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Canadian cities brace for more anti vaccine mandate protests

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By Reuters
Canadian cities brace for more anti vaccine mandate protests
Canadian cities brace for more anti vaccine mandate protests   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Blair Gable

TORONTO/OTTAWA -Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, braced for disruptions on Saturday as protests against vaccine mandates spread from the capital of Ottawa, raising fears of clashes with counter protesters.

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Protesters have shut down downtown Ottawa for the past eight days, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and some saying they wanted to dissolve Canada’s government.

The well-organized blockade, which police say has relied partly on funding from sympathizers in the United States, saw protesters bring in portable saunas on Saturday to combat frigid cold temperatures.

GoFundMe took down the Freedom Convoy’s donation page on Friday, saying it violated the platform’s terms of service due to unlawful activity.

In a confusingly worded statement, the website said it would give refunds to those who request it by Feb. 19 and work with organizers to distribute the rest to verified charities.

On Saturday, GoFundMe said it would refund all donations automatically but not before Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the company “professional thieves” and Florida Governor Rick DeSantis, a Republican, vowed to investigate the website.

Toronto police said they would have a ramped-up presence in the city over the weekend due to anticipated protests. They closed a major downtown avenue, which is home to several hospitals, fearing protesters would otherwise impede access. Entry was limited to hospital staff, patients, family and people picking them up.

“If anyone is planning to come here for a protest that is not peaceful and not respectful I would urge you, on behalf of all Toronto residents and business, to please stay home,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Friday.

Healthcare workers are planning a rally of their own in downtown Toronto on Saturday and counter protesters gathered early.

Some protest vehicles arrived in Quebec City on Thursday evening for a planned Saturday protest, coinciding with the city’s annual winter carnival. Trucks blocked traffic near Manitoba’s provincial legislature in Winnipeg on Friday.

Some Ottawa residents, subjected to near-incessant honking, smashed windows and harassment for wearing masks, criticized Ottawa Police earlier this week for not doing more to end the blockade.

Ottawa police warned on Friday of a crackdown on what they called an “increasingly dangerous” protest and dedicated 150 officers to “patrolling and addressing unlawful and threatening conduct in the most-impacted neighbourhoods.”

Several Toronto healthcare workers said Thursday they received advice from their hospitals to not wear hospital scrubs in public in light of the protest. Police said this was not their advice.

“The notion that we have to somehow skunk around or be afraid of who we are and what were doing, I think, is offensive and regrettable and, I think, a sad commentary on our society,” emergency room doctor Raghu Venugopal told Reuters.

Venugopal said he supported people’s right to protest peacefully but hoped police cleared access for hospital staff and patients.