OTTAWA — Residents of the national capital are again being told to avoid travelling downtown as a convoy of trucks and cars snarl traffic protesting government-imposed vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.
The truck traffic in the city’s core by Parliament Hill has made many streets downtown impassable to vehicles, police say.
Other streets have been closed and local police say they are working to mitigate the impacts of the gridlock on residents and businesses downtown.
It’s not clear when the convoy of vehicles plans end their park-in protest as some protesters have vowed not to move until all their demands are met.
Sitting in his truck, Scott Ocelak said he was warned he was locked into his spot until Sunday, but planned to stay until Tuesday at the latest.
The demonstration was initially aimed at denouncing vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, but the movement has morphed into a protest against a variety of COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
“Everyone’s united and we just needed a spark, and this is the spark that we needed,” Ocelak said Saturday. “We’re all on board and we’re all here together. It’s end all mandates for everybody.”
A memo being pushed by Canada Unity, the group that mainly planned the convoy, unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate force federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. It does not mention truckers, and was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11.
“They need to listen and they say they’re not going to listen, they’re not going to change,” said Eric Simmons, who drove in from Oshawa, Ont., to see the protest up close.
“People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to get the vaccine. I don’t want the vaccine.”
The vast majority of truck drivers are vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has previously estimated about 10 per cent of drivers were affected when vaccinations became a requirement to cross the Canada-U.S. border this month.
The mood Saturday was largely peaceful and jovial, with the smell of marijuana wafting alongside an airing of conspiracy theories about vaccines themselves. Police says there were no incidents of violence or injuries reported on Saturday, but are planning to maintain a heavy presence Sunday.
Events Saturday were tarred by protestors who jumped on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and others who fastened an inverted Canadian flag and anti-vaccine sign to a statue of Terry Fox. Both actions generated vocal denunciations.
Condemnations also poured in from federal politicians of all stripes against protesters seen carrying Confederate flags, as well as flags and signs bearing Nazi symbols and slogans.
One such Nazi image was captured in the background of a television interview with Conservative MP Michael Cooper.
The mayors of the two towns overlapping his Alberta riding, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, in a joint statement called on Cooper to apologize for “his behavior and lack of judgment.”
In a statement late Saturday, Cooper said he didn’t know someone “with whom I’m not associated” was flying a Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it “some distance behind my back” as he did a television interview.
He said he condemns Nazism and said whoever flew the flag with the symbol “should be eternally ashamed,” adding that the person didn’t represent those who acted responsibly whom Cooper supported.
Fellow Alberta Conservative Damien Kurek was also at the protest Saturday and in a tweet condemned “any signs of hate, antisemitism, or disrespect.” He wrote that many protestors he spoke with believed those signs “are disgraceful and don’t represent those involved.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2022.