Horns blared across Ottawa on Friday as demonstrators, many of them truckers, poured into the Canadian capital ahead of a planned protest on Saturday against cross-border vaccine mandates and beyond.
Police warned that the crowd, expected to eventually number in the thousands, had a mix of peaceful and violent aims. Chief Peter Sloly said so far demonstrations had been “peaceful and uneventful,” but warned the situation was “unique, fluid, risky and significant” and risked “lone-wolf individuals who may insert themselves into the mix for various reasons.”
Demonstrators, some of whom arrived in Ottawa after travelling across the country in a convoy, had banners that read, ‘Freedom over fear,” and one was heard yelling, “This is war,” by a reporter on the scene. Prior to the demonstrations on Friday, a video went viral on social media reportedly showing a supporter of the protests saying they hoped they turned into something similar to the 6 January US Capitol riot.
The demonstrations are in part a protest against a new rule, put in effect on 15 January, requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a requirement mirrored for Canadian truckers entering the US. The policy ends an exemption for Canadian truckers from vaccine requirements at the border.
While the main protest is planned for Saturday, 29 January, demonstrators told reporters they planned to stay until Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial leaders end vaccine rules.
“It’ll be as long as people want. The people that are coming here, the men and women, they work outside and they’re not scared of this weather, you know. They work out of their trucks”, a man named Ben, a citizen living in Ottawa, told the National Post.
Robyn May, a business owner who sometimes had to shut down operations in Long Point, Ontario, due to Covid rules, told the Associated Press on Friday, “We are not a free country” and said she would stay until “Justin Trudeau is no longer our prime minister.”
The Canadian PM has condemned the demonstrations as a “fringe minority.”
“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country,” he has said.
Demonstrators set up around Parliament Hill, where they could be seen holding signs, barbequeing, and playing instruments — not to mention ubiquitous honks among the protestors.
Police have warned people to avoid the core of the city for travel, and thoroughfares like Alexandra Bridge, and Metcalfe Street, which ends at the Canadian Parliament, have been closed due to the protests.
Despite media hype around the demonstrators, and figures like Donald Trump Jr and Elon Musk praising the protesting truckers, the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates 85 per cent of its members are already vaccinated, while figures suggest trucking volume across the border hasn’t been affected by the new rules.