DANIEL: When Is Blocking Traffic For Your Cause Okay?

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Hayden Daniel Deputy & Opinion Editor
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In an act of defiance against vaccine mandates, Canadian truckers made the over 3,000-mile-long journey from British Columbia to the country’s capital of Ottawa.

Once there, they blocked streets, honked incessantly and crowded around Canada’s Capitol building to demand a reprieve from the mandates. Rather than respect the truckers’ right to protest, or even praise their acts of civil disobedience like they did the actions of Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020, leftists in both Canada and the U.S. called for swift and heavy-handed action to clear the protesters from the streets.

The demands to strike back against the truckers only intensified when they used their big rigs to block traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, a critical trade route between the U.S. and Canada. About $400 million worth of goods crosses over the bridge every day.

The truckers ignored proclamations and court orders to vacate the bridge, but police were eventually sent in to clear them out by force. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, declared a state of emergency over the protests, and he made it clear that those who defied the government’s orders would not be dealt with lightly. Not only did he promise fines and imprisonment, but he also threatened to take away their livelihoods by revoking the truckers’ personal and commercial licenses.

Ford also made the ominous comment that “While these emergency orders will be temporary, we have every intention to bring new legislation forward that will make these measures permanent in law.”

Ford is a member of Ontario’s center-right political party, by the way.

The Canadian federal government went even further. In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which will provide police and the government with more tools to suppress “illegal activities” that threaten the lives of Canadians or severely impede the country’s sovereignty.

In perhaps the boldest step, Trudeau noted that financial institutions will be allowed, and most likely encouraged by the Canadian government, to regulate and prohibit the use of property to fund or support illegal blockades. That means Canadian banks can freeze people’s bank accounts without a court order for giving money to the protesters.

Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland concurred with Trudeau and announced that the government would broaden its “terrorist financing” rules to cover the crowdfunding platforms that raised money for the Freedom Convoy.

The bridge was eventually cleared after several arrests, and police are cracking down on protesters in the city. People have been fined and even arrested for bringing gasoline and other material goods to the truckers in Ottawa.

These sweeping decrees by the Canadian government, especially the move to cut off the protesters’ funding, practically ensures that a protest of this kind will never happen in Canada again without significant change in the federal government. It also sets the precedent in the country that the government can ruthlessly suppress any protest if it’s inconvenient enough.

And the American left went wild. Not with outrage — with admiration. If Trudeau wasn’t already one of the international darlings of the left, he is now.

MSNBC host Katy Tur referred to the protests as an “insurrection” and claimed the protesters were causing “havoc.” Juliette Kayyem, a professor at Harvard and a former Department of Homeland Security official under Barack Obama, called the protest a “security issue” and called on the Canadian government to “slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.”

“Trust me, I will not run out of ways to make this hurt: cancel their insurance; suspend their drivers licenses; prohibit any future regulatory certification for truckers, etc. Have we learned nothing? These things fester when there are no consequences,” she continued.

The Biden administration joined in as well. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged Canadian leaders to use “Federal powers” to clear out the protesters. Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also encouraged the Canadians to crack down on the truckers, and, according to Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Drew Dilkens offered to send heavy equipment to help remove vehicles from the bridge.

To be fair, conservatives were similarly perturbed when Black Lives Matter activists blocked highways and bridges during the 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd.

Republicans took action after the fact, with several GOP-controlled states passing stricter protesting laws. These laws often contained provisions that prevent protesters from blocking traffic. Of course, these efforts were framed as “anti-protesting” laws that presented a grave danger to free speech in America by those outlets who now take a very dim view of the trucker protests in Canada.

But that’s the critical difference between the Republican response to protesters disrupting traffic, or causing any other major disruptions, and the Democrats’ — Republicans took action after the fact in a rules-based, democratic way. They passed laws through the legislature, as is their purview, and have allowed the courts to determine whether their moves are constitutional. In fact, a federal judge blocked DeSantis’ protesting bill in Florida.

In contrast, Democrats, and their Canadian counterparts, have shown no qualms about using the power of the state to disrupt protests they don’t like.

It’s not hard to realize the draconian penalties levied against Canadian truckers could, and probably will at some point, hop the border and be used against protesters here in America. The Biden administration is certainly looking very closely at Canada’s response as a potential blueprint on how it can deal with its own supposed “domestic extremism” problem.

Setting this kind of precedent could come back to haunt leftists if they choose to implement the same strategy in the U.S. Republicans could just as easily crack down on protests they disagree with using the same methods. Pretty soon, the question of whether a protest is legal and will be allowed to continue may depend more on whether the party in power agrees with the protesters’ cause rather than any notion of constitutionally-protected rights.

Hayden Daniel is the opinion editor at the Daily Caller.