Monday, July 15, 2024
Photo by Ian Cumming. Originally posted to the Ontario Farmer Facebook page, the accompanying text read: “Trucks parked on Wellington Street in Ottawa on January 29, 2022.”
Guest ContributionsOpinion/Column

How big was the Truckers’ Freedom Convoy?

Agricultural journalist says it was wildly larger than reported

by Donna Laframboise

“I come from a long line of farmers,” says Ian Cumming, who covered the Freedom Convoy for the Ontario Farmer newspaper. Which means, he says, he grew up with truckers. On the dairy farm on which he was raised, “The milk truck came every second day. The beef truck for cull cows, bull calves, and so on came once a week. The feed truck came once a month. The fuel truck came once a month.”

You “treated them a hundred percent,” he continues. “You never pissed any of those people off because they were crucial to you making a living.” Ian files roughly 300 stories a year, but rarely finds himself in the same room with what he calls “urban media.” Which “suits me fine,” he says, “because I hate politicians and I hate press releases and I hate all that stuff.”

Having covered landowner protests and dairy farmer protests previously, he knew the drill. Journalists are supposed to talk to people. “I basically went around and said, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here?'” to Freedom Convoy participants. Some of his reporting “kind of got circulated a bit,” he says, which attracted “the online hate crowd.”

A tall, physically imposing man who’s been targeted by animal rights activists in the past, Ian says he isn’t easily intimidated. But the vitriolic blowback – including death threats to the company that prints the Ontario Farmer – was a shock to other staff members.

Late in 2022, he penned a retrospective magazine article titled “Story of the Year.” Within those pages he insists the size of the Freedom Convoy protest has been wildly misrepresented. Based on drone footage he’s seen, he believes “well over 110,000 people” were near Parliament Hill at noon the first Saturday of the protest. That’s a starkly different number from the 8,500 police estimate reported by mainstream journalists who, in his words, “watched the convoy from their couch.”

In addition to that 110k, he says he personally witnessed a 57-kilometer convoy still headed to Ottawa on Highway 417 around mid-day, comprised of trucks “from the Maritimes, Quebec and far eastern Ontario.”

At noon, much of the “huge convoy from the west” hadn’t yet arrived in town, he says, while “At the same time there was also a 70 km convoy coming east from Peterborough on [Highway] 401 into Ottawa – confirmed by a father and son, leading farmers, who were at the front and end of that convoy with their grain trucks…travelling at that distance side by side on these freeways. Not single file.

“…There was [another] convoy, about 20 miles long side by side, from South Carolina. Picking up transports on the way north, that crossed [the border] as best they could at Champlain, south of Montreal…the painfully slow truck by truck government inspection of the American contingent caused a large number to turn around in no man’s land between the borders and head back home.”

In other words, this was a protest for the ages. Absolutely massive. In Ian’s words, the “whole thing was just too vast and multi faceted” for the average journalist to wrap their heads around.

*****


Donna Laframboise writes a daily blog at  ThankYouTruckers.substack.comIt is a first draft of her upcoming book that focuses on interviews with Freedom Convoy truckers. She is a former National Post and Toronto Star columnist, and a former Vice President of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.