A stray comment from Guelph’s Member of Provincial Parliament may be courting some controversy after the Green Federal nomination meeting last weekend. In a speech to local Green Party members, Mike Schreiner did mention the Yellow Yest movement by name, but he did not endorse it, or say he agreed with their politics.
This is the full context of Schreiner’s comments Friday night:
“We’re still the only party at the federal level, and at the provincial level, that is calling for a universal basic income for everybody in this country because we have to ensure that as we make that transition to the clean economy it will have challenges – it will have challenges – and we’ve heard the people who will be challenged by that. Some of them wear Yellow Vests. We’ve heard their call, and we have to ensure that they’re taken care of as well. They need a job, and we also need to make sure that there’s a floor that nobody will go below. And we have the fiscal capacity in this country to make it happen if we have the political will to make it happen.”
The origin of the Yellow Vest, or Yellow Jacket, movement is complicated, and it’s come to emblemize a large number of beliefs and grievances from across the political spectrum. But why are the Yellow Vests so controversial?
Mouvement des gilets jaunes
It started in France in November 2018. Mass demonstrations began to protest the economic policies of President Emmanuel Macron, and to demand that the French government pass measures to undo economic inequality. Among the items on their policy wish list was an increase in the minimum wage, the reintroduction of a direct tax on the wealthy, and the implementation of various citizen reforms like referendums.
The Gilets jaunes were also motivated by rising fuel costs prompted, in part, by the implementation of a carbon tax. This has been been misconstrued and simplified to mean that the Gilets jaunes were a protest of the carbon tax specifically, but as The Atlantic pointed out last December, it’s more complicated then that.
France had already been increasing the tax on gas and diesel by several cents throughout 2018 before the carbon tax portion went into effect. On top of that, the tax affects the cost of diesel nearly twice as much per litre than the price of gasoline, which comes after decades of European countries like France encourage people to convert to diesel. Many of the original Gilets jaunes protestors were also from rural areas and small towns where driving is a necessity, so the increases in the gas and diesel taxes fell disproportionally on them.
At the same time, the French government was not entirely transparent with where the additional revenue from gas and diesel tax increases would be allocated. That’s one of the reasons that French environmental groups have said that the Gilets jaunes movement is not simply a reaction to the carbon tax, but instead a reaction to austerity measures passed by Macron and the government.
The name – Gilets jaunes or Yellow Vest or Yellow Jacket in English – comes from the yellow-coloured safety vests that French drivers are required to keep in their cars at all times in case of emergency.
Gilets jaunes: Canadian Edition
The simplistic reading of the Gilets jaunes movement as an anti-carbon tax movement has made it attractive to people in Canada as a way to organize support for pipeline construction and the struggling Alberta oil industry. The biggest event sponsored by the Canadian Yellow Vests was the “United We Roll” convoy that traveled from Alberta to Ottawa meant to drive attention to both issues.
Now, the convoy did get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media as an economic movement, but what was less covered was some of the more disturbing statements made by people associated with Canada’s Yellow Vests.
The anti-hate group Anti-Racist Canada has chronicled some of the disturbing commentary that’s come from Marc “Tyler” Malenfant, the founder of the Yellow Vest Canada Facebook group. As covered by ARC and the Yellow Vests Exposed Twitter feed, may people who identify as Yellow Vests are virulently racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic. Among the more prominent attendees of early Yellow Vest protests in Edmonton were the Wolves of Odin, a splinter group of the Soldiers of Odin, who were both banned from Facebook in a purge of hate groups from the platform Monday.
The Yellow Vest Canada Facebook group describes itself as dedicated “to protest our country’s politicians audacity to sell out Canada’s sovereignty over to the Globalist UN.” The word “globalist” is often used as a code word among white nationalists for a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the sovereignty of Western countries and create a “New World Order” or a singular global government, which, of course, is run by Jewish people.
Conspiracy theories are a big part of the Yellow Vest movement in Canada, including the perpetuation of false and ludicrous stories about “Pizzagate” and “Qanon.” Among the concerning ideas that Malenfant and the Yellow Vests perpetuate is the false claim that the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) overrides Canadian sovereignty on border security. In reality, the GCM though is non-binding, and is not even classified as an international treaty.
Perhaps most disturbingly, many who have claimed to be a part of the Yellow Vest movement and associated Facebook and social media groups, have labelled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “traitor” and called for his assassination. Global News chronicled several Facebook posts where users shared a desire to see Trudeau violently killed including a response to an article about the Prime Minister skiing in Whistler saying, “Hopefully he ends up like his brother.”
Michel Trudeau was killed in an avalanche while skiing in 1998. His remains were never recovered.
Yellow Vests in Guelph
Oh yes, there is a Guelph branch of the Yellow Vest movement, even if it only seems to exist online.
A Facebook group “Yellow Vest Canada Guelph, Ontario” was started at the end of December and claims 68 members. Since the beginning of the year, this group has promoted weekly gatherings in St. George’s Square at 11 am on Saturday, but Guelph Politico has tried on several occasions to cover these gatherings and has found no one protesting in or around St. George’s Square.
So did the protests happen? One person on the Overheard at Guelph Facebook group claimed to have been harassed by someone protesting with the Yellow Vests in January, but that post seems to have been deleted. In February, the flyer pictured below was left inside a message board at Guelph Central Station. It’s exactly like a manifesto that is posted on the Guelph Yellow Vest Facebook page.
In terms of more tangible connections, one Guelph website published, according them, “with permission”, a post called “Canadian Patriotism: Yellow Vest Movement Explained.”
Guelph Local, a so-called news site started by members of a far-right Guelph political Facebook group, posted a piece written by Mark Friesen on February 12. Friesen is running for the People’s Party of Canada in a Saskatchewan riding, and was one of the organizers of the United We Roll convey as well as being one its chief spokespeople.
The piece lists the myriad of reasons why one might be interested in joining the Yellow Vest movement including love of country, love of freedom, and a general dissatisfaction with the government, the media, and the establishment. Friesen added though that if there’s one thing that the Yellow Vest movement is not, it’s racist. “When you see a news report that claims the yellowest is racist, they are calling you racist,” Friesen wrote.
On March 3, Yellow Vest Canada exposed pulled this from Friesen’s social media feed.
Top image: Yellow Vest protestors in Cranbrook courtesy of the Nelson Star.