The ‘Freedom Convoy‘, which began as a protest against a vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, has expanded into a major protest against the Trudeau government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Protests in Canada’s capital over trucker vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 health restrictions continued Sunday, although the gathering had reduced from its peak a day earlier after garnering military and political rebukes for inappropriate behaviour.
The major avenue outside Ottawa’s parliament buildings remained blocked by a long line of huge rigs, and protesters shouting from a makeshift stage claimed they have no plans to leave anytime soon. The Canadian legislature has been on a winter break since mid-December but is set to reconvene on Monday.
The truckers’ procession has received unusually high levels of international attention, most recently from Donald Trump. “We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” the former US President stated during a rally in Texas on Saturday night. “The protesters in Ottawa are doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far,” he stated further.
However, photographs of Nazi flags, as well as footage of cars parked on the national war memorial with beer-drinking demonstrators dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, did not lend credibility to the convoy.
General Wayne Eyre, Canada’s top soldier, tweeted that the footage of the war memorial “sickened” him because it was the location of a terrorist attack in 2014 that killed a 24-year-old soldier.
“Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech,” Eyre added. “Those who participated should hang their heads in shame.”
Chaos in the city
The protests have slowed traffic in the city’s centre, but have been mostly calm thus far. Ottawa police, who have yet to give a crowd estimate, said Sunday morning that they are investigating a number of events but have made no arrests so far.
Nonetheless, the protest has sparked lots of controversies.
Images of Swastikas and a Confederate flag appeared near the main protests, and a soup kitchen near Parliament alleged its staff was pressured into giving them free food by some participants. A protest banner was placed around a statue of Terry Fox, an amputee who became a Canadian sensation after trying a cross-country journey to raise money for cancer research.
The downtown liquor stores in Ottawa were closed early Saturday and remained closed on Sunday. Other local businesses have been overwhelmed by protesters’ violating mask demands, and a prominent downtown shopping mall has been forced to close when protesters failed to comply with Covid-19 regulations.
Politically, the demonstration has exacerbated long-standing tensions within the Conservative Party, the primary opposition party.
Leader Erin O’Toole has attempted to tread a tight line by supporting the cause of disgruntled truckers in general, while dissociating himself from the actual demonstration and its harsh rhetoric, such as linking Canada’s vaccine mandates to Nazism.
However, several conservative legislators have fully supported the demonstration and have filmed themselves going in person. Michael Cooper, a representative from an oil-producing district in Alberta conducted a TV interview Saturday afternoon while a protester behind him held an upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it. (Cooper later stated that he was unrelated to the demonstrator and was unaware of the banner.)
Following the commotion at the war memorial, O’Toole, a military veteran, denounced the demonstrators’ behaviour.
“I support the right to peacefully protest, but that should not be confused with blatant disrespect for the men and women who have served, inspired, and protected our country,” O’Toole tweeted Saturday night. “The individuals desecrating these memorials should be ashamed and their behaviour undermines the brave Canadians who have sacrificed for our country,” he further wrote in a tweet.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had previously condemned the rally as the activity of a “fringe minority,” has been staying at an undisclosed location in the Ottawa area. Trudeau has also been isolated since one of his children tested positive for Covid-19. So far, the Canadian prime minister has tested negative.
After a large-scale protest on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family left their residence in the country’s capital and relocated to a secret location, according to media sources.
The police and the parliamentary security agency haven’t specified how they’ll handle the matter if the semi-trucks refuse to leave Ottawa’s streets.
Protest organizers claim they will not leave until all vaccine mandates are rescinded, but the majority of such public-health decrees are the responsibility of provincial governments.