Convoy Continued

Link post

Previously: Convoy, also coverage from weekly post.

We continue to have ourselves a convoy, as well as attempts at similar additional convoys elsewhere.

We also have some rather startling actions on the part of the Canadian government, which made the ongoing situation impossible to ignore or disentangle.

I continue to be doing my best to understand what is happening without getting into politics, because this seems increasingly important to do, but the issue is inherently super political and the stakes keep getting raised. I did what I could, and encourage commenters to do the same, while continuing to request that all convoy-related comments be made on convoy-related posts. I won’t be joining those discussions and will confine what I say to the posts. I am happy that I have not yet had to delete any comments on previous convoy posts or even warn anyone, so hopefully that can continue.

The Convoys

As I understand it, there are:

  1. The original convoy in Ottawa’s streets making noise and attempting to cut off or restrict access to downtown.

  2. Several attempts to blockade border crossings between Canada and the United States.

  3. Various attempts to start other convoys that would use similar disruptive tactics elsewhere, without success as official response adjusted to the tactics.

The third point emphasizes, as many other reports do, that the city of Ottawa seriously botched its response to the convoy, and that this allowed the trucks to fortify their positions in various ways. Whereas in other places, they knew what was coming, and this did not happen.

This has some implications.

  1. In tactical terms this was a one-off success that relied on the element of surprise.

  2. If you clear things up now, there is no reason to expect the problem to reassert itself again because you can respond in Ottawa the way other cities have responded, which successfully diffused the problem without the military or noteworthy civil liberties violations.

  3. Thus, the problem for Ottawa is mostly how to physically remove the trucks.

The border crossings can be blocked by remarkably small numbers of vehicles that can then cause a lot of economic damage, allowing the problem to reassert itself over and over, so they are potentially trickier. There the incentive problem is more central there. But in Ottawa, if everyone could be transported back to their homes, as far as I can tell there is no clear next move.

Physically removing the trucks is easier said than done, but I continue to believe it is in the end and with some notice not all that hard either. The necessary equipment exists, it is for rent or sale, and we have airplanes to fly it in and people who can be paid enough to operate it. Any given local might refuse, but we need only a tiny portion of available capacity, and the majority of people oppose the protests, so I continue to not understand the physical issue.

As a thought experiment, suppose a bunch of truckers were hired to blockade access to Tesla’s factories to protest electric vehicles, and were shutting down production. Elon Musk is given full authorization to remove the trucks and an effectively unlimited budget. It has his attention. How long do you think it would take?

As far as I can make out, the concerns about physical difficulties are mostly excuses. The real problem is that if one started physically removing the trucks some of those in the convoy might get violent. If things did turn violent, people could die, which is both inherently worth avoiding and also could cause further trouble.

Thus, the solution of ‘go up to the first truck and start removing it and see what happens’ does not get implemented. Instead, we have other measures.

How serious is this worry?

What Is The Convoy Like? What Do They Want?

There have been a lot of arguments about this question. The leaders seemed to start off with some rather absurd demands, some of which they have backed off from. All sides strive to present it as what they would like it to be and nothing else. Depending on who you ask, it is a big party or an insurrection. It is friendly people or it is hard men. It is full of swastikas and confederate flags and actual Nazis or there were a few people unwisely using that to call Trudeau a Nazi. To a large extent various reports do seem to indicate they think the Canadian election results should be overturned.

This report from The Line seems like one of the more reliable ones from what I can tell. It makes a bold claim, that while most of the protesters are nothing unusual, there is a core group that is a much bigger threat.

The broader complaints of the protesters are a cover for the group seeking open conflict. Most of the convoy protesters aren’t part of this smaller, nastier group, nor linked to it in any overt way. Many of them will think any concern about it at all is just some MSM lamestream media conspiracy.

My government and security sources do not agree. What’s happening in Ottawa, they were clear, is two separate events happening in tandem: there is a broadly non-violent (to date) group of Canadians with assorted COVID-related gripes, ranging from the somewhat justified to totally frickin’ insane. But that larger group, which has knocked Ottawa and too many of our leaders into what my colleague Jen Gerson so perfectly described as “stun-fucked stasis,” is now providing a kind of (mostly) unwitting cover to a cadre of seasoned street brawlers whose primary goal is to further erode the legitimacy of the state — not just the city of Ottawa, or Ontario or Canada, but of democracies generally.

As I have written in the earlier dispatches, during the daytime, it’s something of a festival atmosphere along Wellington. At night, it is more grim and much more tense, but I still had no concerns or issues walking through the entire area. This encampment near the stadium?

That was something else.

And that’s what has Sloly worried, my sources tell me. Angry, disillusioned truckers can be talked down eventually, even if it takes a long time. The police know how to handle that. But there is another element here — smaller, hard to find, but real, which is why Sloly has been referring to the intelligence he’s seen, and asking for help, and saying he wants the military. Yes, yes, some of that is undoubtedly him wanting someone else to step up and take some of the heat. Some of it is seems rooted in a very real concern that what’s unfolding in Ottawa is something our leaders haven’t considered before, and don’t know how to handle, even if they accept it’s real, which seems to be a work in progress.

So yeah. The bouncy castles and the Fuck Trudeau signs aren’t really the story here. And if you’re wondering why no one wants to act, it’s because they’re afraid of what they’ll be unleashing.

Sloly resigned on Tuesday, it is not clear why but presumably because the situation was out of his hands and he didn’t want to be responsible for what happened next.

This all makes sense, but it also seems to offer a logistical solution. The encampment near the stadium is not blocking anyone’s access to anything important. That’s why the police moved people there in the first place. If that’s where the real problem is, one could isolate the compound without attempting to break it up while you dismantled the main operation in Wellington, and if those are indeed the people most prone to violence, they would have to do it by leaving their area and attacking police, which seems implausible and unlikely to accomplish much.

Potential Responses

The Line’s next post suggests a similar kettle strategy. First close off the protest, then start letting people out as individuals. Over time, the group shrinks. He looks for a reason one couldn’t do that, and can’t find one.

Indeed, many of the intersections along the blockade route are clear and unobstructed. A police operation to assume total control of those intersections, including placing heavy blocking vehicles of their own in them — buses and dump trucks, that sort of thing — would allow the police, in many areas, to cut the protest into much smaller segments. (Some intersections are already blocked by concrete barriers that have been brought in, see photo below.) A large deployment of officers, perhaps augmented by barriers and fencing, could chop the Ottawa protest’s main blocked routes into chunks, forming an instant kettle. And then the police would simply have to be patient. People could be urged to leave, and perhaps even promised a period of amnesty: anyone who leaves in the first eight hours avoids charges or faces reduced ones. After that period, to be blunt about this, it becomes a siege, but in reverse: the blockade becomes blockaded. The protesters are trapped inside, with whatever supplies they have on hand. You can come out peacefully at any time, but no one gets in.

Cut off from food, and the fuel cans that have so infuriated Ottawa residents as they’re carted in with total impunity, their position would grow weaker each day. The police could move in with overwhelming force into one segment at a time, breaking up the protest piece by piece, hopefully without any bloodshed.

What’s wrong with that plan?

My police sources flagged three immediate challenges to this kind of strategy in Ottawa’s particular context.

First, all along the protest route, even if the police can control the intersections, they wouldn’t automatically control the sidewalks inside the kettled areas, and there are building entrances all along the streets that would need to be secured from the inside. Driving a bunch of furious protesters into an office building doesn’t help anyone.

I notice I am confused. Suppose all the furious protesters are driven into an office building. So what? That sounds perfect if they’re all in the same one. You close off the building so one one else gets in, cut the power and wait. Meanwhile you tow all the trucks. All remaining disruption is highly contained. What am I missing?

Another concern was that this would require a lot of officers — a lot.

Fair, but I don’t have much sympathy here. The scale and stakes are too high.

And the third challenge, of course, is that any move to divide and isolate the protest route could trigger an immediate reaction, possibly violent. The point of this strategy is to end the protest peacefully, without violent confrontation. But that depends on how the guys inside the cordon choose to react.

This again is the real crux. If you did the thing that would work, would they react with violence because it would work no matter what?

If so, you’re out of luck, but waiting will not fix the issue, because any move that would work will similarly provoke violence. Perhaps one could hope to cut things off less aggressively and provoke less reaction, but I doubt that much matters.

Still, I was told, my plan was generally in line with what would likely occur.

And then the border blockades began.

I agree that the bridges need to be handled first. So if resources are limited, concentrate there. But is state capacity so low that the whole country is this stretched already? This was all pretty small and unpopular. Seems like it would not take much to render authorities rather helpless.

Go Fund Yourself

Those in the convoy have been attempting to raise money. There are people who want to give them money. Authorities do not want the money getting to the convoy.

They first tried to use GoFundMe. They came for GoFundMe, and GoFundMe was happy to get got. They seized the funds intending to direct them to charity, then were ‘convinced’ to refund the money instead.

They next used GiveSendGo. Various attempts were made to stop this. There was at least one legal attempt, but GiveSendGo defied it on the grounds that Canada lacked jurisdiction. There were also hacking attempts, which caused the site to redirect to

At the bottom of that website was a small download link to a .csv file.

Hackers leak names of ‘Freedom Convoy’ donors after GiveSendGo breach

A leak site says it has received a cache of information, including about donors to the Ottawa truckers’ Freedom Convoy protest, after fundraising site GiveSendGo was targeted by hackers overnight.

A short time later, nonprofit leak site Distributed Denial of Secrets said it had received 30 megabytes of donor information from GiveSendGo, including self-reported names, email addresses, ZIP codes and IP addresses.

A leak site says it has received a cache of information, including about donors to the Ottawa truckers’ Freedom Convoy protest, after fundraising site GiveSendGo was targeted by hackers overnight.

On Monday, GiveSendGo’s website said it was “under maintenance,” hours after the site was hijacked and redirected to a page believed to be controlled by the hackers, which no longer loads. The redirected page condemned the truckers who descended on Canada’s capital to oppose mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, causing widespread disruption to traffic and trade for more than a week.

The page also contained a link to a file containing tens of thousands of records of what was described as “raw donation data” about those who donated to the Freedom Convoy.

A short time later, nonprofit leak site Distributed Denial of Secrets said it had received 30 megabytes of donor information from GiveSendGo, including self-reported names, email addresses, ZIP codes and IP addresses.

Distributed Denial of Secrets, a site known for hosting sets of leaked data involving far-right groups, said that the data would only be provided to researchers and journalists.

The Boston, Massachusetts-based GiveSendGo became the primary donation service for the “Freedom Convoy” last month after GoFundMe halted the crowdsourcing campaign and froze millions of dollars in donations, citing police reports of violence across Ottawa. Over the weekend, a Canadian court issued an order halting access to the funds collected by GiveSendGo, which the company said it would defy.

Earlier in the month, the protesters raised more than $8 million for the Freedom Convoy.

What DDoS (quite the acronym there) does with the information is beside the point. That information is very much in the wild, with a number of anecdotes of people checking for donations from anyone in their area.

This did not seem to be a matter of curiosity so much as a prelude to retaliation. The plan is to take anyone who provided a donation, and attempt to ruin them.

Did you know that such hacked information violates Twitter’s code of conduct?

A live look at the Twitter support team’s reaction.

Would a universally applied and fairly enforced rule to not allow posting of illegally hacked information be a good rule? My guess is it beats the alternative, but that is definitely not what we have in practice.

Then the CBC decided to join the fun.

Seriously. Stop. You don’t do that.

I mean, no, I kid. Obviously. Of course they are doing that, using an illegally hacked list of donations and going after those who contributed money in every way they can.

An Online Meeting

Thread is worth a read, so quoting in full and giving proper HT.

Reminds one of the quote from Mel Brooks: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

Yes, the whole thing is pretty funny, but it is a poor atom blaster that won’t point both ways. Is it going to be funny in reverse? Well, yeah. It’s going to be hilarious. Yet I expect many not to think so. And eventually it is going to get old.

I’d also note that the ‘none of us know how to use the Bitcoin’ is not going to be true for much longer, but also I saw discussions of how people propose bitcoin be used securely in this spot and none of it is remotely reasonable in practice if the people involved do not already have secure wallets they know how to use. One speculation said it would be fine if half the coins were lost, so long as no one stole a large number of them. I wonder if that should make us bullish on bitcoin, because if people are willing to lose large amounts of bitcoin permanently then that will continuously shrink supply and thus raise the value of the remaining coins.

Then again, bitcoin has been proven very traceable and seems like… not a great choice? I’d presume that such efforts would in the long run be much more interested in Monero or ZCash or MobileCoin or something, yet I see no movement of privacy coins during these events in terms of BTC. In the short run, if you have barely heard of bitcoin, seems unlikely you’ll know to or how to turn to ZCash.

Official Response

Any operations initially planned for Ottawa got redirected to Windsor to first reopen the Ambassador Bridge, because there was no choice in the matter.

Blocking economically viable bridges is not something a government can accept while continuing to claim to be the government. It is also not a way to win hearts and minds, as it does lots of real rather than symbolic damage. It directly restricts freedom of movement, the exact thing that is supposed to be the goal of the protest.

There was no world where Canada could or should tolerate a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge.

Closing it imposed an immediate, harsh cost that closing Coutts, Emerson and, to be blunt, most of downtown Ottawa, did not. It also triggered a strong reaction from U.S. officials, reportedly including President Biden himself. Our problem has become America’s problem, and America can’t tolerate a neighbour that can’t keep its problems on their side of the border. My sources in Ottawa report that the Americans are willing to help us as best they can, but they’re also being explicitly clear — fix your goddamn mess, friendly northern neighbours. Now.

On February 11, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, called protest in Ottawa an “illegal occupation.”

Threats of going after drivers’ licences and seizing vehicles are also intended to convince those who may be wondering if they’ve made a terrible mistake that it’s time to pack up and head home while they still can.

Which all seems to me like reasonable and proportional. If you use your vehicle in such a fashion, it seems tough but fair to threaten to seize the vehicle. If you drive in ways that cause major disruptions, taking away your license also seems tough but fair. Similar things happen for a lot less. And all orders of magnitude smaller than the damage being done.

Then the bridge was cleared, here is some video that is being called ‘unbelievable’ but also looks like officials clearing people away from a bridge and arresting them so I don’t see the issue believing it, and it looks like a very small number of vehicles were still there in the end.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, said earlier in the day that more than two dozen people had been peacefully arrested, seven vehicles towed and five seized as officers cleared the last demonstrators from near the bridge, which links the city — and numerous Canadian automotive plants — with Detroit.

I mean, that’s it? That’s the ‘end of democracy’ some people are talking about, two dozen arrests by armed personnel along with twelve vehicles, which were sufficient to block a bridge and cause billions in damage?

The Coutts border crossing blockade has been cut off and no one is allowed in. Those inside simultaneously are reported to be calling a raid the previous night by police that seized two vehicles ‘massive overkill’ and also would consider success the fall of the government.

Then the Emergencies Act was invoked, like father like son, federalizing the whole problem and eliminating much potential buck passing and allowing the full force of the government to be brought to bear on the task rather than leaving each jurisdiction on its own. That much seems sensible, but what else is involved here?

The third issue before us is the one we alluded to above: now that the act has been invoked, what are the feds going to do with it? With one big exception, which we’ll get to in a moment, we aren’t really sure. The federal government has said what powers it has granted itself, at least in a general sense. (At press time, we were still short many details.) But in general, the emergency orders will allow police to more aggressively protect critical sites, will permit targeting of licenses and insurance policies, will allow the government to compel the use of equipment and personnel (tow trucks and drivers, anyone?) and will make it easier for police to make arrests or issue fines.

To that you say: “Okaaaaaay … but, like, couldn’t they do that before?”

Your Line editors remain somewhat baffled by the inability or unwillingness of the police to do their jobs. In Ottawa’s specific case, Line editor Matt Gurney offered some possible explanations in a dispatch last week, but his sources only spoke to the challenge once the protesters were dug in. We can’t explain why they were able to dig in in the first place.

I definitely am confused why all of that required the invoking of something called the emergencies act. It seems like all of this should be standard operating procedure modulo compelling the use of private resources and especially personnel. For those, I keep being confused why they can’t be sourced elsewhere.

It seems like the answer is that this is about money. In particular, it is about not only demanding that crowdfunding sites report on their own customers the way banks do and treat the protests as ‘terrorists’ it is about cutting off anyone involved from the entire financial system (link is to video of announcement of details). Note that this includes cryptocurrencies in the reporting requirements.

What. The. Hell?

We don’t do that. Right?

I mean I guess the we in question does do that now.

Tyler Cowen’s link merely called this “A Blow to the Canadian Rule of Law.” It definitely is that.

It also seems like an unforced error – unless, that is, such folks want to destroy rule of law. The police should be able to solve this, but if they can’t, the military is available, and I would expect it to be a far less destabilizing option.

Presumably the reason this is going down this way is that, like many with power and authority these days, those trying to stop this can only think in symbolic terms.

They don’t know how to engage with the physical world. They don’t think about what it physically takes to remove the trucks, so they use the only tools they do know. Having botched the situation and failed to apply or understand necessary and proportionate legal response, they choose unnecessary and disproportionate response through emergency powers.

They go after people’s reputations and money. Except that is the opposite of what will lead to a peaceful resolution. Such moves are exactly what one would do in order to cause the people in question not to see compromise as an option, and for them to seek various forms of exit and open conflict. They are also atom blasters that can point both ways, and that will in time point both ways when the pendulum swings.

There is a claim this will be proportionate

Trudeau said the measures would be geographically targeted and time limited.

…but this doesn’t feel at all plausible given what was announced.

So these are the moves that happened, causing reactions like these:

That was if anything one of the less hyperbolic reactions I saw. A lot of people who are not in the habit of aggressively freaking out about such things are aggressively freaking out about it. Others are saying versions of ‘welcome to the party, everyone who didn’t realize until now it would get this bad.’

The whole idea in such situations should be to avoid this dynamic.

If, in Trudeau’s words, this is ‘not a peaceful protest’ and therefore can be treated like a terrorist act, then there’s very much a ‘well, we’re late’ dynamic to that.

Of course, the actual reaction makes clear this is not true.

Police are not going in to clear the protest because they fear it would turn violent.

If it was already violent, then there would not be much worry about turning violent, and also there would be no holding back hoping it worked itself out.

When there is a potentially violent situation, that’s when one holds back. Once they start shooting, assuming you have the firepower, you stop holding back. Similarly, if these people were actual terrorists in the sense that anti-terrorist laws intended, presumably they would be facing bigger problems and threats.

Thus there are still differences, at least for now, between potentially and actually, even if those involved intend to use language to obscure the difference. The penalty for being late is not death. It does seem to perhaps involve losing all one’s bank accounts. It does involve being banned from social media. It likely involves a large degree of making people unemployable. It often involves punishing those seen associating or defending you, or consuming your previously created content, and seems to include attacking those who provide you financial assistance.

What you won’t be is dead or spending a long time in prison.

You can decide to what extent this constitutes an ‘unpersoning,’ and in turn how close such an action is to death or imprisonment.

What does seem to be happening is that a lot of people are being radicalized by this, feeling that the ‘price of peace’ has been raised and is likely to be raised again. That this deal keeps getting worse all the time. They will act accordingly.

Where does that leave things?

Sounds like we’ll be cracking down even harder on future protests that power does not like. But it’s not like that is new. By this rationale they could have done a lot of things.

Oh. Right.

Meanwhile, future such incidents will be harder to diffuse, and be designed and planned to give those involved options in exactly the ways and situations that lead to people dying. And more people will be more inclined to make their lives more robust to government or corporate intervention, including the adoption of things like cryptocurrency.

The government of Canada is treating the convoy not like protestors but instead like rebel scum and enemies of the people, and is being interpreted as such, but it refuses to come out and say it. I find it interesting that those who want to treat the convoy’s actions as illegitimate use the term ‘occupation’ rather than ‘rebellion,’ since it draws an obvious parallel to Occupy Wall Street and many other similar attempts at disruption that I would hope everyone involved agrees do not merit this type of reaction and that a role-reversed version of this would go so much worse for everyone.

I also don’t see much of an alternative, in the case that people cause major disruptions for indefinite periods of time, especially while being small in number and lacking popular support. One cannot give in to such demands even if one wanted to, as those opposed could do the same thing and you get caught in the middle. So if a small minority has the power to shut down your country, you need to find a way to stop that.

If one wants to meaningfully protest, what to do? The New Zealand experience was that they tried to do a convoy purely on the issue of vaccine mandates and it was promptly hijacked by extremists. Even their original plan was to blockade the capital until vaccine mandates were lifted, and again this does not work at all since the pro-mandate side can do the same thing and also we can’t have policy determined by who can rally larger groups of people. Also the authorities tried at one point to disperse the crowd by playing Baby Shark and other music and it turned into a sing-along, which seems awesome on all counts and much more ‘what sane authorities would try doing’ but didn’t help solve anything going forward.

Finally, in addition to withdrawing vaccine mandates in Ontario and Quebec, Canada lowered some of its useless border measures. Probably nothing.