historical past. In 2017, 5 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been amongst a gaggle of Proud Boys who carried the Pink Ensign flag whereas confronting Indigenous protesters in Halifax on Canada Day.

However neither the outdated Pink Ensign flag nor the present maple leaf one has ever turned a lot of the nation into flag fanatics. By and enormous, Canadians simply aren’t that into it.

“There are nonetheless some individuals who ostentatiously fly the pre-1965 flag, an indication of disapproval however, it’s form of arcane,” stated Robert Bothwell, a professor emeritus of Canadian historical past on the College of Toronto. “You need to be fairly subtle to know what” it’s, he stated, including “so I don’t see that changing into a well-liked motion.”

Flags have been traditionally used to paint or give expression to Canada’s political actions and sentiments, Mr. Bothwell stated. Significantly in Quebec, flags got here to indicate whether or not the individual waving them was a separatist, nationalist or federalist.

“Canadians are proud in regards to the flag, however the query, not solely with the ‘Freedom Convoy,’ is what does it characterize?” stated Richard Nimijean, a historian and teacher at Carleton College in Ottawa.

“It’s essential to do not forget that we all the time renegotiate these symbols and what they imply,” he added.

The organizers of the convoy have stated the flags that demonstrators carried represented the rallying cry of their protest, “Freedom!” However some Canadians stated that after the protests, they might really feel cautious about utilizing the flag to convey nationwide satisfaction even on Canada Day.

“I shouldn’t should really feel awkward, and that’s what bothers me most,” stated Brian Lewis, who’s working for a Metropolis Council seat in Hamilton, Ontario, a metropolis west of Toronto. “I’m pleased with my nation and what it stands for,” he added. However, Mr. Lewis stated, in February, he began “to get seems to be” for flying a Canadian flag on his automotive.

“I’m sitting in a parking zone of a grocery retailer proper now and I’m somewhat bit disenchanted,” by the dearth of flag shows, he stated throughout an interview on Thursday. “However I perceive why, completely, and it’s unhappy.”

Claudia Laroye, a Vancouver-based journey author, stated driving previous one of many convoys in British Columbia through the winter gave her the impression that the flag had been “co-opted.” She stated the convoy left “these of us who didn’t agree with that messaging questioning how we might fly it and never look like supportive.”

“We’ll show it this 12 months to contradict that messaging, in our personal small approach,” Ms. Laroye stated in an e-mail.

Most of the symbols interspersed between Canadian flags on the protests final winter represented American politics: flags and posters for Donald Trump, Gadsden flags bearing the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” posters of the U.S. Invoice of Rights and Accomplice flags.

The organizers disavowed these symbols, however the photos raised some eyebrows. “I didn’t know you may secede from a rustic you weren’t part of,” Stephen Colbert joked in a February segment of his late-night present, referring to the Accomplice flag sightings.

Whereas these imported symbols have little historic relevance to Canada, they’ve come to broadly characterize values related to the far proper, showing prominently through the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

The preponderance of flags on Jan. 6 was “sinister,” stated Mr. Bothwell. He added, “It actually was meant to indicate that they’re the true People and the individuals contained in the Capitol should not, and I believe that has precisely the identical which means because the flags” of those that protested on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

[Read: Was Canada Trucker Protest a Blip, or the Start of Something Bigger?]

The “Freedom Convoy” started in January with loosely organized teams of truck drivers making their approach from different components of Canada towards Ottawa to oppose vaccination mandates on the U.S. border.

However the protests quickly attracted different Canadians expressing common antigovernment sentiment in mild of pandemic restrictions, immobilizing downtown Ottawa and a number of other border crossings for weeks and prompting questions on regulation enforcement officers’ pleasant response.

Early on, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the protesters as a “small fringe minority” and rebuked some for desecrating public monuments and wielding Nazi symbols.

The Ottawa police ramped up safety this week for Friday’s celebrations, boosting parking patrol and towing greater than 70 autos between Wednesday and Friday. Fences have been erected round buildings, together with the Supreme Courtroom, and police made a minimum of 5 arrests within the lead-up to festivities.

Whereas individuals concerned in February’s motion promised to resume their protest on Canada Day, they have been vastly outnumbered by cops and households making their technique to the primary official celebrations since 2019. Late Friday afternoon, nevertheless, one group a couple of block lengthy paraded across the perimeter of the capital’s downtown waving flags and shouting “freedom” earlier than gathering on the Nationwide Battle Memorial to sing “O Canada.”

The tense buildup to this 12 months’s celebrations took on a special tenor from final July, when many individuals flew their Canadian flags at half-staff and referred to as for the cancellation of vacation plans after lots of of unmarked graves have been found on the websites of former residential faculties for Indigenous youngsters.

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Vjosa Isai is a Canada information assistant at The New York Instances. Comply with her on Twitter at @lavjosa.

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