Ottawa protesters defy growing calls to end occupation of capital | Canada
Protesters against Covid vaccination mandates defied government calls to end a 10-day occupation of Canada’s capital, a day after the city’s mayor declared a state of emergency and promised to “reclaim the city”.
Ottawa police described the protest as a “siege” of the city, where hundreds of trucks and cars jammed downtown. On Sunday, Mayor Jim Watson warned authorities were “losing this battle”, and a civil class action lawsuit was filed against protesters for the incessant honking and disruption of daily life.
But on Monday morning, a 10 a.m. deadline set out in the class action lawsuit – which asked protesters to leave of their own accord or face damages of nearly C$10 million (US$7.9 million) – came and went with no sign that the protest would end soon. Even after an Ontario judge approved the group’s request for an injunction to end the honking, the protest continued Monday afternoon.
Dozens of large trucks, RVs and pickup trucks remained parked outside Parliament Hill and surrounding streets, and protesters showed no signs of leaving. Free food and drink tables, a firewood distribution station and other infrastructure help them stay put. Despite the cold, most of the demonstrators appeared to be in good spirits, and many said they were there “out of love”.
Ron, a roadside rescuer from a small rural community in British Columbia, was taking refuge at a disused bus stop. (Services have been suspended because buses cannot reach the city center.)
“I came here for my grandchildren,” he said, saying Canadians had been deprived of their medical choices. “I don’t want them to live under government control.”
Canada has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world (approximately 85% of truckers in the country are vaccinated) and public health measures have been widely supported.
But Ron cried as he described an elderly neighbor who died two days after being vaccinated. A doctor said she died of fast-onset cancer, but Ron said he didn’t believe her.
The ‘freedom convoy’ began the last week of January as a protest against vaccination mandates for truckers, but morphed into a protest against broader public health measures – and as a rallying point for conspiracy theorists and opponents of Justin Trudeau’s government.
Swastikas, Confederate flags and QAnon symbols have all been seen at the protests. Hundreds of signs hung on the front doors of Parliament, accusing the government of taking Canada’s freedoms away and demanding that people “wake up”. With temperatures below zero, protesters warmed around small fires.
A homemade sign on a protester’s car appeared to equate the vaccine mandate with the Nazi persecution of Jews.
A red-haired man who did not give his name said he had traveled from Alberta – more than 3,000 km away – to join the protest. He said staying could “break him financially”, but argued a “slippery slope” of worse outcomes would await him if vaccination mandates were allowed to stay in place.
“They call us xenophobes, but how can xenophobes unite the world? he said.
The protests drew considerable support from American groups opposed to Covid-19 restrictions and prominent Republican figures, including Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, who called Trudeau a “far-left madman” who had “ destroys Canada with insane Covid mandates”.
Gerald Butts, a former senior adviser to Trudeau, tweeted: “For some high profile American politicians, patriotism means hiring a mob to besiege a G7 capital.”
Many small businesses in the city’s downtown remained closed on Monday, with owners preferring to close rather than risk altercations with protesters – who often refuse to wear masks indoors.
On Sunday evening, police began removing gas and fuel supplies from a logistics base set up by protesters. “We’re turning up the heat any way we can,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters.
But anger was growing among local residents over the failure of police and city officials to break up the protest, amid reports that truckers and their supporters had harassed or threatened residents.
Alexa Reedman, who was walking her dog not far from the protest, had no patience with the protesters. “They should just leave. Now.”
She described an atmosphere of constant stress over the past week.
“You just don’t feel comfortable – you don’t feel 100% safe anymore. Initially it was called a protest, but when people use the word “occupation” it really resonates – it sounds like an occupation. You just can’t live normally,” she said.
After residents of a nearby building argued with truckers on Sunday night over the constant barrage of horns, two protesters reportedly started a fire in the lobby of the building and taped the doors shut. Ottawa police said Monday their arson unit is investigating.
But the convoy also gained supporters: thousands of people went to the site of the demonstration on Saturday. The Convoy also won millions of dollars in crowdfunding support, now raised by a Christian crowdfunding site called GiveSendGo, after the cancellation of the first GoFundMe, which raised more than $10 million.
Last week, Ottawa police said the crowdfunding had attracted “significant” support from the United States.
Within days of launching the new crowdfunding page, supporters sent nearly $5 million.
On Monday, GiveSendGo tweeted “money for what you are passionate about. We won’t stop you like others will!
Just outside parliament, the driver of a semi-tractor parked in the road honked his horn and revved his engine, sending out plumes of black exhaust. Emblazoned on the side of the vehicle was the slogan: “God-given immunity works best.”
An elderly man wearing a face mask walked past, holding a sign that said, “Truckers are going home.”