Trudeau says truck drivers’ protest against vaccines ‘must stop’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Monday for an end to a protest of hundreds of pedestrians against Covid-19 restrictions that have paralyzed the capital, and the mayor of Ottawa called on federal authorities to provide support.

“It has to stop,” Trudeau said during an emergency House of Commons debate on his return to Parliament after a week-long impeachment for testing positive for Covid-19.

“This pandemic has exhausted all Canadians,” said the prime minister, visibly frustrated by the protests that brought Ottawa to a standstill for more than a week.

“But Canadians know the way to get past it is to keep listening to the science, and to keep relying on each other,” he added.

He pledged to support the federal government “with whatever resources the county and city need,” without making clear what actions might be planned.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson earlier urged the federal government to send 1,800 additional police officers and appoint a mediator to work with protesters to “end this blockade” that has angered local residents over the continued release of diesel fumes.

On Sunday, Watson declared a state of emergency in the capital, declaring that the protests were “out of control”.

“They don’t know what to do with us,” said farmer and truck driver John Lambert, 59, who was taking part in the protest.

“All they have to do is come back to their senses. It’s up to them to solve it.”

Police action The “Freedom Caravan” demonstrations began on January 9 in western Canada with protests by pedestrians angry about vaccine requirements when crossing the US-Canada border.

They have since morphed into broader protests against Covid-19 health restrictions and Trudeau’s government.

The protest organization, Tamara Lesch, said activists were ready to reach out to the government to find a way out of the crisis, but insisted that restrictions imposed on the outbreak of the epidemic be eased.

“What we are trying to do now is reach out to all the federal parties so that we can arrange our seating,” Leech said during a meeting broadcast on YouTube.

With the capital’s center closed and businesses forced to close, police have come under fire for the protracted crisis.

To increase pressure on protesters, Ottawa police on Sunday announced new measures to tame demonstrations by preventing people from bringing fuel and other supplies to rallies.

“Anyone trying to bring support materials (gas, etc.) to the protesters may be arrested,” police said on Twitter.

Since then, officers have arrested several people, confiscated several vehicles and issued hundreds of traffic tickets.

Demonstrators were raising money to continue the protests, but were cut off by fundraising site GoFundMe, which said they violated its policy against content that “promotes pro-violent behavior”.

Organizers quickly launched a fundraiser on Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo that has raised more than $5 million as of Monday night.

Trudeau last week ruled out deploying the military to disperse the protesters “for the time being,” saying that “very, very high caution should be taken before the military is deployed to anti-Canadian positions.”

“Trudeau has nothing to gain from speaking to the protesters,” Genevieve Teller, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa, told AFP.

But another political analyst, Frederic Boyle of the University of Alberta, said the protests could escalate into a full-blown political crisis.

“Justin Trudeau reacted badly at first,” Boyle said. “He reacted very forcefully and surprisingly at the beginning of the protests when he tried to portray it as a far-right protest.”

Boyle added that Trudeau “added fuel to the fire” by turning vaccination into a political issue, particularly during last summer’s election campaign.

But the opposition also finds itself in a political stalemate.

The Conservatives, who will soon vote to elect their new leader, are themselves divided on the issue of the protests.

“They fear that the far right will tempt some of their supporters, but this is a risky bet,” said political analyst Daniel Byland.

While only about 10 percent of Canadian adults remain unvaccinated, as many as 32 percent of the population support anti-mandatory protests, according to a recent survey.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino voiced support for vaccines and criticized the protests, saying: “We cannot allow an angry public to reverse a course that continues to save lives in this final phase of the pandemic.”

“This should not set a precedent for how policy is made in Canada.”


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