Tracking the World Wide Rally For Freedom in Canada
Ottawa's convoy is gone, but the COVID-19 conspiracy movement continues
Hello new readers! I use the term “COVID-19 conspiracy movement” to refer to what I see as a continuous movement that has grown and adapted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, media may call it anti-lockdown, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-mandate, convoy supporters, or whatever their current issue of the day is. Typically, supporters prefer to call themselves a “Freedom movement.” Not all opposition to a public health measure is necessarily part of the COVID-19 conspiracy movement obviously, it depends on who is speaking, organizing, what they believe, etc.
The World Wide (sic) Rally for Freedom is an ongoing series of rallies that happen globally. Every two months a day or weekend is picked where people will protest in cities around the world to oppose public health measures made to curb COVID-19. This has been happening for a whole year now, and this March 19th will be the seventh of these bimonthly rallies, as well as serve as an anniversary for when they first began.
Canadians have been big participants in the World Wide Rally (WWR), with rallies happening in dozens of cities across the country for each event since they began. For the first two WWR events, more than half the cities participating were Canadian ones. By my counts, more than 40 Canadian cities officially partook in the first two global demonstrations, with even more that did not have official approval. Although it now typically gets just over 20 cities with official approval. Outside of Canada, the World Wide Rally has been mainly active in Europe and Australia, with Australia’s typically receiving the most international media coverage, especially when they have had clashes with police. Internationally it is also referred to as the World Wide Demonstration.
Overall, the World Wide Rally was a significant development for the Canadian COVID-19 conspiracy movement last year. The first rally happened just as the weather was warming up, and police crackdowns on their protests were lessening, making it seem as if they were coming out of hibernation. World Wide Rally gave several small local groups excuses to come out, and cities that are known to have regular demonstrations would typically be even larger on WWR days. The first few rallies were quite dynamic, with many cities unofficially joining in. By the third and fourth WWR dates, the Canadian coordinators for the World Wide Rally were becoming more concerned with their control over the brand, and would denounce rallies that did not have their official approval. This, combined with an obscured approval process, is partly what led to the WWR losing its dynamism and strength, leading to it having less approved events in Canada. Nonetheless, it continues to have some popular support.
World Wide Rally events have occurred on the following days (sometimes they have been extended into weekends, allowing flexibility for local organizers - all of these were on Saturdays):
March 20th, 2021
May 15th, 2021
July 24th, 2021
September 18th, 2021
November 20th, 2021
January 22nd, 2022
The Canadian coordinators also scheduled their own “Canada-wide” rally for May 1st, 2021, which attracted less attention and smaller turnouts.
Some of the WWR days coincided with the timing of significant political events in Canada that helped contribute to their outcomes. The first World Wide Rally was as spring was beginning and the “anti-lockdown” movement was starting to pick up steam again. The fourth World Wide Rally on September 18th was two days before the Federal election, in which anti-vaccine activists made a big splash for their continued protests against Justin Trudeau. The sixth and most recent World Wide Rally coincided with the beginning of the infamous Freedom Convoy, and some events tied in convoy route organizers into their rallies or were specifically themed around the convoys.
Details on main coordinators: the German connection
There is still a lot unknown about the initiators and coordinators of the World Wide Rally. All that has been really established is that it was started by an obscure German group called Freie Bürger Kassel (or Free Citizens of Kassel). Despite German origins, its online material has primarily been in English, with a simple graphic done in the same style for each city being the preferred method of online promotion. These were aggressively spammed within online COVID-19 conspiracy circles in the lead-up to the first WWR event.
Who initiated them is not so important to me as the fact that so many responded to their call. Early on, virtually every COVID-19 conspiracy movement group and influencer would get involved in the World Wide Rally in some shape or form. Over time factionalism occurred and activists perhaps felt less need to mobilize under it.
For Canada, the main coordinator has been a German-Canadian woman by the name of Bettina Engler. Bettina Engler has appeared on Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson’s show at least twice to promote the World Wide Rallies (once with David Kevin Lindsay), and has spoken at some World Wide Rally events in Kelowna and Vancouver. She obviously has some familiarity with Germany’s COVID-19 conspiracy movement. She runs a a Telegram channel called “Think Outside the Box Kelowna BC.” Thinking outside the box is one way to translate the name “Querdenken” which is a German movement of conspiracy theorist activists who have been very active in the pandemic. She also ran a “Show me your smile” website, which was supposedly the name of a German anti-mask initiative and is also her name on Telegram.
According to Logically reporter Jordan Wildon, a document file for a statement made by the central World Wide Rally website’s data shows it was made with a copy of Microsoft Word licensed under Bettina Engler’s name. This not only suggests authorship but also that she has a messaging role for the World Wide Rally internationally.
A report from the Epoch Times describes Bettina Engler as a “national coordinator of the protest,” who “was one of the participants in the European forum who came up with the idea of a global rally for freedom and helped host the event in Canada.” In a video found on BitChute that must have been recorded sometime this February, Engler states plainly “I am the World Wide Rally” and claims she first suggested the idea to German Telegram groups.
She has also claimed to have a direct line of contact to Reiner Fuellmich, a German lawyer popular in the COVID-19 conspiracy movement for promising “New Nuremberg trials.” She appears to have reached out to him before on Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson’s behalf.
A B.C. dominated movement
The British Columbian roots of the coordinators has contributed to the WWR being more active in that province. B.C.-based groups like Vancouver’s Freedom Rally World, and Kelowna’s C.L.E.A.R. Initiative have maintained a favourable relationship with the WWR coordinators. In more recent World Wide Rallies there were much more events announced in British Columbia than in any other province or territory. At present the upcoming World Wide Rally for March 19th already has eleven official events scheduled in British Columbia, with just twelve in the rest of Canada. More will likely be added as the date approaches, but the higher representation for cites in British Columbia is typical.
Infighting over official verification
The British Columbia groups have their own rivalries and movement infighting, and this has carried on into the World Wide Rally somewhat. Since the third World Wide Rally day, Engler had become more outspoken about the need for rallies to be officially approved, and would use the official Telegram channel to denounce rallies that had not been verified by her, telling them how to do so. This may have contributed to there being less rallies in Canada for subsequent WWR days.
In particular, a July 24th rally in Nanaimo held by Vladislav Sobolev (the founder of WeAreAllEssential and Hugs Over Masks) that was not approved was denounced. This rally also included Chris Sky who was doing one of his cross-country tours at the time. Much of this hostility towards Vladislav Sobolev was due to disagreements on tactics and suspicions some of the B.C. groups had of him. Sobolev would continue making unofficial WWR events that did not have approval. He and Chris Sky would both be accused of trying to “hijack” WWR events at which they were not approved speakers (in addition to other events), and things like this were attempted in Vancouver and did happen elsewhere. Both Vlad and Chris Sky have managed to speak at some official WWR events since despite Engler’s disapproval (suggesting her control over local WWR events is limited), but Chris Sky is reaching new ground this time. He has attempted to co-opt Vancouver’s World Wide Rally, advertising his own event at the same time and place as the approved local organizers, prompting the WWR organizers to issue a “notice of liability” to him and have several groups denounce him. At present he is still trying to push through, claiming support from other activists.
A catalogue of this several months worth of infighting can be found in this Twitter thread:
There are other rallies that have also been denounced as unverified by Bettina Engler in the official WWR channels. By comparison, when local organizers have attempted to they can rectify the situation within a short time period, often within a single day.
A note on Quebec
Like many other organizers in Canada the World Wide Rally suffers from a language divide that results in it being less organized in Quebec. On weaker WWR days there are very few events in Quebec (the previous day only had one official rally in Montreal) despite the COVID-19 conspiracy movement being at least as strong there. Even when there are more Quebec rallies planned, the approval process for them is different, resulting in several different rally locations being announced all at once wholesale rather than one-by-one as is done for the rest of Canada. This appears to be because the Quebec rallies have been left in the hands of another group of coordinators.
Quebec coordination has occasionally been left up to another group called Action Coordination, a website and social media page that has been used to help COVID-19 conspiracy people learn when and where protests are occurring and schedule them. On the earlier WWR days it would include multiple Quebec events but this has declined. Last month only a single event for Montreal was listed. And at present Action Coordination only has another upcoming Montreal WWR event listed.
Media coverage and misconceptions
Despite the global and recurring nature of the WWR events, there has not been much examination of them beyond reports on local protests. After one year, I only know of three articles in English that try to go deeper:
Raw Story: Far-right Trump supporters hope to use RFK Jr.-backed protests to stage a comeback by Jordan Green, March 17th, 2021
Logically: Worldwide Anti-Lockdown Protests Organized by German Cell May 14th, 2021
The Guardian: Who’s behind Australia’s anti-lockdown protests? The German conspiracy group driving marches by Christopher Knaus and Michael McGowan, July 27th, 2021
Unfortunately, none of the authors have much knowledge of the Canadian movement, and if they pay attention to it at all they make mistakes. Specifically, Logically’s article overstates the role of the Peoples Party of Canada. The PPC was hardly involved in the first WWR day. They did get more involved in the second one, with Maxime Bernier speaking at the Toronto rally. Their involvement in other rallies vary, on some occasions local events may as well be PPC rallies with candidates speaking and having PPC signs prominently displayed. Even for the fourth World Wide Rally, which took place two days before the federal election, by my count the PPC did not organize a single rally itself that day (with the possible exception of an unofficial one in Oshawa), despite candidates speaking at some and often promoting them. Attempts to portray the Canadian WWR as “astroturfed” on behalf of another party are, in my view, wrong-headed.
March 19th, 2022
We’re still a week away from the seventh World Wide Rally, and it’s not clear what to expect after the convoy hype is doing down. More cities will likely have rallies announced and approved in the coming days, but at present there does not seem to be a lot. Some cities which are usually the first to be announced have not yet announced one at this time. With policies like masking requirements and vaccine passports being lifted there will probably be less interest. But protests are still continuing, true believers are not satisfied as private establishments can still make their own rules, federal mandates still exist, and activists still desire retribution and / or reform to prevent COVID-19 public health measures from happening again. Much of the attention the WWR is getting is also divisive this time, as seen in the infighting with Chris Sky and company.
Where to look
For anyone who is attempting to monitor the World Wide Rally in Canada, these are some official and semi-official links I typically check. (Heads up: these are direct links)
World Wide Demonstration official site. Other social media pages can be found through here.
Canada for Freedom - lists all WWR events in Canada, but is slower to update than the Telegram channels. I understand this to be an official site.
Information on local organizers is a bit trickier, and may require some knowledge of groups and movement figures in the area to look for.