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Trucks roll into Ottawa for protest against Canada's vaccine mandates

Ottawa set for 'massive' protest against Canada's vaccine mandates
Ottawa set for 'massive' protest against Canada's vaccine mandates Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA -Trucks rolled into Canada's capital Ottawa on Saturday to stage what police say will be a massive protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's COVID-19 vaccine mandates in front of parliament on a frigid winter day.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" - coming from east and west - started out as a rally against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a demonstration against government overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination streak.

"It's not just about the vaccines. It's about stopping the public health mandates altogether," said Daniel Bazinet, owner of Valley Flatbed & Transportation in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast. Bazinet is unvaccinated, but operates domestically and so is not affected by the cross-border mandate.

He is in a convoy of some 200 trucks slowly arriving from the east, and says public health policies pushed by Trudeau's government have gone too far.

"Where's it all going to end? That's how a lot of people feel," he said in a telephone interview.

Already dozens of trucks were lined up in front of parliament on Saturday morning, blowing their horns, as thousands of people gathered peacefully on the snow-covered lawn of parliament.

Few wore masks, but many were in balaclavas as the temperature with windchill was minus 21 Celsius (minus 6 Fahrenheit). By the end of the day, some 2,700 trucks are expected, a federal government source said.

The violent rhetoric used by the some of the promoters on social media in the run-up to the protest has worried police, who were out in force.

"We are prepared as best as we possibly can for those who chose to come here to do harm or cause others to do harm," Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said on Friday, adding the demonstration would be "massive in scale".

Trudeau and his family have left the home where they live in downtown Ottawa due to security concerns, the CBC reported. His office said it does not comment on security matters.

On Friday, Trudeau told the Canadian Press he was worried about possible violence connected with the demonstration. Earlier this week he said the convoy represented a "small fringe minority" who do not represent the views of Canadians.

About 90% of Canada's cross-border truckers and 77% of the population have had two COVID vaccination shots.

Trudeau announced a vaccine mandate for federal workers in October on the eve of the election, and then last month both Canada and the United States imposed one for cross-border truckers.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole opposes vaccine mandates and expressed support for the protest after holding talks with some of the truckers on Friday.

"I support their right to be heard, and I call on Justin Trudeau to meet with these hard-working Canadians to hear their concerns," O'Toole said after the meeting. "Please protest safely this weekend."

Conservative member of parliament Michael Cooper was handing out coffee to the protesters on Saturday.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents some 4,500 carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers, opposes the demonstration and has said this is "not how disagreement with government policies should be expressed."

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