The Freedom Convoy
Andrew Lawton talks about his book on the occupation of Ottawa, what the media got wrong, and how to reach people beholden to conspiracy theories.
On this week’s Bug-eyed and Shameless, something a bit different.
Andrew Lawton’s The Freedom Convoy has rocketed to the top of Canada’s best-seller lists. It’s the first book out about the convoy and ensuing occupation of Ottawa — as Lawton’s subtitle calls it: The three weeks that shook the world.
I’ve known Andrew, who is now a fellow at the True North Centre, for a few years. While I’ve certainly had some grievances with some of his colleagues, Andrew is a reliable and thoughtful guy.
After I read his book (digitally, as Canada’s main bookstores won’t carry it in print) I knew we’d have an interesting conversation.
The book is certainly a lopsided look at those three weeks: It tells the story, almost exclusively, from the point-of-view of the core public-facing organizers and Lawton makes no secret that he’s sympathetic to the convoy’s aims.
Some followers of my work were confused and frustrated as to why I would interview Andrew. My response is pretty simple: Refusing to acknowledge and understand what motivates people to join things like the convoy is self-defeating. Even more dangerous is typecasting every single supporter of the movement as a deranged lunatic. (It makes it harder to single out the actual deranged lunatics, I’d argue.)
Some followers of Andrew’s work were confused and frustrated as to why he would be interviewed by someone so critical of the convoy. My response to them is pretty simple: My focus has always been on the misinformation and conspiracy theories that arose from the convoy, and the extremist elements which latched on to it. I believe there were plenty of reasonable — if misinformed — people in the convoy, and that they have the right to protest against the vaccines, even if it’s disruptive.
Below is a liberally edited transcript of our conversation — as we talked for more than an hour, I trimmed down both my questions and his replies, and to make the whole thing more legible. None of the edits were meant to change or remove any context or meaning.
Interspersed will be a few thoughts from me and a few snippets from Andrew’s book. If you need to do some remedial reading on the convoy, might I recommend my feature in the Toronto Star?
I’m opening the comments to everyone, so feel free to post some thoughts on the post.
For subscribers: There’s a podcast version of our whole hour-long conversation. You can listen here.
Hey Andrew, what’s going on?
Everything’s pretty good.
Maybe for starters, just tell me why you wrote the book.
I wrote the book that I wanted to read. Covering the convoy, I saw there was this additional layer that really wasn't being reported elsewhere: The command centers, the food distribution, the money, the fuel — I felt that there was a, if I can use the word, sophistication to the operation that wasn't being told. I'm like: Okay, well, I know the players. I know the issue. I've been to Ottawa and covered this convoy. So really, I wrote the book that I thought would let me ask the questions that I wanted to find the answers to anyway,
I was on the street. I wasn't much welcome in a bunch of these areas, but I got a sense of it. I never saw the logistic hubs that kind of went into managing this thing: The multiple money counters spinning at the same time, the fuel logistics, the media nerve center. It actually was fascinating to read about the logistics of what goes behind an illegal — or, at least, unsanctioned — occupation of a city.
Yeah, I actually found the operation center by accident. So this would have been on the first Sunday. The organizers held a press conference at the Swiss hotel. So I walked in. And there I heard activity downstairs. And I said: Oh, I guess the press conference is downstairs. And I walked down, into this room. And I didn't even quite know what I had walked into. I thought it was the hotel's administration office, because I saw computers and tables and a food area and people walking around. And then I was a bit confused. It wasn't until later when I realized, oh, that was actually this hub.
One thing that always seems to trip people up when reporting on this — and I think a lot of people got wrong, on both sides — is who actually was organizing this thing. You point this really was a grassroots movement. Maybe just talk for a minute about who were the organizers.
That term is a really, really tricky one, because anyone who did something was an organizer. And the frustration that I had looking at a lot of mainstream media coverage was that anyone unsavory automatically became an organizer — and I'm sure we'll talk about that later with Pat King and James Bauder, and all of that — but I focused on that main, core, group that most people saw around the money. Tamara Lich; Chris Barber; Dagny Pawlak; a little bit later on, Tom Marazzo; the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms lawyers, Keith Wilson and Eva Chipiuk. And it was the group that was connected to the GoFundMe campaign. That group established a not-for-profit corporation to handle the money: Freedom Corp, that was what they colloquially referred to it as. I think it's important to note that they may have controlled the public-facing aspects of this, but to a lot of the people on the ground in Ottawa, they really didn't take their cues from anyone. They just showed up.
I think you're right, to a degree. For a ton of people in the occupation, Tamara Lich meant way more than Pat King. But even after he was sort of cast out and denounced by the central organizing committee, King organized a big drive to the airport where he snarled traffic at the airport for a couple of hours. He still had people on the street grabbing him saying: We're behind you, Pat. You heard people on stage saying: We’re behind Pat King. I guess this is the real tension for people who follow this thing, right? The folks who are more sympathetic to the cause will cherry pick the organizers who have been more publicly palatable, who have been more reasonable in their rhetoric and go: Well, you know, we don't like the ones who are a little more extreme. But it seems to me like there's a fair bit of evidence that some of the more radical types actually still maintained a significant following straight up to the end.
Maybe it, by definition, is cherry picking. But I think it's also an inevitability in a grassroots movement. There was an episode I described in the book where Tamara Lich specifically had asked Pat King to leave — this was on the way to Ottawa. And it sounded like, from people I talked to that were familiar with that conversation, she had gotten through to him. And he had said, Okay, fine, if you don't want me, I'm gone. And he decided, for whatever reason, to carry on. They couldn't do anything about him except to say: We want you to go home, and say to other people: He doesn't speak for us. He's not part of us. He doesn't represent us. I think a lot of these organizers, they weren't savvy political operators. They didn't want to make enemies.
There was a lot made of the Nazi and Confederate flags that got flown. The book, I think rightly, notes that the Nazi flags were one-offs — still, somebody decided to buy, pack, and wave a Nazi flag. But there was this interesting thing that happened through the whole occupation where you had these organizers and influencers and certain figures, saying: Oh, we don't believe in X, we don't believe in Y. That is extremism. No, we're normal everyday folks. Chris Barber came out and said: These Confederate flags do not represent us, why would anyone fly a Confederate flag? We're not in the South. Weeks before that, Chris Barber was at home and Saskatchewan doing a Tiktok in his garage:
I think there's been this frustration, listening to the convoy describe themselves, because sometimes it's very clear they're giving you a message track and their own actions don't always sort of comport with that.
I think it’s a valid enough question, and I don't have an answer to it. Chris Barber was one of the people I wasn't able to interview for this book, because of the bail conditions that prohibit him from basically talking about anything remotely connected to the freedom convoy. If we want to talk about leadership and organizers, the message that they were putting out was one that was focused, I'd say fairly narrowly if inarticulately at some points, on: We want an end to the vaccine passports and the vaccine mandates, and we want peaceful and anything that deviates from that is not us. I mean, yeah, the Confederate flag, that's a legitimate question to ask Chris Barber. The whole point is, they were saying, these symbols are not what we're about at this convoy. And I think you have to take him at his word, especially when there is, as we were just talking about video of a guy waving a confederate flag and everyone in the crowd says: Get out of here, get lost.
You're talking about a grassroots movement. That, in many cases, they're there with their own motivations, on their own terms. Maybe some of them are listening to the organizers, maybe some of them are listening to fringe figures. There's a sort of mishmash of intents, purposes, and ideologies. But the document that was originally core to this whole convoy is this Memorandum of Understanding. You spend a little bit of time talking about it in the book, and I think you quite rightly describe it as just kooky legalese that has no basis in reality. Meanwhile, this sort of manifesto that is explicitly about vaccine mandates and vaccine passports that is posted to Facebook much later. What makes that manifesto more legitimate than the Memorandum of Understanding?
I actually think you've grossly mischaracterized the MoU’s role in this. It was never a core document. It actually predated the convoy. James Bauder had started Canada Unity, and the MoU, months before the convoy. A lot of the other organizers, I mean, they had never even heard of it. They had no idea that he had it on his website. And then when people started to realize what it was, they told him to get rid of it. And he ended up getting kicked out pretty early on before the convoy even got to Ottawa. So it was never a core document of the convoy or anything.
It was on the official convoy website. Where the route maps were, where the organizer contacts were listed.
Yeah, but that website only existed because James Bauder said: Hey, we should put all the stuff up on a centralized website, I have a website, I can do it. And everyone said: Oh, yeah, that's a good idea.
I don't want to harp on this, but it had hundreds of thousands of signatures. And he was pitching this on a live stream with Lich and Barber in the days before they left. It feels a little bit convenient to now go: Oh, we didn't even know what the MoU was. It contributed to this idea, this feeling, on top of a bunch of other stuff, that these folks thought that these mandates, and these vaccine requirements — maybe even just the encouragement of the vaccines themselves — constituted something grossly illegal. Not just wrong and a bad policy decision, but something that made the government illegitimate.
Well, I mean, the mandates may well be illegal. They have not, in most cases, gone to trial, certainly not to the Supreme Court. So we may find that some of these things are illegal now — not illegal warranting a coup, that's not at all what I'm saying. But I think there was a lot of frustration, and a lot of people that didn't understand the system of government. They realized that the government was encroaching on their autonomy as an individual. That's what they felt. And this guy was saying he had a solution to that. So I understand — if you're talking about the signatories, people that don't necessarily know or care about politics or government — being told by someone in a forum that looks somewhat official, and looks properly worded. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. But again, I don't think you can make that thing a core value or document of the convoy except insofar as this guy saw the convoy as an avenue to keep pushing this thing that he had already been pushing. And he wasn't even part of the convoy's core team by the time they got to Ottawa.
Reading the book, it was interesting, just how much our experiences actually being on the ground were pretty similar. I saw a lot of the same stuff you did. I certainly didn't hear people on the street, at least not many, talking about this MoU — a few signs, a few comments here and there, and a few people on stage. But I think it was emblematic of this deeper frustration that ran through that crowd, through these thousands of people. Putting aside what the organizers were saying for a second, there was this core unifying factor: That the government has done something so offensive to them that it needs to be resisted in this rather extreme way. The phrase ‘Trudeau for treason’ became almost ubiquitous, or ‘Nuremberg 2.0’ — this idea that there needs to be some sort of tribunal to prosecute decisions made during the pandemic. These ideas were just everywhere. You must have heard this stuff, too.
Whenever I've done streeters, I always try to avoid the people that really, really, really want you to talk to them, because they're the ones that oftentimes are the most extreme. So I think it's something similar when you're talking about thousands of people that show up. Yeah, there are going to be signs that are not particularly civil, not particularly pleasant, not particularly sensible. I think that's fair. I don't know how widespread this was and I don't know how much of it is just bluster. I mean, you could look back to protests against Stephen Harper and probably find — you don't have the alliteration that you do in ‘Trudeau for treason’ — but you'd probably find things that were calling for Harper to be removed and, arguably, jailed. I think David Suzuki, even at one point, it said that, you know, anyone that doesn't take climate action seriously enough, is supposed to get to put behind bars. You can see this in any protest movement. And there was a lot of anger there. There's no two ways about it. But the overarching feeling that I think a lot of people described, and certainly from people I spoke to, didn't see this as being an event that was marked by anger. They saw a lot of hope. They saw a lot of jubilation, celebration. They had a party. That’s the absurdity of this. To a lot of people that were on the outside: It's this angry, violent, hateful insurrection in some people's minds. And then you look and see the bouncy castles and the dance parties and the hot tubs and all of that. And there were a lot of people that I think were really just trying to reclaim that life, of 2019 — that, for the last two and a half years, felt like it was never coming back.
But core to that has to be this vaccine skepticism or, in some cases, COVID denialism.
“We were running a bit of an illegal ivermectin operation underground,” said Bethan Nodwell, a former nurse. “We were getting iver to people who needed it, who were starting to come down with COVID symptoms.”
(The Freedom Convoy, page 78)
I know in the book, you point out that many of the organizers and participants have said they're fully vaccinated. Frankly, in a few cases, I think they were lying.
Out of curiosity, which ones?
James Bauder and his wife both said they were vaccinated, and they later confessed they were lying. Chris Barber posted on Facebook several times saying, if you can pretend that a boy is a girl, then you can pretend I got the shot and he was posting a $14,000 fine he got for, I think, not being vaccinated in a restaurant. You have to accept that this sort of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorizing, misinformation, was really core to a lot of this.
I have always been fully vaccinated, but I've always been against vaccine mandates. And that's a nuance that I think is lost on a lot of people. But at the core, I would agree with you, that if you're talking about opposing vaccine mandates, it's because you think that some people have the right to be unvaccinated. And if you're talking about people who are unvaccinated, you're gonna find in that group a lot of people that perhaps have views that are not accurate or not substantiated about vaccination. But there are other people that are unvaccinated for other reasons — and this is again, something that I feel has been lost not just in the convoy coverage, but in pandemic coverage coverage more broadly. This was a story that was never really told about the convoy, indigenous people that really showed up in, I'll say, disproportionately large numbers. And I spoke to a few of them, and one of them had very eloquently said: My community knows what it's like to have medical treatments foisted upon them, so we oppose vaccine mandates. It's not as black and white. It's not like well, if you're unvaccinated, it's because you think Bill Gates is injecting you with 5G chips or something.
What was interesting is the significant gap between the portrait you paint of the occupation — and, truth be told, the portrait I often saw of the occupation — and the experiences of those who lived in the city. I was never harassed for wearing a mask, whether it was on the street (mostly because my face was freezing) or in the hotel. I never saw anyone getting harassed on the street. But you read the stories of people who live or work downtown being harassed and heckled piled up over those three weeks. And, you know, does that matter? Does that not count for something?
I mean, this is a topic that I wish I could have explored in the book. I wrote it very quickly. There are things that I don't do. And I don't endeavour to do like, I don't talk about the law enforcement angle on that. It wasn't a story that I had the contacts to tell. And I and I don't talk about the effect on residents of Ottawa because I felt that story was already being told and in the existing body of coverage. But I do think, though, that there are a couple of considerations there that I don't know if we have answers to. On one hand, what form of disruption is allowed in a protest? I've been driving down streets before when there are protesters that are blocking which cars can drive through and slowing things down. And it is enraging. It's frustrating. And I've been told by people that are more minded to protest that protest is supposed to make you uncomfortable. Okay. What's the limit to that? And I don't have an answer. And related to that is the city of Ottawa, this is a capital city, does the tolerance level for residents have to be by virtue of living and working in a national capital higher than in any other city? Again, I don't have an answer to that. But I think it's an important question. The book does talk about convoy organizers specifically working with the City of Ottawa to try to minimize the effect on downtown residents. I do think their stories are relevant and I think they need to be told. But when you mentioned these altercations: For a lot of them, people said: Someone just came up to me and did this. And I feel that the truth is probably that they said something, the other said something, there's an escalation that's missing from that.
I do think it's really interesting to have a conversation about the legitimacy of this. It was intriguing, reading some of these accounts from some of the organizers — because I tend to agree with some of it, right? I do believe that protest has to be disruptive, that you should be allowed to make people uncomfortable and frustrated in order to make a point, even if I think that point is illegitimate. But there has to be limits to that. Whether it's folks who are blocking pipelines out West, whether it’s folks blocking railroad tracks, even large demonstrations in Montreal, like the student strike, and Toronto, with the G20 — all got met with a significantly more immediate, quick and brutal police response than these folks in Ottawa saw. There was one quote from Tamara Lich where she's reflecting on the police operations, she said:
“I just burst into tears,” Lich said of seeing the footage, particularly of the horse trampling incident. “I said ‘How can they do this? How can they do this to their own people?’”
(The Freedom Convoy, page 159)
And I had a laugh when I read it, because it's just so naive. I mean, this was one of the most gentle, permissive, sort of welcoming police counter-protest operations I've ever seen in this country. I mean, is there a level of privilege that goes behind a lot of these people demanding access, without police action, to the capital city?
I mean, I ran into you not long after I was pepper sprayed. So in Ottawa, at that moment, I don't know if I would have agreed with ‘gentle.’ And there were certainly incidents. I mean, there was the woman who was trampled by the horseback officer, that seems like a mistake. And I'd be interested in hearing what any investigation unearthed about that incident. And there were some other examples of well, as well of things that looked a little bit more than that. I wouldn't say that the police response was gentle. I think the police response was slower than it might have been under different circumstances. But I also think that if you look at this from the 30,000 foot perspective of things: I think the border crossings changed the whole dynamic dramatically, even though these were not directly connected, in the sense of they weren't being quarterbacked by anyone involved in Ottawa. But the border crossings, I think, really fractured a lot of the support the convoy had even on the right, and certainly by political leaders, like Candice Bergen, and I think it justified the government’s crackdown that we ended up seeing. I wonder, had the borders been left alone and this was just Ottawa, what that alternative history would have looked like. Would it have been an extra week? Would it have been an extra month? Would it have still ended the same time? I don't know.
Little note here to say: The police response I saw was gentle in comparison to other crowd control operations I've covered in Canada. That doesn't mean it was without fault. The use of mounted units to push back a crowd was totally inappropriate and dangerous. We need significantly less muscular 'riot policing' across the board. Still, it's obnoxious to see the overwrought rhetoric when the right-wing normally cheers on police action against those who they don't agree with.
That, I think, is one of the core things behind why the police were asking for more powers, why the city was freaked out, why the province was asking for more — what ultimately contributed to the Emergencies Act. You break down a little bit in the book. Talking to both the political realm and policing, they were not worried about what the organizers were going to do. Right? They were not worried that Tamara Lich was about to order a storming of Parliament. They were worried about individuals who may have been maybe unstable, or radicalized, or smaller groups. Guys associated with the Diagolon movement that was charged with a plot to, allegedly, kill RCMP officers in Couts, Alberta. Well, the leader of the Diagolon movement was just outside Ottawa in some farmhouse, just coming off a firearms charge in Nova Scotia. There were elements in that occupation that did pose — at least CSIS, the RCMP and others believed — a national security threat. Does that not have to come into account when you're managing an occupation like this?
The government overstated that. I mean, there was that one press conference, with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, where he comes out and says, you know, we've got evidence of this plot, this violent conspiracy that is connected to this, and there's weapons and they're organized and all of that. And when asked for basic details by journalists that were there, he eventually walked it back to this unrecognizable pointing to: Well, we've seen bad rhetoric on social media. So I think the government tended to overstate whatever threats were there, because we know that this was nonviolent, we know it remained nonviolent. But I would also say when you're talking about how the government's responding, and how police are responding, yes, you have to be aware of eventualities, you have to be aware of potential threats. Dean French, who came in as like a volunteer negotiator between the convoy and the City of Ottawa, he had given a line that I think speaks to what you're saying, which is: All it takes is one cop, one protester, having a bad day, and the entire thing changes.
There is still a set of conspiracy theories. Obviously they didn’t motivate everyone there, I don't know if it was the majority, but a seizable number of people who came out were obsessed with the idea that Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum secretly controlled the country and pull all the strings. The idea of Trudeau being a puppet for Klaus Schwab is ubiquitous. There were QAnon followers — I mean, James Bauder himself has expressly endorsed QAnon. There were elements of white supremacist movement there. When we're talking about both the legitimacy of the whole movement, and also the kind of fear that there could be a radical element or danger or a national security threat embedded in there somewhere, is it non irresponsible to cast them aside and say, they're just part of the fringe?
I've had people that have come up to me, before the convoy, to say: I agree with you when you said X. And I say, well, that's great. I'm glad we agree. And then the more they talk, the more I realize that we may agree for vastly, vastly different reasons. But just because the messenger might not be the best one or the most ideal doesn't mean the message itself is wrong. And I think that what we've seen in this country in the last two years has been an increasing escalation of restrictions. All of these things that had at one point been unconscionable, like vaccine mandates, became just a regular daily part of life. If you're someone who is, for whatever reason, unvaccinated — maybe it's because of Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates or maybe it's just because you have some religious, conscientious objection, I don't think it really matters. The whole point is that this is a choice that is yours to make. And when you have a government that is calling you misogynistic and racist, and then says: Anyone who tries to protest, this is just part of this fringe minority with unacceptable views, you're going to make people further isolated, and further feel alone. I think that the increasing branding of people as conspiracy theorists is itself breeding more conspiracy theories.
I definitely agree with some of that. But at the same time, I got fascinated with the media environment that built into the infrastructure of the occupations. Online outlets, newspapers, streamers, influencers — folks who do peddle, not just the idea that Klaus Schwab runs the country, but also the COVID-19 is a bioweapon, or that it's not real, or that the vaccines have killed scores of people. Without trying to ascribe those beliefs to everyone, is it not fair to say that being part of this occupation meant that you lived in a universe where all of those things were sort of just actually just just truisms? You might be right, that the Prime Minister has done a ton to drive people into these conspiracy theories, and that vilifying these people have have been wrong — I'll take some blame for that, sure. But do you also accept that this occupation has helped indoctrinate a ton of these people into into a whole new realm of sort of alternate realities?
At one point, when I was in Ottawa, I was invited into this shipping container they had set up as a so-called truckers lounge — it was just block heaters, food and coffee. Truckers would just go in there and shoot the shit. I walked in there, and the conversations were what you'd expect to hear in any coffee shop or any lunch room, people were talking about the weather, or a part they needed for their truck, they weren't talking about these things. I don't think that these people were as immersed in these things as you think. Maybe they believe these things, but I think the convoy cultivated this atmosphere of come as you are. And people really welcome that because they didn't need to be someone, they didn't need to show the proof of vaccination, they didn't need to wear the mask. I actually don't think there was indoctrination going on.
With a bunch of the organizers either in jail or on release conditions that don't allow them to organize, new organizers like James Topp — this veteran in the process of being released from the Canadian Armed Forces who was marching across the country. I have never seen him say anything particularly offensive or objective or conspiratorial, but he's gone on the podcast with the leader of Diagolon, whose associates are awaiting trial in Alberta. His advisor is Paul Alexander, a guy who has repeatedly said:
Do you think there's not a problem, here, to laud the movement’s goals or aims or earnestness, but ignore some of the fringe figures who are becoming increasingly prevalent thanks to it?
There was something I was working on about cancel culture. It's something I've experienced firsthand, and something I've seen from the outside. One of the key traits of anyone I've interviewed who's gone through being canceled is that they cling to anyone they can who will like them, to anyone who will see them as a person. And you're talking about people who feel marginalized by the media and people who feel marginalized by the government. And I think this is speculative on my part, but I think you'll find that a lot of these people are not in the business of picking and choosing their friends, because they feel like they don't have many of them. James Topp is a great example. But for a few independent media outlets, no one was talking to him. So some guy reaches out and says: Hey, I have a podcast, I'd like you to come on. I'm assuming it's: Okay, what time? Not: Oh, let's vet him.
I'm intrigued by what you think the possible solution to this sort of thing is. Maybe you don't believe these conspiracy theories are as prevalent and dangerous as I do, but at the very least, you believe that they're not great? How do you short circuit them? Especially coming from the conservative media, how do you tackle them?
The challenge with conspiracy theories is that the conspiracy grows whenever someone tells you it's a conspiracy theory. Then they become part of it. No offense, but someone like you telling someone on the right, yeah, you're a conspiracy theorist, or that's not true, you're not probably going to have much legitimacy to them. So I take it upon myself to speak to people that are in my audience about these issues. One conspiracy theory, for example, that circulated during the convoy was that there were United Nations planes in North Bay, because maybe UN officers had been imported from somewhere else. And this was widely circulating. And I did very cursory digging into it and said:
People were receptive to that, because it came from someone they trusted. Take from that what you will. The World Economic Forum is a great example. I went to Davos in May to cover their conference, and I was actually a bit nervous that my audience would expect more of it than I was able to provide. But I focused on the policy, I focused on what was rooted in fact. I focused on criticisms — that you and I may disagree with — but I steered completely clear of conspiracy theory. And people were very receptive to that. Ultimately, no one is ever going to be shaken from believing in a conspiracy theory, because someone calls them evil or calls them dumb or calls them stupid, and that's left, that's right, that’s center, that's apolitical. I think the vilification is never going to get us out of this.
I think there's an interesting problem there. When you do a report from Davos that is grounded in fact, it is certainly less flashy and less compelling. And it's less interesting, I think, to a ton of people — no offense — than the idea that Klaus Schwab is the root of all evil. When organizers were pleading for reasonableness, were asking people to move into downtown you to comply with this negotiation they've done with the mayor, sure, a lot of people may have listened, but a lot didn't as well, because there are folks out there selling snake oil that is much more attractive. I think when people watched this convoy, that more extreme element is really what they're worried about, not so much the organizers professing peace and calm.
Yeah, but a lot of them would also look and say, it was conspiratorial when you started getting all of this narrative building about oh, it was Russians. I would just point out that when we are talking about this, we can't define it by the outliers. And that's true of left wing protests and true of right wing protests.
What do you think the media got spectacularly wrong? I’ll offer one up: People have pointed at my reporting on a fire that was set in an apartment building that we, initially, suggested could be tied to the convoy.
The apartment fire was probably one of the most egregious ones because, again, we just abandon any pretense of approaching these things with skepticism and took it, it seemed like, on the say so of just one guy in Ottawa that hated the convoy. Another one that I'd say, which stands up still is a spectacular example of media malfeasance in Canada is the backlash against the New York Times for reporting that police arrested people at gunpoint. It did happen, there's documented evidence and photos of the police having their guns drawn. It was crazy, to the point where the New York Times ended up walking it back. I think that there were some journalists that were really good at going out and talking to people, like Evan Solomon and Sean O'Shea. And they withstood a lot of abuse for doing it. It wasn't even a specific story that was wrong, it was the absence of stories that at the beginning that really tried to understand these people. And I think in that vacuum, it allowed for a lot of very inaccurate representations.
I’ve got a constant frustration, here, with the fire. After it happened, people nearby were calling me up and saying:
To note all of that in connection with the fact that there was an arson set, it seems really reasonable. But there’s also the fact that we then went and reported it out and kept working on it:
Some of that reporting, and also the police investigation, is what led to the convoy being cleared in it. It's frustrating to watch people discount all of our reporting, because we actually do do our jobs. And then there's a line in your book that comes from Ditcher:
“The plan was to attack them,” Dichter said of the mainstream media. “To kind of out them for what they are. One stage was to ignore them, but it was to basically raise them up on a pedestal and cut their heads off in front of everybody and make everybody see what has happened to legacy media that’s entirely scripted, bought and paid for.”
(The Freedom Convoy, page 33)
It's really hard to take some of this criticism of our reporting in earnest, because they're explicitly saying: We want to destroy the media.
One thing I will point out is that there's actually a bit of disagreement between some of the organizers on the media strategy, so that position is not necessarily shared by others, as the book addresses. But I think your question is still a valid one. If I'm trying to answer it from the perspective of the organizers, it wasn't that they wanted to delegitimize the media, it's that they wanted to expose what they saw as an existing illegitimacy. Their view was that the media was always out to get them, and I think there was some evidence of that in some of the coverage.
Do you think the core, or the origin, or the premise of that distrust comes from the media's, I think, accurate, coverage of vaccines and, perhaps unfair, coverage of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers?
I think the issues have gotten a lot more personal for people. When you look at the distrust on COVID mandates: When people look and they see unanimity among politicians, and unanimity in the media, and unanimity in civil society, they get very distrustful. And I think that inflamed a fear of media bias in the same way as it inflamed an opposition to the political establishment. It's us versus them, or, perhaps more accurately: Them versus us.
I think there's a lot of personal trauma that went behind that, too. Talking to people there, I lost count of the the amount of times I heard someone say: I've lost more friends to suicide in the last two years than ever have in my life, or my kids aren't the same, or I didn't get to see my dad before he died or whatever. These are grievances and traumas that are common across the world over the last two years. But it feels like those personal traumas really informed and fed into that distrust.
Yeah, I would very much agree to that. I think people really felt like the struggles were their own and they were alone in dealing with them. And there was there was the catharsis in meeting other people that were in the same places they were. And that is what contributed to that party-like atmosphere that we've talked about.
On the book itself: What's the reaction been like?
Yeah, I mean, for a lot of for a lot of the people that were involved in the convoy, it was like the greatest time of their lives. People that had never really built anything like this were really, really proud of it. So they've been excited just to see the story represented, even if they don't like every characterization. So this shot up to the number one spot on the Toronto Star and Globe & Mail best-sellers lists and it was doing really well on Amazon. I was very humbled by it. It was interesting that there hasn't been any write up on CBC or the Toronto Star or the Globe & Mail or anything like that. (I am available.) But it's been good. And I've been doing a lot of like conservative media and podcasts and stuff like that. Ultimately, I'm writing this from a position that's that sympathetic to the convoy and I won't pretend otherwise. But I also don't think that it's sycophantic. And I would hope that people could, even if they don't necessarily agree with the approach, could learn something from it.
People have noted that Indigo and chapters are refusing to vote or not putting it on on store shelves. Have they given you a reason for that?
My publisher Sutherland House [publisher of the excellent SHuSH newsletter -ed] which is run by Ken Whyte, he did an interview with the National Post about this. I don't know what their rationale is. I would assume that whatever bias people think exists in a company ideologically, companies want money. If a book is selling, then you'd think they'd want to put it on their shelves where they can sell more. So I don't know if they're gonna give in. But certainly, we're moving books online, which in the meantime, is quite good.
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It's refreshing to see both of you having this conversation. Thanks to you both
I am the opposite of a Convoy supporter, but that was a great interview from both sides. Mr. Lawton made some good points and had interesting insights. Justin, you also pressed him when required.
It's unfortunate that Chapters won't stock the book. I work at a library and made sure we ordered it for our collection. Or maybe that's more of a little dig at Ken Whyte, who can say?