OTTAWA – Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Canadian Parliament on Saturday in a fiery demonstration that began as a movement of truckers to challenge the government’s vaccination order but has since spread. out included a wide range of anti-government grievances.
A loosely organized “Convoy of Freedom Trucks” departed last weekend from the western province of British Columbia. The convoy slowed and poured into large numbers on the way to the capital, Ottawa, where police were bracing for what they said would be an unpredictable weekend of protests.
The convoy was organized in response to a regulation, implemented this month, that requires truckers returning from the United States to present proof of vaccinations. But in recent days, it has been expanded to include Canadians critical of the pandemic’s limitations in general, and of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Some, who may not have been part of the convoy itself, have called for an attack on Parliament similar to January 6, 2021, storming the US Capitol. Such calls for violence were denounced by the convoy organizers, as well as by many street protesters.
Despite concerns that the protest could turn violent, on Saturday night police said there were no significant incidents.
Personal cars and pickup trucks outnumbered the heavy-duty trucks that made up the fleet in its early days. Throughout Saturday, vehicles clogged the streets in and around Parliament, most of them carrying flags or signs alleging pandemic-related public health measures.
Thousands of protesters walked on foot, many carrying handmade signs on hockey sticks, wandered past parked vehicles and slow-moving traffic or gathered on the lawns in front of Parliament. Some of them carry the Canadian flag upside down; At least one flag has a swastika on it. The air was thick with diesel smoke and the honking of car horns.
It seems very few people follow Ontario’s rules requiring social distancing and wearing masks at large outdoor gatherings.
Keeping track of it all was a massive contingent of Parliamentary police and security personnel. The Ottawa police force is supplemented by officers from towns hundreds of miles away, as well as the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The protests were loud and massive but generally peaceful, and poorly organized.
A group affiliated with the convoy intends to try to persuade the governor, head of state (if ceremonial) of Canada as representatives of Queen Elizabeth, and appointed members of the Senate. Congress abolishes all laws and rules of the pandemic. imposed by all levels of government – something beyond their constitutional powers.
Others called for protests outside politicians’ homes. Because the House of Representatives is currently not in session – it will continue to sit on Monday – many lawmakers were not in town.
Several Canadian news agencies reported that Mr. Trudeau and his family had been moved out of their official residence by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a precaution. The police force declined to comment on the reports, citing security concerns.
Organizers raised about 8 million Canadian dollars, or 6.3 million dollars, on GoFundMe during the convoy’s cross-country trip.
Police towed several vehicles parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial. Jim Watson, the mayor of Ottawa, said the protesters had disrespected the country’s fight for the dead.
The “Liberty Convoy” was organized by Tamara Lich, secretary of the relatively new Maverick Party, a far-right center-group that was started to promote the separation of three of Canada’s three western Prairies from the rest of the country. country.
While Ms. Lich’s convoy campaign is separate from her work in the Maverick Party, Jay Hill, the party’s interim leader, said the convoy tapped into what he believes to be widespread sentiment in Canada against restrictions of the pandemic.
“This has really been self-perpetuating,” said Mr Hill, a former Conservative member of Parliament from Alberta. “The vast majority of people who boarded the train to join the caravan or who donated to help financially are frustrated and frustrated with these lockdowns and continue to have restrictions they would like someone to speak up about. and say ‘enough’ to the federal government. “
But Opinion poll has consistently demonstrated strong support in Canada for public health measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which are mainly imposed by provincial governments, many of them by the Party. Conservative leadership. More than 77 percent of Canadians are fully immunized.
Some in the crowd on Saturday said they believe vaccines are potentially harmful and ineffective, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
Coronavirus pandemic: What you need to know
Mr. Trudeau called the protesters “a small minority on the fringes”. He has repeatedly said that 90% of Canada’s truckers are vaccinated, an assessment shared by the Canadian Transport Union, a trade group that opposes the protest.
On Saturday, that group issue a statement pointed out that the protesters did not represent the views of most truckers.
“We ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports have no connection to the trucking industry,” it said.
Vaccination duties for train, railway and airline personnel are in effect since October 30. On January 15, they was extended to truckers returning from the United States. This requirement does not apply to the majority of the more than 300,000 truckers who run the country’s domestic routes.
Protesters and some Conservative members of Parliament have blamed the new mandate on shortages of goods.
“You may notice some empty shelves at your grocery store,” Erin O’Toole, leader of the Conservative Party, said in an online video posted on Thursday. “That’s because Justin Trudeau has made it mandatory for all truckers to come into this country, whether Canadian or American, to be fully vaccinated.”
But David Soberman, a professor of logistics studies at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says that empty shelves in Canadian stores are mainly related to other factors, such as a shortage of shipping containers. global movement, disruption in the production of some products. and lack of staff to replenish store shelves because of Covid infection.
“There is definitely amplification and fear of people who are not happy about the rule,” he said. “But I don’t really think it’s really going to have a big impact on supermarkets in Canada.”
Mr. Trudeau has made it clear that the protest will not cause his government to reverse its mandate to vaccinate. In any case, doing so would have no practical effect: the United States has Mandatory vaccines for Canadian truckers crossing the border as of January 22.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday that there has been no meaningful decline in cross-border truck traffic since both countries’ vaccine regulation. given.
The protesters’ next steps are unclear. As the sun went down on a cold day, the crowds had shrunk considerably. Some of those who stayed, still a significant number, have vowed to stay until the cross-border vaccine mission is lifted.
“At some point, the organizers – if we may call them that – had to say, ‘Okay, it’s time to move on and allow the people of Ottawa to return to a sense of normalcy,'” said Mr Watson. , mayor, told CityNews Ottawaa television station.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/29/world/americas/canada-trucker-protest.html In Canada, the ‘Liberty Convoy’ Protests the Nears Capital Vaccination Mandate