During the last couple of months in 2018, images of vast numbers of French protesters taking to the streets in reflective safety vests spread rapidly on social media. Many Canadians have taken inspiration from this. and started their own movement at home. But while the “gilet jaunes” or yellow vests in France are generally against neoliberal austerity, the Canadian yellow vests movement has been seized by reactionary forces – Islamophobic, white-nationalist, and climate change deniers.
Several groups for the Canadian movement have been formed on Facebook, such as United Yellow Vests Canada with around three thousand members, Yellow Vest Rebellion with sixteen thousand, and Yellow Vests of Canada Rise Up with nearly two thousand. The largest group is Yellow Vests Canada, which was formed on December 5 and peaked to 114,584 members by the end of that month.
Most of the discussion in YVC has involved numerous death threats towards Justin Trudeau and venting about anyone who calls out the movement for its racism. There is also much talk about combating Islam and “globalism,” a far right buzzword that often refers to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination.
During December, yellow vests protesters staged demonstrations in several cities around Canada. These have been organized by far right xenophobic organizations such as the National Citizens Alliance, Northern Guard, WCAI (World Coalition Against Islam), III%ers (Three Percenters), Soldiers of Odin, and their splinter groups the Wolves of Odin and Odins Heathens.
YVC has organized pro-pipeline rallies in Alberta and Saskatchewan, aided by convoys of trucks in Medicine Hat, Estevan, and Lloydminster. They plan on sending a convoy to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 20 to demand the federal government to build the Trans Mountain pipeline. They blame Prime Minister Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachael Notley for preventing the construction of oil and gas projects, misunderstanding that Trudeau and Notley approved the Trans Mountain project and it was the Federal Court of Appeal that overturned it.
Many times in history capitalist governments have had to appease revolutionary mass movements by granting concessions of civil liberties and rights for workers. The yellow vests in Canada is neither a mass movement nor a revolutionary one, and poses no threat to the capitalist class.
Decades of cold-war propaganda and McCarthyism has trained working class people in North America to fear socialism while distorting its definition, to the point where many have no idea what Communism or socialism is. Many people in YVC recoil at any progressive idea or calls for economic justice, in the fear that it may lead to “communism,” which they think means totalitarian state control. Words such as “communist”, “leftist”, and “liberal” are used interchangeably even though many self proclaimed liberals are anti-communist and have moderate right-wing beliefs.
Opportunist right-wing forces in Canada are using the yellow vest symbol to promote a wide range of reactionary demands.
While claiming to be against the government and current prime minister, many in YVC are strong supporters of the Canadian state and its institutions. Their proposed solutions to get rid of Trudeau include having the Queen of England (Canada’s formal Head of State) remove him from office, petitioning the RCMP to arrest him for treason, or to even voting for conservatives such as Andrew Sheer or Max Bernier.
Anti-racist activists have confronted yellow vest protesters at rallies. A YouTube video uploaded on December 19 titled “Yellow Vests and Antifa Clash Outside Trudeau’s Fundraiser in Kingston” shows about a half dozen yellow vests being pushed back by over two dozen counter demonstrators.
“We’re the yellow vest movement” says a man at the beginning of the video, “we’re against carbon taxes, we’re against open boarders, we’re against the United Nations.”
Other nearby voices add “and we’re against commies” as well as “we’re against the Communist Party.”
The counter-demonstrators held signs that read “migrant rights are human rights”, “racists not welcome” and a banner with “UNI’STO’TEN TO PALESTINE COLONIZATION IS A CRIME”.
Anti-Racist Canada posted on its blog a public profile of neo-Nazis Dara Graham and Thomas Trenerry and their involvement with the yellow vests. A video on YouTube shows these two at a rally in Lethbridge wearing reflective vests and “WHITE LIVES MATTER” t-shirts underneath. Graham can clearly be heard saying she is a “pan-Aryan” and “white nationalist” while behind her Trenerry wears a red “TRUMP 2020” hat.
The page Yellow Vests Canada Exposed on Facebook has revealed other white supremacists in the movement such as Paul Fromm, who ran as a mayoral candidate in Hamilton last fall, and Derek Daigle who claims to be the BC president of Northern Guard.
The gilet jaunes riots continued in France on December 30, obscuring the Eiffel Tower in black smoke. But the yellow vests in Canada are dwindling as many are turned off by the racism and bigotry, and as anti-fascists successfully prevent them from organizing.
But the fact that the yellow vests became a right-wing movement in the first place is evidence that Canada is lacking a powerful left. A revolutionary vanguard to educate and lead the working class is needed, and organizations such as the Communist Party and YCL face the important task of building a socialist movement.