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Taming the Truckers

The current trucker-inspired protests that have spread from Canada to other countries share three features that make them particularly difficult to manage. But governments and law-enforcement agencies can still apply some well-established conflict-management lessons.

OXFORD – Truculent truckers have driven several governments to distraction in recent weeks. In Canada, they blocked bridges to the United States and laid siege to the capital, Ottawa. In New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, truckers and other demonstrators inspired by the Canadian protesters blocked the square in front of the country’s parliament, as well as several city streets. This new wave of “freedom convoy” protests – fueled initially by opposition to coronavirus restrictions – has since spread to France, Australia, and the US.

Governments and law-enforcement agencies have responded with a range of tactics, but ending the protests is proving difficult. In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at first described the truckers as a fringe minority. But one survey reported that one-third of Canadians supported the protesters, even as they were creating havoc for Ottawa residents, and for factories on both sides of the US-Canada border.

The Ottawa police tried a “surge and contain” strategy, arresting a few people, issuing tickets and traffic notices, and seizing fuel being brought to the truckers. This approach, the city’s police chief said, significantly reduced the number of trucks and protesters. But it has not been successful enough. On February 6, the mayor of Ottawa declared a state of emergency, and police subsequently used a court injunction to start clearing the Ambassador Bridge between Ontario and the US. But the protests have continued, and on February 15 the police chief resigned.

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