Hundreds of truckers have driven their giant rigs into the Canadian capital Ottawa to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates required to cross the United States border.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” – coming from east and west – started out as a rally against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a demonstration against government overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination streak.
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More than two hours before the protest was officially to start on Saturday, the streets of Ottawa’s city centre were packed with trucks as the blaring, non-stop honking of dozens of air horns filled the air, an AFP news agency journalist reported.
“I want it all to stop, these measures are unjustified,” said one protester, 31-year-old businessman Philippe Castonguay, outside the parliament building.
Few wore masks, but many were in balaclavas as the temperature with wind-chill was minus 21 degrees Celsius (minus 6 Fahrenheit). By the end of the day, some 2,700 trucks are expected, a federal government source said.
The violent rhetoric used by some of the promoters on social media in the run-up to the protest has worried police, who were out in force.
“We are prepared as best as we possibly can for those who chose to come here to do harm or cause others to do harm,” Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said on Friday, adding the demonstration would be “massive in scale”.
Trudeau and his family have left the home where they live in downtown Ottawa due to security concerns, the CBC news outlet reported.
On Friday, Trudeau told the Canadian Press he was worried about possible violence connected with the demonstration. Earlier this week he said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” who do not represent the views of Canadians.
About 90 percent of Canada’s cross-border truckers and 77 percent of the population have had two COVID vaccination shots.
‘Right to be heard’
Trudeau announced a vaccine mandate for federal workers in October on the eve of the election, and then last month both Canada and the US imposed one for cross-border truckers.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole opposes vaccine mandates and expressed support for the protest after holding talks with some of the truckers on Friday.
“I support their right to be heard, and I call on Justin Trudeau to meet with these hard-working Canadians to hear their concerns,” O’Toole said after the meeting.
Conservative member of parliament Michael Cooper was handing out coffee to the protesters on Saturday.
The protest movement received an endorsement on Thursday from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who tweeted, “Canadian truckers rule.”
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a major industry group, has said it “strongly disapproved” of the gathering in Ottawa.