Protest convoy: From tractors to snowshoes, the blueprints for a successful siege of Parliament

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  • If you can think of a hot-button issue, chances are that a group has trekked to Parliament Hill to argue for or against it.
  • What we know about the Mueller investigation into interference in the U.S. presidential election.
  • A trip to a Dutch produce factory underscores Brexit concerns in mainland Europe.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Cross country protests

It can be a long, boring drive to Canada’s political heart.

Parliament Hill is more than 4,400 kilometres distant from Vancouver Island, and 2,700 km of blacktop and ferry rides away from the eastern edge of Newfoundland.

But perhaps the trip isn’t quite so tedious when it’s fuelled by anger.

Tuesday morning, the United We Roll convoy arrived in downtown Ottawa after a five-day journey that started in Red Deer, Alta., a 3,467 km haul.

Its 200 or so pickups, cars and big rigs were enough to snarl traffic around the Parliament buildings, and make a fair amount of noise on a cold winter morning.

But it’s fair to say that the convoy’s desired pro-pipeline message has been diluted by days of controversy over the anti-immigrant sentiments of some of its supporters.

The blueprint for a successful siege of Parliament was established in March 1970 by a small group of Vancouver pro-choice activists. The cross-country Abortion Caravan consisted of only three vehicles, but was met by a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters.

And 35 women managed to briefly shut down the House of Commons by chaining themselves to the public galleries and chanting slogans in favour of improved abortion access. A CBC radio report called it “unprecedented” pandemonium.

Members of Abortion Caravan demonstrate on Parliament Hill on May 9, 1970. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

These days, if you can think of a hot-button issue, chances are that a group has trekked to the Hill to argue for or against it.

The anti-abortion movement staged its own caravan, tracing the same route, in 2012.

That winter saw the Idle No More protests, capped off by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s six-week hunger strike on an island in the Ottawa River just behind Parliament Hill.

A year later, six young people from the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Que., walked and snowshoed the 1,600 kilometres to the West Block to try and keep the momentum going.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, holds a press conference on Jan. 11, 2013, at her camp on Victoria Island in view of Canada’s parliament in Ottawa. She was conducting a hunger strike for improved living standards on reserves. (Michel Compte/AFP/Getty Images)

Quebec Dairy farmers convoyed to Ottawa in 2015 and again in 2016, via tractors with cows in tow, to protest cheese makers using powdered protein instead of milk in their products.

Sometimes politicians are keen to associate themselves with the cause du jour, as in early 2017 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted out his support of the massive anti-Trump women’s marches on the Hill and elsewhere.

While on other occasions, it can be difficult to find confirmation that a scheduled rally even took place, like the so-called Million Canadian March, a pro-Trump, anti-Sharia law demonstration in June 2017 that actually drew fewer than 400 people.

Dairy farmers stand with their cows in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2015, during a protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Virtually anyone can obtain a permit to protest on the lawn in front of Parliament, as evidenced last July when a collection of far-right hate groups including Storm Alliance, the Soldiers of Odin and the Northern Guard, received the go-ahead for three hours of anti-immigrant speeches on the Hill.

The three-page application form is available online. Organizers have to agree to abide by the general rules for the use of Parliament Hill, which prohibit noise levels greater than 87 dBA, mandate that all signs and flags must be hand-held, and that participants clean up their litter. Although the ban on obscene and offensive placards seems to be routinely ignored.

And, historically at least, the most significant march to Ottawa is probably the one that never made it.

A Vancouver strike against poor pay and harsh conditions in government-run relief camps during the Great Depression morphed into the “On to Ottawa Trek” in the spring of 1935. Protestors commandeered freight trains to carry them eastward, terrifying local politicians and picking up recruits where ever they stopped.

Strikers from unemployment relief camps board a train from Kamloops, B.C., to Eastern Canada during the ‘March on Ottawa’ in June 1935. (Canadian Press)

It all culminated in a bloody clash with police in Saskatchewan on Dominion Day.

An attempt by the RCMP to arrest the protest leaders sparked the Regina riot, a day of pitched battles that saw police fire live bullets into the crowds of unemployed men, and left two dead and hundreds injured.

The Conservative government of R.B. Bennett won the battle, but lost the war, dropping 95 seats in the October federal election and ushering in 22 years of Liberal party rule.

Robert Mueller investigation

Washington reporter Keith Boag is taking in-depth look at the Mueller investigation into interference in the U.S. presidential election.

It’s time to sort out what we know about Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, a question that has consumed Washington and confused much of the public for nearly two years.

Last week President Donald Trump tweeted that the Senate Intelligence Committee had found no evidence of collusion between his election campaign and Russia. He seemed to rely on comments from the committee’s chair, Republican Senator Richard Burr, to support that.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, leaves Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington on June 21, 2017. His probe continues. (The Associated Press)

It wasn’t the first time the U.S. president has misrepresented who speaks for the committee and what was said.

For a start, Burr acknowledged that the committee’s work is not yet complete.

And the ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner, said he wouldn’t comment on the findings until it is – although he has disagreed with assertions that there is no evidence of collusion.

Tonight on The National we’ll look at the evidence that’s publicly known. To bring clarity to the story, we’ll strip away all but the essential elements. And to create a coherent narrative, we’ll place the elements in the order in which they happened, rather than in the order that we found out about them.

The full story is not known, the evidence is not conclusive, but there is more of it in plain sight than you might have thought.

– Keith Boag

  • WATCH: Keith Boag’s story on the Mueller investigation into interference in the U.S. presidential election, tonight onThe National on CBC Television and streamed online

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The bitter taste of Brexit

A trip to a Dutch produce factory underscores Brexit concerns in mainland Europe, writes reporter Thomas Daigle from The Netherlands.

Walking into the Wiskerke packing plant in the southwest of The Netherlands immediately fills the nostrils with the unique scent of fresh onions.

No one packs and ships more onions than Wiskerke, a fourth-generation business based in Kruiningen. Manager Chayenne Wiskerke told me her company packs 185,000 tonnes a year.

Yes, that’s enough to make your eyes water.

But it also underscores how The Netherlands’ economy relies heavily on agriculture and trade. And it stands to lose a lot due to neighbouring Britain’s indecision over Brexit.

Twenty per cent of Wiskerke’s production is loaded into trucks and sent straight to the U.K.

“How can you make a good curry without onions?” she said, referring to a perennially favourite dish in Britain.

Chayenne Wiskerke has grown the family business into The Netherlands’ largest onion operation, but she’s worried about the effect that Brexit could have on the company. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Supermarkets on the other side of the North Sea can order fresh Dutch onions one day and have them on store shelves the next. But Wiskerke fears added inspections and trade delays could result in produce shelves going empty in Britain.

“And this is just onions,” she said, adding that they don’t spoil quickly. “Think about blueberries or other types of purchases which are very, very fragile.”

Three hundred kilometres away in London, a parliamentary vote last Thursday inflicted another Brexit-related embarrassment on Prime Minister Theresa May, again exposing deep divisions among parliamentarians over how to proceed with the departure from the EU.

The closer the clock ticks toward the Brexit deadline of 11 p.m. GMT on March 29 — and the longer Britain goes without ratifying a divorce deal — the greater the odds the country will crash out of the agreement and trigger major economic disruption.

That would represent the greatest risks for European exporters like Wiskerke. The uncertainty is enough to make the eyes of entrepreneurs water, and it has nothing to do with onions.

“That’s the most difficult thing,” she said. “You don’t know how to prepare yourself.”

– Thomas Daigle

A few words on … 

The resignation of Justin Trudeau’s right-hand man.

Quote of the moment

“No memoirs. I have nothing to say, and what I could say, I cannot say.”

– Famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld on the prospect of writing about his colourful life and career. He died this morning in Paris at age 85.

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Opposition to press on with parliamentary probe after Gerald Butts’ resignation (CBC)
  • 16 states file lawsuit to stop Trump’s national emergency declaration (CNN)
  • Trucks prepare to evacuate last civilians from final Syrian IS enclave (Reuters)
  • Bernie Sanders announces 2020 White House bid (CBC)
  • At least five killed in Halifax house fire (CBC)
  • The Vatican’s secret rules for priests who have children (NY Times)
  • Grand Canyon tourists exposed to radiation for almost two decades (Fox News)
  • DC cancels comic where Jesus learns from superhero (Guardian)

Today in history

Feb. 19, 1985: Police cameras crack crime ring, murder scheme

Canadian police forces discover the power of the VCR, staging ever-more-elaborate videotaped stings. In Ottawa, the local cops wire a suburban bungalow to catch more than 70 thieves trying to fence everything from chainsaws to mobile homes. Meanwhile, the OPP uses murky audio and video to take down the head of the Canadian KKK for trying to arrange a hit on his roommate/lieutenant.

The Ontario Provincial Police arrest 70 in a stolen goods sting, and take down the Canadian head of the Ku Klux Klan. 9:00

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