Thousands staged a loud but peaceful protest in the Canadian capital Ottawa against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates, in the streets and the snow-covered lawn in front of Parliament.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started as a rally of hauliers against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against the government’s aggression during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination series.
“I’m not able to work anymore because I can not cross the border,” said Csava Vizi, a truck driver from Windsor, who noted he was the family’s sole breadwinner.
“I refuse the vaccine,” he said, calling it dangerous. He spoke from inside his truck in front of Parliament.
“It’s not just about the vaccines. It’s about stopping public health mandates altogether, ”said Daniel Bazinet, owner of Valley Flatbed & Transportation in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast. The basin is unvaccinated, but operates domestically and is therefore not affected by the cross-border mandate.
“Myself and a lot of other people are here because we’re just tired of the vaccine mandates and lockdowns,” said Brendon of Ottawa, who declined to disclose his last name. He carried a sign that read, “Justin Trudeau shames me for being Canadian.”
The rally started early and built up through the afternoon of Saturday. Some handed out packed lunches to the hauliers, who were convoying to Ottawa from the east and west coasts and places in between.
Few wore masks, but many were in balaclava as the temperature with wind cooling was -21C (-6F). A mall downtown closed because protesters refused to wear masks inside, CTV reported.
The violent rhetoric that some of the initiators used on social media in the run-up to the protest had worried the police, who were out in force, but for the most part the protest felt like a very cold street party, marked by blaring truck horns.
Due to security concerns, Trudeau and his family left their home in downtown Ottawa, CBC reported. His office said it did not comment on security issues.
Earlier this week, Trudeau said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” that does not represent Canadians’ views. About 90% of Canada’s cross-border truck drivers and 77% of the population have received two Covid vaccination shots.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is against vaccine mandates and expressed support for the protest after holding talks with some of the hauliers on Friday.
“I support their right to be heard, and I urge Justin Trudeau to meet with these hard-working Canadians to hear their concerns,” O’Toole said after the meeting.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents about 4,500 carriers, owner-operators and industrial suppliers, has opposed the demonstration.
“We ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry,” the CTA said Saturday.
The CTA urged the hauliers who participated to make it peaceful and then leave Ottawa. The protest organizers had said they would stay in Ottawa until the government relinquishes the mandates. The streets in the center can be clogged for days.
“If I have to stay here for two months, I will be here,” Vizi said.