Thousands of Canadian truckers and their supporters have descended on Ottawa to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, bringing the country’s capital to a standstill.
After a week-long drive across Canada a huge “Freedom Convoy” of big rigs arrived in Ottawa late on Friday afternoon, blocking roads and causing chaos in Canada’s capital. Truckers are protesting a vaccine mandate for the industry brought in by Trudeau, whereby truckers will have to be vaccinated to cross the Canadian-U.S. border. Under the measures, which were implemented on January 15, unvaccinated cross-border truckers have to quarantine when returning home.
Upset with the new law, a coalition of truckers and conservative groups organized a national drive that began in Alberta. The convoy ended outside Parliament in Ottawa over the weekend. As the convoy drove east, it picked up support along the way.
Over the weekend, thousands of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill, while convoys of trucks blocked the streets downtown. Other supporting truckers also blocked a border highway into the United States.
A GoFundMe campaign to support the truckers has raised, as of Monday, more than C$9m ($7.1m) from over 112,000 donors. But CBC News reported Friday that at least one-third of those donations came from anonymous donors or put down fake names.
Social media images show many truckers carrying Canadian flags and holding up placards that insult Trudeau. Some videos of the protest went viral.
However, Ottawa police said they are investigating several criminal incidents in connection with the protests, including into footage of a woman dancing on a military veteran’s tomb and the appearance of Nazi swastika flags at the demonstrations. Defence Minister Anita Anand called the incidents “beyond reprehensible.”
In a statement through their Twitter page, Ottawa Police said on Sunday: “Several criminal investigations are underway in relation to the desecration of the National War Memorial/Terry Fox statue, threatening/illegal/intimidating behavior to police/city workers and other individuals and damage to a city vehicle.
“Illegal behavior will not be tolerated and will be fully investigated. We have investigative and evidence-gathering teams in place to support the management of the demonstration.”
CBC reported Sunday that Trudeau and his family left their downtown Ottawa home to move to a secret location, due to security concerns.
Shepherds of Good Hope, a soup kitchen in the city, said on Sunday that protesters harassed some of their staff, demanding free meals after they were turned away by restaurants for their refusal to wear a mask indoors.
Experts have also warned that some of the movement’s most vocal supporters have espoused anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and other racist views.
“The ‘Freedom Convoy’ is nothing but a vehicle for the far-right,” the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit that monitors hate groups, said on its website on Saturday. “They say it is about truckers … but if you look at its organizers and promoters, you’ll find Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism, and incitements to violence.”
Newsweek has contacted Tamara Lich, the organizer of the fundraiser, for comment on these allegations.
Almost 90 percent of Canada’s 120,000 cross-border truckers and 77 percent of the country’s entire population have had two COVID-19 vaccination shots, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.
Dozens of videos on social media showing the Canadian truckers protest have gone viral, as thousands remain in the capital Ottawa to protest.
The exactly number of protesters is not known.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of provincial trucking associations, distanced itself from the movement, saying it “does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges.”