OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns.
The sounds of honking horns echoed around Ottawa’s downtown core. A convoy of trucks and cars parked in around Parliament Hill with some parking on the grounds of the National War Memorial before police asked them to move.
“Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted.
Some compared COVID restrictions to fascism and made use of Nazi symbols on upside down Canadian flags. One truck carried a Confederate flag while many carried expletive-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
David Santos said he came from Montreal because he believes the vaccine mandates are not health-related but what he calls a “control thing” by governments.
The convoy of truckers and others prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and the government to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration. A top Parliament security official advised lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.
Some the truckers are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said it appears a number of protesters have no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. The alliance said in a statement that the industry must adapt and comply with this mandate, noting the vast majority of drivers have done so.
The organizers of the protest have called for Trudeau and all provincial governments to eliminate all COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. The document fails to mention truckers at all.
Some opposition Conservative lawmakers served coffee to the protesters. The protest has also attracted support from Donald Trump Jr. and some Fox News personalities.
“The confederate flag and what it represents is offensive to most Americans and should be to Canadians as well,” former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman tweeted.
The Parliamentary Protective Service expects as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend-long rally. Though the aim of the protest for some to oppose vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, many attendees said that is only a small part of their demands.
“I’m locked into my own country right now,” said Tom Pappin, who came from just outside Ottawa. “I can’t go on a holiday. I can’t go to a restaurant, I can’t go bowling. I can’t go to a movie. You know, these are things that it’s just gotten out of control.”
The 52-year-old said the gathering wouldn’t likely be a one day protests, saying that attendees are likely to stay parked by Parliament until vaccine mandates are lifted. Some protesters have said they wouldn’t leave until public-health restrictions are lifted or Trudeau is forced out as prime minister.
While the federal government has imposed a vaccine mandate for federally regulated workers and at the Canada-U.S. border, almost all COVID-19 restrictions fall to provincial jurisdiction. Restaurants and gyms are about to reopen in Ontario this coming week.
Phil Haggart was among the group to counter-protest the convoy’s message, saying he wanted to show that there were voices in favor of public health measures to slow the spread of the virus. “Masks are important, vaccines are important, and mandates are important only because we need them to stay alive and not fill our hospitals up,” he said as protesters rang cow bells close by.
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