Photo by Kadri Mohamed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Toppling Babel

How truckers took on Trudeau

Artillery Row

28 January 2022, the day the Freedom Convoy entered Ottawa, I happened to be unable to sleep. Sitting up in bed in London, I opened Twitter to unexpectedly encounter what looked like the Canadian Revolution. Fireworks were pumping into the sky, honking and delight crammed the air. What a thing to witness! Your own liberation — here and then I felt this was what it all but guaranteed: imminent liberation from the Covid regimes, wherever you happened to be — delivered by selfless, heroic working men and women in Eastern Front temperatures.

And what a contretemps, in modern history’s relentless parade of fraudulent shit. It was only explicable, I thought, if you hypothesised God had interceded. I for one had had no idea He had this kind of thing in His locker.

Coming on to a year later, I anticipated with pleasure the anniversary. It not only passed without discernible celebration, however, but triggered a series of depressing aftershocks, together threatening to tease apart what should have been (what should still be) an inviolable legacy.


Most conspicuous (and predictable) was the Trudeau government’s attempt to bury its risible deployment of the Emergencies Act (and with it the Convoy itself), beneath its Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) report. Published a few weeks after the anniversary, the fetching PDF didn’t just exonerate Trudeau’s response, it framed it as democratic best practice.

Its conclusions carried worrying legal implications for the most high-profile representatives of the Convoy, particularly Designated Scapegoats Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, their trials scheduled for this September. Both were shown around the time at legal hearings, speaking in traumatised monotones, Lich wiping tears from her face.

Brigitte’s truck remained a means of refuge and mobility

There was also (if one bothered to look) growing acrimony amongst the half-disbanded, half-dismantled alliance of truckers themselves. Online, the air was thick with rumours of grifting and infiltration on the part of those perceived as representing the Convoy.

It may as well have all been curated to transmit the most depressing messages possible into the hearts and minds of anyone who had cared. The cumulative impression was of a long, painful retreat — a steady seepage from the first full-to-bursting night in Canada’s capital, when Trudeau had scarpered from his own seat of power.


In BJ Dichter’s engaging and definitive first-hand account of the Convoy, Honking for Freedom: the Trucker Convoy that Gave us Hope, there is a brief portrait of the movement’s conception, by a 52-year-old grandmother and trucker I’d never otherwise heard mentioned called Brigitte Belton.

Other than Dichter’s scrupulous few-hundred-word accreditation, Brigitte’s story appeared untold. (When I checked her Twitter account, she had just over 400 followers.) An online friend — another excellent Convoy chronicler and trucker, Gord Magill — introduced me to Dichter who introduced me to Brigitte. A couple of weeks later, I got to spend a few hours FaceTiming her in the cab of her parked truck.

Brigitte has the fluctuating expression of someone who has been through a lot — an alternating wash of defiance and vulnerability. It was still winter and snowing outside her window; Brigitte was wearing a well-insulated, red (Maple Leaf-flag red) anorak. “Canada was calling me, was texting me,” she said, sparking a long cigarette. “It still is.”


From Covid’s outset, along with the overwhelming majority of their profession, Brigitte and her husband Kevin kept on trucking. One of the earliest inconsistencies she remembers, between the world on the TV and the one seen from the privileged epistemological berth of her cab, pertained to Florida. Early 2020, it was reported that the state was completely blockaded — which Brigitte, entering and exiting the state without impediment, would learn first-hand was a fabrication. Her guard started to go up. “That was probably February or March of 2020. I said, something’s not right, the information’s not right. And then they started with the masking.”

Brigitte couldn’t bear the masks — just couldn’t bear them. “I have asthma and I’m a victim of violence and I just couldn’t put one on. I had issues. When the masking came, I was just like ‘I can’t do it’. There was supposed to be an exemption for people like myself. But the doctors weren’t writing them, they were refusing.” Kevin went out and bought every possible type for his wife to try. The only ones Brigitte could put on without a feeling of panic and suffocation were those preposterous plastic visors that hung down from the top of your head.

Her truck however remained a means of refuge and mobility, a module allowing her to move freely through the transfigured world. If everything about Covidian Canada made her miserable, at least her profession exempted her from some of its more intense constraints. An exception came whenever it was time to traverse the Canadian-American border.


Covid exacerbated the scope for officiousness of every petty bureaucrat in the world, not least the good people at CBSA (Canadian Border Security Force). In February 2021, Brigitte returned from a run to California. At that time there were all sorts of things you couldn’t get hold of in a Canadian store. “You couldn’t buy boots for work, you couldn’t buy bras, you couldn’t get anything not approved by the government.”

That run, she’d picked up an extra pair of jeans to keep in the truck for when hers got ripped or worn out. Dutifully she declared the purchase to the CBSA agent. The woman — a mean brunette with a ponytail (face otherwise obscured) — announced that Brigitte was not allowed to have procured these, since she was not meant to have descended from her truck’s cab at all during her trip.

“You were supposed to go to the US, come back and not leave your truck.”

“Are you on glue?” Brigitte sneered down. “I have to get out to pee, I have to get out to shower; I’ve got to get fuel for the truck, care for the truck. We’re talking about a ten-day trip, and I’m not supposed to leave the cab?”

Approaching the desk, she raised the dirty plastic rectangle of Perspex to her face

“You know exactly what you’re supposed to do! We’ve done this for a year now.” The woman told her she would clear the truck and cargo but detain Brigitte. A mask was tossed in through the open window. “Put this on.” “Get your garbage out of my truck,” said Brigitte, chucking it back out again like an unwanted love letter.

The furor attracted more guards. They started to rain down threats. “We’re going to confiscate your truck, your load, and throw you in jail.” They said she had to come out for a Covid test. “Call who you’ve gotta call,” Brigitte told them. “You can take my temperature but you’re not sticking your crap inside me.” The mask kept being tossed in and out again.

Negotiations went on for hours. Eventually, they agreed to let her wear the ridiculous visor instead of the ridiculous mask, whilst they pointlessly took her temperature. “That was the world we were living in. People were losing their jobs. I felt so alone. Everyone was supporting this stupidity. And there was nobody there other than my husband and my kids. Then the vaccine mandates started rolling out … ”


After months spent with her also unvaccinated husband living under mandated societal ostracization, facing fast-approaching unemployment through the looming trucker mandate, things climaxed for Brigitte in 16 November 2021 whilst she was reentering Canada via Windsor. Her visor was broken. Approaching the desk, she raised the dirty plastic rectangle of Perspex to her face. The border guard demanded she put on a “proper” one. She told him she couldn’t wear one — and it all began again. “You’re going to secondary,” he scowled. “Enjoy your time with the Windsor police.”

Looking for a parking spot, after hours of being threatened by the CBSA and Health Canada, Brigitte almost crashed the truck. She had had enough. “I thought, I can’t live in this world anymore. People throwing people on the ground in grocery stores, arresting them over a facemask. Quebec people having dinner with their families, and police yanking people out of their houses and arresting them. That wasn’t my Canada. I was so scared. And that night I said I don’t care what you do to me anymore. I’m done.”

Forces can sometimes unwittingly inspire their own nemeses. A few days later, the idea of a Convoy sprang up for the first time in Brigitte’s head.

“We need a convoy,” she exclaimed to Kevin, as Trudeau droned disingenuously on the TV.

“You can’t get two truck drivers to agree on the colour of a truck,” he told her, shaking his head. “Never mind a free cup of coffee.”


Brigitte started to pester some disgruntled-trucker TikTok accounts she had recently found, posting “#Convoy22” in their replies hundreds of times. One of these was Chris Barber’s, at that time a medium-sized disgruntled-trucker influencer with a few thousand followers. They exchanged DMs. At first he was sceptical, but by 2 January, she had won him over.

Her original conception was that, if truckers massed as near as they could to every possible entry point to the country and then just slow-rolled, they could create a nationwide issue by slowing freight down. It would cause a traffic nightmare, hitting corporations right in their pockets. “I figured if we did that completely across the country in unison, on both sides of the border, we would win. We kind of would be holding the country hostage without breaking a law.”

Literally thousands of trucks rolled into Canada’s capital

Between 2 and 12 January 2, the idea was itself slow-rolling. Then it started to pick up insane velocity. More and more truckers were signalling their interest. The convoy next segued with the intentions of a dissident political activist called James Bauder, who had wanted to lead a protest into Canada’s capital. Tamara Lich entered the picture on 13 January, bringing with her the idea of the crowd funder. From that point the Freedom Convoy assumed its parallel existence as a global media event.

On 28 January, Brigitte — in her capacity as a Convoy road captain — led her crew into the city. She left her guys to park up and went to see family, who were soon expecting her grandchild (born that week on 31 January). The next day she crossed the city to welcome trucks coming in from the west. Alongside Chris Barber, Brigitte stood in an Antrim truck stop, watching the endless cavalcade — literally thousands of trucks rolling into Canada’s capital.

Over the next few weeks, whilst remaining involved on the ground, Brigitte increasingly felt herself being frozen out of the designated high command, and she was eventually excluded from it altogether. Soon she felt she had been almost written out of its history. The fallout — as well as the oppressive and often violent measures that Trudeau used to ultimately crush the protest — has embittered her towards the astonishing arc of her idea.

“I wish I would’ve been a participant in some ways. Because everybody saw this love fest, and all I’m dealing with are issues, and people trying to take over. And trying to find my spot where I can effectively work. And trying to solve those issues and say, you’re not in charge of anyone, everyone is their own leader. You are not the Grand Pooba.”


If there were people attempting to wrest control of the Freedom Convoy for their own reasons, such machinations were irrelevant to the core event. On the contrary, the Convoy’s impact was definitively faceless, figurehead-less. This was a huge part of its power. Even individual truckers were obscured, subsumed within their vehicles, forging a perfect image of unconscious unison, a beneficent hive mind. It’s why Brigitte was the Freedom’s Convoy’s ideal mother (or grandmother) — a working woman likely lacking the political or narcissistic instincts needed to build a brand or maintain position.

Figureheads can be targeted. Crowd funders shut down. Bank accounts frozen (as Brigitte’s was along with so many others during those last days in Ottawa). What Trudeau’s government could do nothing about was the almost spontaneous collective intention of the thousands of truckers who entered the city on 28 January, in that moment changing the fate of Canada (and quite likely the world) for the better. Everything subsequent was just the passage of a perfect moment dissipating inevitably into imperfect reality.

“You gave the world a gift,” I told Brigitte, shortly before leaving her to complete her latest run. “And if you couldn’t enjoy it yourself — maybe that’s just how it works.”

You can’t get two truck drivers to agree on the colour of a truck, never mind a free cup of coffee.

At Babel, God thwarted humanity’s move for unanimity, shattering not just the tower but the will required to create it. In January 2022, this curse of separation was lifted, temporarily — if only amongst this obscure community of Canadian truckers. That was all it took. Man can build the Devil his big tower, but the smallest breath from God will reduce it to dust.

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