Yanel Raul Nieves is one of the thousands of truck drivers who went to Ottawa to protest against the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the restrictive health measures that have affected the entire country since the beginning of the pandemic.
His story is an example of overcoming. He is Cuban and president of the organization Cubans Canadians for a Democratic Cuba. He emigrated to Canada 12 years ago, fleeing communism and Castroism. There he found freedom and a prosperous place to raise a family and create Raul Transport Inc. a logistics and freight company.
Yanel, like millions of Canadians, is concerned about the government’s shift towards health authoritarianism, which under the guise of “taking care of its citizens” has curtailed civil liberties with draconian “anti-COVID” measures.
“We are calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister for mishandling the pandemic and for curtailing the individual liberties of Canadians,” Yanel told El American.
The message of the organized demonstration in Canada is clear: citizens are calling for an end to unpopular health measures such as mandatory facemasks, the COVID passport to enter closed places, confinements and vaccine mandates. However, media outlets around the world, including the Canadian media, ignored the explicit requests and launched a fierce smear campaign against the truckers and protesters.
Systematically using derogatory terms such as “anti-vaccine” to refer to the truckers and their supporters, the media also associated the “freedom convoy” with white supremacism and racism, despite the fact that the demonstrations were attended by people of all races.
The EFE news agency published a news cable -which was later distributed by hundreds of media all over the world, especially in Latin America– denouncing that “the anti-vaccine movement and extremist groups” concentrated “thousands of people in Ottawa to protest against the health measures adopted to contain the pandemic and to demand a change of government”.
Other news agencies, such as AFP or The Associated Press, also positioned the story that Canadian truck drivers are anti-vaccine. This information was later replicated by media all over the world
During his conversation with El American, Yanel criticized the local and international media that attacked the large demonstration in Canada and also highlighted that the freedom convoy made history despite the attacks it received.
“This demonstration is unprecedented in this country, it is historic, we are 1.4 million demonstrators who came out to protest against the government.”
“We are not anti-vaccine nor are we obtuse. I am vaccinated. I have my two doses from Pfizer. Ninety percent of truck drivers are vaccinated. We are demonstrating here because we don’t agree with vaccine imposition, we don’t agree with vaccine segregation. People have to have a choice,” he added.
Justin Trudeau’s contempt for truckers shows in the media.
Protests in Canada against the government began on Monday, January 24, when truckers from across the country began heading toward Ottawa to demand an end to health restrictions and Trudeau’s resignation.
On January 26, the prime minister made the political blunder of calling the truckers a “small fringe minority” who have “unacceptable views.” These words struck a chord in the pride of Canadians arousing the indignation of many citizens who automatically sided with the truckers.
Trudeau’s rhetoric, far from causing controversy in the media, was practically imitated by them. The Toronto Star, one of Canada’s longest-running and most important media outlets, practically launched a campaign against the truckers.
“While Canada is cracking down on indigenous and black protesters, white supremacists have a free hand in Canada. Just look at the convoy,” is the headline of an article published in that medium on January 29.
Two articles attacking the truckers and their demonstration also appeared on January 31. “The “freedom” protests are white supremacy in all its glory,” reads one of their headlines. “In Ottawa, we’ve seen the “Freedom Convoy” up close. After the abuse, disruption and absurd lawsuits, we want them gone,” read another headline.
Despite the discomfort of having the capital city paralyzed, the truckers are being well received in Ottawa, Yanel told El American. “A lot of Ottawa citizens are supporting us; small businesses are happy because the truckers are buying coffee, food and what they need to survive while they are in the capital. There are no lodgings, they are sold out.”
Yanel mentioned that not only the mainstream media attacked the truckers following Trudeau’s rhetorical line, local radios also “decided to criticize us saying that the truckers and protesters were drunk and getting high on marijuana. I can say that there were people smoking, but that is legal here, but I did not see any drunks and the demonstrations have been very peaceful and supported by the citizens”.
The Cuban also wanted to point out that, while the media harshly criticizes the demonstrations, little has been said about the attacks and sabotage suffered by the truck drivers. “There were groups that tried to stop the truckers. They put nails in the roads on the way to Ottawa and many trucks had their tires punctured. But that’s not being said.”
Skepticism towards Canadian media
Diana Sosa is another of the protesters who, from Toronto, went to Ottawa to accompany the demonstrators on January 29. She is also Hispanic, specifically from Guatemala. She is vaccinated against COVID-19 and, like Yanel, she just wants the restrictive and segregationist health measures, such as closures and the health pass, to stop.
“Since the pandemic started we have been in confinement several times. In fact, we are just now coming out of a lockdown in Ontario, because since December, about two days after Christmas, we were on lockdown until January 31. It doesn’t make sense,” Diana told El American.
“They ask you everywhere for a vaccination passport and, depending on the province, the measures were tougher. In Quebec there was a curfew, and if you went out I think after ten o’clock at night you were in danger of being arrested. There are shocking videos where you can see these arrests,” said Sosa, who has lived in Canada for years.
Diana, like thousands of Canadians, finds it incredible that the media in her country talks about how a sector of society is concerned about the loss of individual freedoms. “The mainstream drives the narrative, you know, and they’re manipulating the facts in this case.”
Why Canadians don’t trust the media?
According to an Edelman survey released in 2021, 49 % of Canadians agree with the claim that journalists lie on purpose. Fifty-two percent agree that news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with reporting, and the same number believe that the media do not do an objective job. This skepticism or distrust is not new and has a reason, and that is that the Liberal Party of Canada has been a great financial ally of the Liberal media.
“In the last two elections, the Liberals pledged to support the media sector. The 2015 Liberal election platform promised the party would reverse previous Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cuts to CBC/Radio-Canada and, once in power, the Trudeau government renewed $150 million in annual funding,” reads a report in Canadaland. “In 2019, on the eve of that year’s election, the Liberals unveiled a $595 million bailout for certain media outlets.”
During the pandemic, various Canadian media benefited from COVID-19 funds granted by the Trudeau government. For Marc Edge, a Canadian journalism historian, this represents a conflict of interest that directly affects the free press, which, as the fourth estate, is fundamental to the functioning of democracy.
“In the short term (state aid) may have saved or created some media jobs and thus boosted journalism, but only at the cost of credibility,” Edge told Canadaland. “Many Canadians now think the press has been bought by the Liberals.”
Canadian Conservatives have denounced Trudeau and the Liberals for “bribing” the media, and many citizens are noticing that the media narrative matches government rhetoric.
Trudeau, for example, after spending a week out of the limelight after calling the truckers a “marginal minority,” came out to speak from an unfamiliar place. Far from accepting his mistake, he continued to push the rhetoric that the protests are driven by racism and white supremacy. Likewise, he defended himself when questioned about his support for the radical Black Lives Matter movement and his disparagement of the truckers, saying that the truckers are not peaceful and have violent rhetoric.
“As a Latina and a migrant, I obviously feel offended by what Trudeau said,” Diana said when asked about the prime minister’s recent statements. “That is completely false. We are normal, hardworking people who want to be free after two years of being locked up, especially when you look at countries that are lifting all their restrictions. While UK or Denmark lift their measures here we are in confinement. On top of that, you call us racists and extremists when thousands of Latinos, like me, were in the most peaceful protest I have ever seen. It’s ridiculous.”
An inspiring movement and an offensive Trudeau
Diana confessed that the truckers’ uprising was inspiring for her, because in Canada many people do not dare to voice their political opinions because of the fear of stigmatization against conservatives and libertarians.
She explained that she does not agree with the media that said that there was violent and racist rhetoric in the demonstration and that as a Latina she felt that “in Ottawa, there was a very calm atmosphere, I never felt unsafe. I could tell you that there were people with their dogs, who brought their children and there were even people from the city giving away food or hand warmers to warm their hands because it was very cold”.
“In the protest, there was every type of people, truck drivers with their Hindu hats, African Americans, Asians, Indians, Native Americans, and Latinos; everything,” said Diana.
Protesters like Diana Sosa or Yanel Raul Nieves, whose stories represent the Hispanic community and citizens who want political change in Canada, are very rare in the global press. Their mere presence in Ottawa, as protesters and truckers respectively, destroys the narrative imposed by the Canadian mainstream media, international agencies, and Canada’s own authorities that discredit the truckers and their defenders by linking them to white supremacism and the anti-vaccine movement.