Convoy of truckers: obscene slogans sold on Amazon, Facebook
The ongoing truck convoy protest has paralyzed downtown Ottawa. Amid placards and DIY banners decrying Canada’s response to COVID-19, protesters also waved factory-made flags that bear obscene political slogans.
These flags and other offensive products are available online from sellers on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace and more.
“Corporate greed has no moral compass, so of course corporations will take advantage of an opportunity like this,” Barbara Perry told CTV News. Perry directs the Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.
“We saw this in the United States in response to Trumpism where all kinds of props were produced not just to protest but for profit,” Perry said.
Several flags are almost identical: the words “F*** TRUDEAU” in white capitals on a black background, the offensive “U” replaced by a red maple leaf. Some designs feature a raised middle finger. One features a fused maple leaf with an assault rifle. Similar images and messages are available on everything from coffee mugs to sweatshirts, and even face masks. Fox News hot brand Tucker Carlson also jumped on the protest merchandise bandwagon by offering a simple “I HEART TRUCKERS” shirt on his website for over CA$40.
On Amazon, some “F*** TRUDEAU” products have achieved “Bestseller” banners and accumulated hundreds of positive reviews. They’re also easy to find on eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, and other e-commerce sites. Although there are online sellers in Canada and the United States, the vast majority of items appear to be made and shipped by companies in China.
“In a democracy, we tolerate political expression from a variety of viewpoints, but I wonder if consumers have thought about how their purchase of these products supports a country where citizens have no the same rights to political expression,” Shelley Boulianne told CTVNews.ca. .
Boulianne is an associate professor at MacEwan University in Alberta and co-authored a 2020 study on political consumerism, which is “the deliberate purchase or avoidance of products, goods, or services for political reasons.” Boulianne considers Trudeau merchandise to be part of a “long history of consuming products…to express political views.”
“I think Canadians who consume these flags and related products should consider how purchasing these products conflicts with their own core democratic values related to freedom of expression,” Boulianne said.
At the Ottawa protests, others waved seemingly ready-made flags bearing Confederate, Nazi and far-right symbols. Some protesters claimed they were trying to draw comparisons between current public health measures and Nazi Germany.
“Either you got this thing because you’re already a Nazi, or you paid someone who’s a Nazi to buy it,” Canadian Anti-Hate Network executive director Evan Balgord told CTVNews.ca. . “There are symbols that so obviously mean one thing: that you are for the subjugation and destruction of another group of people.”
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network wants to ban these symbols in public spaces. Although the Canadian Criminal Code prohibits speech that incites or promotes hatred against identifiable groups, no federal law specifically prohibits Nazi and similar symbols.
“Just having a Confederate flag is not illegal,” James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Center for Free Speech, told CTVNews.ca. “It’s offensive, it shouldn’t be done, we have every right to express our outrage at someone who does it, but it’s not a violation of the law.”
Like Boulianne, Turk points out that offensive political products have a long history in democratic societies.
“Amazon is certainly making it easier than ever to manufacture, distribute and sell these products,” he said. “But the phenomenon is not new.”
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, an Amazon spokesperson said the company supports COVID-19 vaccination efforts and is complying with local health and safety measures.
“The products you refer to are sold in Amazon’s online store by third-party sellers,” they explained. “Amazon does not allow products that promote, incite, or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual, or religious intolerance or promote organizations holding such views.”
According to a spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, “expressing opposition to government leaders or mandates is not against Meta’s policies.”
“What we don’t allow is the sale of violent or hateful products on our platforms, or the sharing of content that makes harmful claims about vaccines,” Meta added. “We will continue to monitor our platform and enforce against any content that violates our policies.”
Etsy and eBay did not respond to requests for comment.
Turk of Ryerson University says in times of ‘extreme polarization’ it’s more important than ever to protect Canadians’ rights to free speech, even perhaps if that right is crudely exercised with the flag “F*** TRUDEAU”.
“We can’t solve these problems by trying to silence the opposition,” Turk said of the ongoing protests rocking Ottawa. “It’s much better to criticize, protest, object and so on. But bad ideas and bad behavior don’t go away because you censor them.