Hundreds of truck drivers block Ottawa in “Freedom Convoy” to protest vaccine mandate

Hundreds of trucks and thousands of people blocked the streets of central Ottawa on Saturday as part of a self-titled “Freedom Convoy” to protest the vaccine mandate required to cross the US border.

With the Canadian flag, waving “freedom” banners and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, truck drivers were joined by thousands of other protesters who were angry not only at Covid-19 restrictions but at wider dissatisfaction with the government.

A huge shout was heard as hundreds of large trucks, their engines rumbling, let out their air horns incessantly.

Closer to home, families marched calmly on a biting cold day, while young people chanted and elderly people in the crowd pounded pots and pans in protest under Trudeau’s office windows.

Canadian media said the prime minister and his family had been escorted out of their homes and taken to a secret location in the capital, with much of the protesters’ anger directed at Trudeau.

“I want everything to be stopped – these measures are unjustified,” said a protester, 31-year-old businessman Philippe Castonguay, outside the parliament building.

He had driven seven hours from the northern province of Quebec to make his feelings known: “The vaccination requirements are taking us towards a new society we have never voted for,” he said.

The protest originated last week in western Canada, where dozens of truck drivers organized a convoy to drive from Vancouver to Ottawa to demonstrate against Covid-related restrictions, particularly a vaccination requirement for truck drivers.

Both Canada and the United States introduced that requirement in mid-January, affecting drivers who cross the 5,500-mile (9,000-kilometer) border – the world’s longest.

The movement gained momentum when the original length convoy was joined by others on their way to the federal capital.

Their gathering place was Parliament Hill, in the heart of Ottawa.

Government “intrusion” Stephen Penderness, an unvaccinated 28-year-old truck driver from Ontario, said he was protesting for all Canadians, not just their drivers.

“It’s actually for every single person … everyone along the way,” he said. “It’s all about your free choice.”

Angela Bernal, a 67-year-old retired teacher, said she wanted “governments to lift the measures”, adding that “maintaining the restrictions is useless.”

With a strong police presence around the federal capital, the protest went without major incidents despite initial fears that there could be violence.

The zone around Parliament was closed over the weekend, and Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly described the situation on the ground as “unique, fluid, risky and significant.”

The police said they fear that some protesters will stay beyond the Saturday Protest, which will squeeze the traffic further.

Trudeau, who is currently isolated after a Covid exposure, defended the vaccination mandate on Wednesday, noting that 90 percent of drivers are already vaccinated.

He called the truck drivers on their way to the city a “small fringe minority” that does not represent the majority of Canadians.

Trudeau said on Friday that the views of truck drivers – which he described as anti-science, anti-government and anti-society – pose a risk not only to themselves but also to other Canadians.

The leader of the Conservative opposition, Erin O’Toole, called on the protesters to remain peaceful. He has promised to meet the truck drivers.

The movement received support on Thursday from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who tweeted: “Canadian truck drivers control.”

To date, 82 percent of Canadians aged five or older have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Among adults, the figure is 90 percent.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a large industry group, said the vast majority of the country’s truck drivers are vaccinated. It has “strongly disliked” the gathering in Ottawa.

(AFP)

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