By Maggie Parkhill
TORONTO (CTV Network) — What started as a convoy to end vaccine mandates for Canadian truckers travelling across the U.S. border has snowballed into an evolving, fluid protest about COVID-19 and the Trudeau government in general.
Here, CTVNews.ca takes a look at who has stepped forward publicly as the organizers and influential protesters of the Ottawa convoy.
JAMES BAUDER: James Bauder is the founder of Canada Unity, one of the groups responsible for the initial organization of the convoy to Ottawa.
Ahead of the convoy’s arrival in the capital, Canada Unity directed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) to the Senate and the Governor General, demanding an end to vaccine mandates and the reinstatement of those who lost jobs over COVID-19 vaccinations, or else “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority Immediately” (sic).
Bauder said in a video posted to social media in January that he hoped the MOU would provide a “referendum” to persuade Elections Canada to trigger an election, which is not within the agency’s constitutional powers.
In the same video, Bauder said the hoped-for election would be legitimate because Canada does not use the Dominion voting machines at the centre of rigged-election conspiracy theories about the 2020 U.S. presidential vote. Dominion Voting is suing Fox News for defamation after the news outlet’s TV personalities suggested widespread vote-switching contributed to Donald Trump’s election loss.
As of Feb. 8, Canada Unity had pulled the MOU from their website, writing in a statement signed by Bauder that it had led to “unintended interpretations,” and a message on the homepage also tells visitors the website has moved. Neither explanation nor a link to a new website were provided.
In December 2020, Bauder posted on Facebook about his skepticism over the origins of COVID-19, perpetuating the disproven belief that the virus was intentionally created in and leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, as a bioweapon and wrongly implied that billionaire George Soros may have been involved. Soros is often the subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread online.
TAMARA LICH: Tamara Lich is listed alongside BJ Dichter as one of the “official” spokespeople for the convoy in Ottawa and is one of the organizers of the fundraising page that raised more than $10 million for the convoy before it was removed by GoFundMe. Since then, Lich has said the protesters can receive funds through other means, including the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo where the group had raised more than US$8.1 million by Feb. 10.
Lich, who claims Metis heritage, was initially a member of the Wildrose Party before moving to Manitoba and joining the Maverick Party, which says its goal is to represent the interests of Western Canada. On Feb. 2, a statement was posted on the Maverick Party accepting the resignation of Lich, “as she is committed to remaining in Ottawa until all restrictions are lifted.”
BJ DICHTER: Benjamin Dichter, also known as BJ Dichter, is a truck driver and podcaster who describes himself as vice-president of the Ottawa convoy.
Dichter has previously run for office, losing in the 2015 election as a Conservative MP candidate in the riding of Toronto-Danforth. At a People’s Party of Canada event in 2019, Dichter made a speech in which he suggested Canada is suffering from the “stench” of “political Islam” and stated without providing evidence that some then-candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada had ties to “Islamic extremism.”
A Feb. 9 statement posted to Dichter’s Twitter said he is now one of four authorized spokespeople for the convoy. Before a press conference scheduled for the same day, Dichter tweeted that The Globe and Mail had been uninvited after publishing an opinion piece criticizing the alt-right’s use of the word “freedom.”
When Confederate flags were seen in the convoy in Ottawa, Dichter said in a Twitter Space livestream with former Rebel Media presenters Keean Bexte and Lauren Southern that he didn’t care about their presence.
“Let’s assume there were guys there who did have a Confederate flag,” he said. “They believe in the confederacy of states rights in a foreign nation? I don’t care.”
At an informal press conference Feb. 7, Dichter has also said that the convoy has had some Conservative MPs reach out “behind the scenes.”
Before he was an “official” spokesperson for the convoys, Dichter went on far-right Fox personality Tucker Carlson’s show on Jan. 27, telling Carlson that driving through Alberta before the pandemic, he thought it looked like a “third-world country” because the trucking industry had been “crushed.”
Dichter also uses his Twitter account to share and spread memes related to the convoy, including one that reads “Justin Trudeau must be stopped … no matter the cost.”
CHRIS BARBER: Chris Barber is a truck driver from Saskatchewan and one of the organizers of the convoy to Ottawa. Barber is active on social media, including TikTok, providing updates on the protest in Ottawa.
In one such update posted to TikTok, Barber refers to snipers’ presence near the Parliament Hill protest, suggests that his “sources” tell him riot police are headed to Ottawa, and that the convoy may “go dark” after having their telecommunications blacked out.
“When our phones go dark, that means – I’m going to put my tin-foil hat on – they’ve deployed the ‘no cell phone service’ thing,” he said in the video.
Snipers are often present at large protests on or near Parliament Hill, and while it is possible for police to trace phones used in downtown Ottawa, it is not possible for the government to black out the cell phones and internet of just those participating in the protest.
Barber calls the COVID-19 vaccine mandates “tyranny at its finest” and compares the policy to the strict government oversight of North Korea, even though some Canadian students in Ontario and New Brunswick have long been required to be immunized against other diseases including tetanus, polio, measles and chickenpox under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (though this is not required in other provinces).
Barber also said in a subsequent TikTok that he has Confederate flags hanging on his wall at home, calling it a “piece of cloth” and telling viewers to “get over it.” The Confederate flag was used as a battle flag during the American civil war by those fighting on the side of the Confederates, who supported the continuation of slavery in the U.S.
BRIAN PECKFORD: Brian Peckford, the former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, is the chairman of the group “Taking Back our Freedoms,” which claims that COVID-19 restrictions and mandates they claim are “unlawful.” The group also says it encourages Canadians to reject “forced” COVID-19 vaccinations for children, a practice which is not currently happening in Canada.
Peckford, who claims that mandates are unconstitutional, is frequently cited by convoy supporters as “the last living” signatory of the Constitution Act, 1982. The royal proclamation that brought the act into effect was signed by others who are alive and well, like Queen Elizabeth II and then justice minister Jean Chretien, who later became prime minister. Peckford is the last surviving premier involved in the negotiations of the constitution.
Peckford is pursuing a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for international travel is unconstitutional.
In documents Peckford said he filed with the federal court, the applicants write that the mandate “effectively bans Canadians who have chosen not to receive an experimental medical treatment” from international travel. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized by Health Canada are not experimental and are backed up by large-scale clinical research and real-world data.
ROGER HODKINSON: A pathologist from Alberta and an adviser to the “Taking Back Our Freedoms” group, Dr. Roger Hodkinson writes on his Rumble page that he “came out against the mainstream narrative of COVID-19 in 2020.” On Nov. 13. 2020, Hodkinson called in to a meeting of Edmonton city councillors as a member of the public and referred to the pandemic as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public” and said COVID-19 is “just another bad flu.”
The misconception that COVID-19 is like the flu has been widely debunked, despite its prevalence in misinformation streams and online conspiracy and anti-vaxx communities.More than 35,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Canada, with more than 5.78 million deaths recorded globally. COVID-19 can also develop long-haul symptoms, which some call “devastating.”
During the call to councillors, Hodkinson claimed he was the former chairman of the Royal College of Physicians Canada Examination Committee in Pathology, which was included in some of the social media posts that circulated afterwards. On Nov. 20, 2020, the Royal College clarified that, although Hodkinson was certified as a pathologist in 1976, he was never a chairman of the organization.
Hodkinson spoke at the convoy in Ottawa on Feb. 4, calling the federal government “idiots” and saying that “COVID was a very fortunate thing to happen to society” because it exposed the restrictions government has been “imposing on us for decades.” He told the crowd there would be no negotiations or “dithering” with the federal government, to which the crowd erupted in cheers.
RANDY HILLIER: Hillier is an independent MPP in Ontario who was removed from the province’s Progressive Conservative Party in 2019. In a statement posted to social media Feb. 9, Hiller called himself a “supporter” of the convoy. Hillier’s statement, released on his official MPP letterhead, referred to the protest as “peaceful,” despite Ottawa Police Services reporting at the time that officers had made 22 arrests, issued more than 1,300 tickets and had 79 ongoing criminal investigations, including alleged arson and hate crime investigations.
On Feb. 5, Hiller spoke to a large crowd at the convoy, comparing the struggle of the protesters to the struggle of soldiers on Vimy Ridge and saying, “This is the hill we die on.”
He has also appeared on Russia Today (RT), a Russian state television outlet, to speak about the convoy, tweeting that Russian media “provides a platform for objective journalism, where Canadian (mainstream media) creates fabrications.” According to the Columbia School of Journalism, the Kremlin-funded RT has been accused of spreading misinformation and is considered “an extension of former President Vladimir Putin’s confrontational foreign policy” featuring “fringe-dwelling ‘experts.'”
Hillier has used social media to attack politicians and “mainstream media,” including a tweet posted Jan. 24 calling Transport Minister Omar Alghabra a “terrorist.” Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino called the tweet “flagrantly abusive, offensive and Islamophobic” and called on Twitter to remove it. The tweet has not yet been removed or deleted.
In the 2022 Ontario provincial election, Hiller plans on running as the head of a new fringe party, the Ontario First Party.
PAUL ALEXANDER: Dr. Paul Alexander is a board adviser for the “Taking Back Our Freedoms” group, and is a former science adviser to then-U.S. President Donald Trump who urged the administration to adopt a “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 policies. In a July 4, 2020 email to the House Oversight Committee and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alexander wrote about allowing low risk populations to become exposed to the virus naturally.
“There is no other way, we need to establish herd (immunity), and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups (to) expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” he wrote.
Health experts warn that flouting safety measures in order to catch COVID-19 in an attempt to “get it over with” is not a safe way to build up antibodies against the virus, instead recommending following regional health guidelines and getting vaccinated.
Alexander also released a pre-printed, embargoed report on the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. The final version of the report did not conclusively support the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, nor did the version that Alexander leaked.
Preprinted reports are often provided in order for researchers to ask colleagues and peers for comments, otherwise known as an informal peer-review process. As the British Medical Journal explains, these works are under embargo “to ensure that health information reaches the public domain in a responsible manner.”
At an anti-lockdown rally in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 4, Alexander told parents to “stand up now” and refuse to vaccinate their children until pharmaceutical companies and the government waive their liability protection. Canada, however, currently has a Vaccine Injury Support Program (VISP) which provides financial support to those who have experienced a serious and permanent injury as a result of receiving a Health Canada authorized vaccine, administered in Canada on or after Dec. 8, 2020. Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages five to 11.
On Feb. 5, Alexander tweeted photos of a large crowd at the convoy in Ottawa, writing: “What the media won’t show you!” Media outlets covering the event have reported widely on the number of people attending the convoy in Ottawa and in other cities across Canada.
CONVOY OPERATIONS TOM QUIGGIN: Tom Quiggin describes himself as “protective intelligence” for the Ottawa convoy, releasing “intelligence reports” on Google Docs for protesters. Quiggin once worked as a security intelligence expert for the Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies.
He has been previously interviewed and used by CTV News as an expert source, including in 2009 for a CTV News story about 20 Greenpeace protesters arrested on Parliament Hill, in which he said security there “has been a problem for years.”
“There’s no one in charge of security on Parliament Hill and there’s no one responsible for security … directly,” he told CTV News’ Power Play. “There’s the RCMP, the House of Commons police, the Senate police and on the perimeter, there’s the Ottawa police.”
Quiggin was also interviewed on Power Play in 2010 as a security expert on the fire bombing of a bank in Ottawa, suggesting that the fire in the bank was arson.
“If, however, their intent is to create a larger atmosphere of fear and intimidation, if it attempts to change what the policy makers think at the G20 or the G8 conference … then that rises to the level of terrorism,” Quiggin told Power Play.
An incident at an apartment building in the “red zone” of the convoy demonstrations in Ottawa is currently being investigated as arson.
CTV News has not used Quiggin as an expert source since 2010, but published a Canadian Press story in 2016 on a report authored by him about what he claimed were “extremist teachings” at mosques and schools. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said the report was “yet another anecdotal attempt to vilify” members of the religious community.
In recent years, Quiggin has become a proponent of anti-globalist conspiracy theories, including one that “The Great Reset” outlined by the World Economic Forum to help the global economy recover from COVID-19 is secretly a plan to bring about economic collapse and establish a socialist world order.
Quiggin is the co-author of a book called “The New Order of Fear,” which is described on Amazon as “a fictional work that explores how globalists wish to remake our world into a Marxian-inspired totalitarian system.” Quiggin advertised the book in a pinned tweet: “Justin Trudeau is found dead in his bed, strangled with a pair of Halal socks, given to him by Cabinet Minister Omar Alghabra.”
DANIEL BULFORD: Cpl. Daniel Bulford is an adviser for the “Taking Back Our Freedom” group and is a former RCMP officer associated with the “Mounties for Freedom” group which, according to its website, supports“the millions of Canadians who believe that all forced COVID mandates and vaccine passports are crimes against humanity.”
Mounties for Freedom has called upon the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and also asked Attorney General David Lametti to open an investigation into the government’s COVID-19 response.
Bulford said he quit his job at the RCMP on Dec. 15, 2021, after refusing the organization’s vaccine mandate to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
PAT KING: Pat King is a far-right protester who has said in videos posted to social media that there may be future plans to target politicians’ homes and that “the only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets.” He has called for the arrest of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly.
King has gained attention online for a video posted to Twitter in which he decries the “depopulation” of white people, as well as another video posted in 2019 in which he makes racist remarks about Jewish, Muslim, and Chinese people.
While meeting with protesters, Conservative MP Jeremy Patzer approached King and appeared in one of his videos posted to social media.
King is beginning to emerge as a key player in the operations of the convoy. King is often seen in the downtown Ottawa protest “red zone” and in what he calls a “command centre,” but it is unclear where he stands in the hierarchy of the convoy’s organizers.
BRIAN DENISON: Brian Denison is a former Calgary police officer who resigned on Dec. 18, 2021, after declining to get a mandated COVID-19 vaccine. In his biography on the “Taking Back Our Freedom” website, where he’s listed as an adviser, Denison said he “was suspended and charged with discreditable conduct and insubordination” by the Calgary Police Service.
In a Feb. 8 YouTube video directed to police officers across Canada, Denison said “there is an evil in this world” and that police chiefs and government are “providing unlawful orders” to officers at the protests. He says these officers are “just like him” and are “obliged to stand down.”
He also suggests that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly are “criminal” for their actions against the protesters.
Police have often been present and made arrests at previous protests in Ottawa — both large and small — including protests in 2020 over the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline through Wet’suwetʼen First Nation territory in British Columbia, land that is unceded.
With files from Christy Somos, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
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