Ottawa was the scene of protests last weekend by truckers who oppose mandatory vaccination for cross-border journeys; an event that also brought together different groups that criticize other health measures imposed in the pandemic. However, a part of these protesters remained in the Canadian capital. This Saturday and Sunday they returned to exhibit their claims accompanied by other contingents that made the trip. Protests with the same messages took place in different provincial capitals, since several of the restrictions correspond to provincial powers.
Canada imposed mandatory vaccination from January 15 for cross-border truckers. The United States put the same provision into effect on January 22. Hundreds of drivers from western Canada – in an act dubbed the “freedom caravan” – drove thousands of miles to Ottawa to protest. Other units from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia joined, as did groups demanding the end of various measures, such as the vaccination passport and the state of health emergency. According to the police of the capital of Canada, the demonstration summoned last weekend to more than 10,000 people. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has opposed the convoy of protesters, has estimated that more than 85% of drivers crossing onto US soil are vaccinated.
The Ottawa police indicated that some 250 trucks have been parked in downtown areas for more than nine days, causing annoyance due to their constant horn noises and disrupting daily activities. Jean-Yves Duclos, Federal Minister of Health, and Peter Sloly, Police Chief of the federal capital, have pointed out that one can no longer speak of a demonstration, but of occupation. Some 5,000 people took part in demonstrations this weekend in the city.
Sloly affirmed this Wednesday that the tasks would be complicated without additional help, leaving open the option of requesting the support of the military. A day later, Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, declared that he was not contemplating such a measure at the moment, asserting that the police forces have the resources to deal with the situation. Elements of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived in the city to reinforce the security operation. “It is time for the protesters to return to their homes,” Trudeau said, stressing that this issue is causing a lot of inconvenience to the people of Ottawa. “It’s unacceptable,” he added. The Canadian premier has said that the suspension of compulsory vaccination for truck drivers is out of the question.
In Quebec City, a caravan made up -according to the police- of about 200 vehicles was installed near the Provincial Assembly; The police force indicated that the protest called for “thousands of people.” Prime Minister François Legault backed down on February 1 to present a bill so that the unvaccinated would pay a tax on the medical expenses they generate. Legault explained that he had made the decision to “preserve social peace” and “avoid divisions among Quebecers”, but that the protests in Ottawa had nothing to do with the abandonment of the initiative.
In Toronto, police barred transit vehicles and protesters within 200 meters of the provincial legislature’s headquarters. Several downtown arteries were closed to traffic to guarantee access to five nearby hospitals. Winnipeg (Manitoba), Regina (Saskatchewan) and Victoria (British Columbia) were also the scene of considerable protests. In the province of Alberta, traffic at the border crossing near the town of Coutts (on the border with Montana) has been disturbed for several days by a group of truckers.
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A GoFundMe campaign raised 10 million Canadian dollars (about 7.8 million US dollars) to support drivers with food, fuel and accommodation costs. The platform had blocked the funds on January 25, stating that a detailed plan on how to distribute them had to be presented. Three days later he unfroze a million dollars for fuel. However, this Friday he made the definitive withdrawal from the campaign, pointing out that the inconvenience to Ottawa residents and other acts contravene his policies. GoFundMe indicated that it will reimburse donors. The organizers of the “freedom caravan” announced the opening of a fundraising campaign on another platform; It’s already over a million dollars.
Candice Bergen, interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, asked truck drivers to continue demonstrating peacefully and denounce any act of violence, hatred or racism, although she did not exhort drivers to leave the federal capital. A few days earlier, the newspaper The Globe and Mail published an email from Bergen addressed to parliamentarians from his group where he stated: “We have to make this a problem for the prime minister.” For his part, Donald Trump, former president of the United States, again referred to the demonstrations by Canadian carriers. In a statement, Trump said the truckers are protesting “the harsh policies of far-left lunatic Justin Trudeau.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.