In a scene at odds with Canadians’ image for niceness and rule-following, numbers of protesters protesting against vaccines and other Covid-19 obligations descended on the capital over the weekend, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill.
In the aftermath of the biggest pandemic protest to date in Canada, the protesters have found little sympathy in a country where more than 80% are vaccinated.
PM Trudeau called the Ottawa demonstrators a “fringe minority” and said they reflected the proliferation of “disinformation and misinformation online, plot theorists, about microchips, about God knows what else that goes with the tinfoil hats.”
Organisers, who have adopted white ascendance views, had raised millions for the cross-country “freedom truck convoy” against vaccine mandates. It attracted support from former US President Donald Trump and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk.
Justin Trudeau and his family were moved to an undisclosed location during the protest, A smaller but still significant number of protesters remained on the streets on Tuesday.
“You had your 15 minutes. Time to move on and give back our city to our residents,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said.
Protesters said that they won’t leave until all vaccine mandates and other restrictions are gone. They are calling for the removal of Justin Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.
Protester Michelle Kloet, 47, of Canmore, Alberta, tried to clean up some of the mess left behind. She said she was there because “it’s time for Canada and the rest of the world to find other ways to deal with this virus.”
The statue of Terry Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster and set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada, was draped with the Canadian flag and a sign that read “Mandate freedom.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “My kids were shocked. Like all Canadian young people, they have grown up with Terry Fox as a hero. This is not the Canada that we want to be and I really proudly believe and I know, this is not what Canada is.”
Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was “extremely disturbed desecrating our most sacred monuments and waving swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance.”
“Canada gave us kindness, tolerance, poutine and hockey, and in turn we exported this awful fake health freedom movement linked to far right extremism that caused so much senseless loss of life in America and now might do the same there,” tweeted Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Our apologies.”
Many of the protesters refused to wear masks in hotels, malls and grocery stores, One homeless shelter reported protesters had demanded it feed them.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said several investigations are underway and a tip line for hate crimes, threats and assaults related to the demonstration has been set up. Slowly said one person had been arrested in connection with the protest.
Some of the truckers were protesting a rule that took effect Jan 15 requiring those entering Canada to be fully immunised against the coronavirus. The US has imposed the same requirement on incoming truck drivers, so it would make little difference if Canada lifted its rule.
“Masks are important, vaccines are important, and mandates are important only because we need them to stay alive and not fill our hospitals up,” he said.
A surge of the highly infectious omicron variant has led to record cases and lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s most populous provinces. But restaurants reopened Monday with 50% capacity, and vaccine mandates imposed by the provincial governments remain in place.
A political science professor at the University of Toronto Nelson Wiseman, said the misinformation rabbit hole in Canada is not as deep as it is in the U.S. for many reasons, including less political polarisation north of the border.
Wiseman said, “This leads to much less sympathy for or tolerance of the unvaccinated among Canadians. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could not get very far in Canada. Donald Trump would be shunned, even in Conservative Party circles.”
”The protesters in Ottawa have not aided their cause as the demonstration drags on” He added.
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