Whether or not you had been in Surrey, British Columbia, or Coutts, Alberta, or Windsor, Ontario — or, particularly, in the event you had been in Ottawa — you noticed a sea of red-and-white Canadian flags rippling within the wintry weather wind all through this 12 months’s protests towards the government and pandemic mandates, identified to a couple because the “Freedom Convoy.”

Within the months since, the sight of Canadian flags fixed on vehicles and pickup vehicles or flying out of doors houses has some doing double takes: Is that flag a logo of protest or of harmony?

Canada followed its maple leaf flag in 1965, the overall bankruptcy in an extended and intensely contentious debate over whether or not to desert the Canadian Purple Ensign, the previous flag with a Union Jack within the best left nook and a coat of fingers at the backside correct.

A ways-right teams — together with the Proud Boys, which was once co-founded via a Canadian, Gavin McInnes — have latched onto the Purple Ensign in veneration of white settler historical past. In 2017, 5 individuals of the Canadian Armed Forces had been amongst a bunch of Proud Boys who carried the Purple Ensign flag whilst confronting Indigenous protesters in Halifax on Canada Day.

However neither the outdated Purple Ensign flag nor the present maple leaf one has ever grew to become a lot of the rustic into flag fans. Via and big, Canadians simply aren’t that into it.

“There are nonetheless some individuals who ostentatiously fly the pre-1965 flag, an indication of disapproval however, it is more or less arcane,” mentioned Robert Bothwell, a professor emeritus of Canadian historical past on the College of Toronto. “It’s important to be fairly refined to grasp what” it’s, he mentioned, including “so I don’t see that changing into a well-liked motion.”

Flags had been traditionally used to paint or give expression to Canada’s political actions and sentiments, Mr. Bothwell mentioned. In particular in Quebec, flags got here to indicate whether or not the individual waving them was once a separatist, nationalist or federalist.

“Canadians are proud concerning the flag, however the query, no longer handiest with the ‘Freedom Convoy,’ is what does it constitute?” mentioned Richard Nimijean, a historian and teacher at Carleton College in Ottawa.

“It’s vital to needless to say we all the time renegotiate those symbols and what they imply,” he added.

The organizers of the convoy have mentioned the flags that demonstrators carried represented the rallying cry in their protest, “Freedom!” However some Canadians mentioned that when the protests, they’d really feel cautious about the use of the flag to put across nationwide pleasure even on Canada Day.

“I shouldn’t need to really feel awkward, and that’s what bothers me maximum,” mentioned Brian Lewis, who’s working for a Town Council seat in Hamilton, Ontario, a town west of Toronto. “I’m pleased with my nation and what it stands for,” he added. However, Mr. Lewis mentioned, in February, he began “to get seems to be” for flying a Canadian flag on his automobile.

“I’m sitting in a carpark of a grocery retailer at the moment and I’m slightly bit upset,” via the shortage of flag shows, he mentioned all through an interview on Thursday. “However I perceive why, utterly, and it’s unhappy.”

Claudia Laroye, a Vancouver-based trip creator, mentioned using previous one of the most convoys in British Columbia all through the wintry weather gave her the affect that the flag have been “co-opted.” She mentioned the convoy left “the ones people who didn’t accept as true with that messaging questioning how lets fly it and no longer seem to be supportive.”

“We will be able to show it this 12 months to contradict that messaging, in our personal small method,” Ms. Laroye mentioned in an e-mail.

Lots of the symbols interspersed between Canadian flags on the protests ultimate wintry weather represented American politics: flags and posters for Donald Trump, Gadsden flags bearing the word “Don’t Tread on Me,” posters of the U.S. Invoice of Rights and Accomplice flags.

The organizers disavowed the ones symbols, however the pictures raised some eyebrows. “I didn’t know that you must secede from a rustic you weren’t part of,” Stephen Colbert joked in a February phase of his late-night display, regarding the Accomplice flag sightings.

Whilst those imported symbols have little historic relevance to Canada, they have got come to extensively constitute values related to the some distance correct, showing prominently all through the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol rebellion.

The preponderance of flags on Jan. 6 was once “sinister,” mentioned Mr. Bothwell. He added, “It in point of fact was once supposed to indicate that they’re the actual American citizens and the folks throughout the Capitol don’t seem to be, and I feel that has precisely the similar which means because the flags” of those that protested on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

[Read: Was Canada Trucker Protest a Blip, or the Start of Something Bigger?]

The “Freedom Convoy” started in January with loosely arranged teams of truck drivers making their method from different portions of Canada towards Ottawa to oppose vaccination mandates on the U.S. border.

However the protests quickly attracted different Canadians expressing normal antigovernment sentiment in mild of pandemic restrictions, immobilizing downtown Ottawa and a number of other border crossings for weeks and prompting questions on legislation enforcement officials’ pleasant reaction.

Early on, Top Minister Justin Trudeau disregarded the protesters as a “small fringe minority” and rebuked some for desecrating public monuments and wielding Nazi symbols.

The Ottawa police ramped up safety this week for Friday’s celebrations, boosting parking patrol and towing greater than 70 automobiles between Wednesday and Friday. Fences had been erected round constructions, together with the Best Courtroom, and police made a minimum of 5 arrests within the lead-up to festivities.

Whilst other people fascinated with February’s motion promised to resume their protest on Canada Day, they had been hugely outnumbered via cops and households making their option to the primary legitimate celebrations since 2019. Past due Friday afternoon, then again, one team a couple of block lengthy paraded across the perimeter of the capital’s downtown waving flags and shouting “freedom” ahead of collecting on the Nationwide Struggle Memorial to sing “O Canada.”

The annoying buildup to this 12 months’s celebrations took on a distinct tenor from ultimate July, when many of us flew their Canadian flags at half-staff and referred to as for the cancellation of vacation plans after loads of unmarked graves had been came upon on the websites of former residential colleges for Indigenous kids.

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  • In Op-Doctors, The Instances’s award-winning collection of quick documentaries, the photographer Kitra Cahana brings an intimate view “on what it approach to be alive in a state of profound isolation.” The collection is narrated via her father, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, who is living in a long-term care facility in Montreal.

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Vjosa Isai is a Canada information assistant at The New York Instances. Practice her on Twitter at @lavjosa.

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