‘Freedom rally’: Truckers, supporters rally in Ottawa


Thousands of truckers and others opposed to cross-border vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions have rolled into Ottawa on Saturday for a rally on Parliament Hill.

For the past week, several teams of truckers and supporters across the country have been making their way to the nation’s capital as part of the “freedom convoy,” raising more than $8.1 million from more than 102,000 donations on GoFundMe along the way, as of Saturday afternoon. Some convoy participants have already been in the city since Friday, lining the streets and waving flags in front of the Hill.

More trucks arrived in Ottawa throughout the morning, with hundreds of vehicles from the western route of the convoy staying overnight at a large truck stop in Arnprior, Ont., just west of Ottawa.

The rally has been peaceful, with no reports of arrests.

Police previously said they do not have a confirmed number of demonstrators, but were preparing for a few thousand attendees. The Parliamentary Protective Service anticipated up to 10,000 demonstrators.

Blockades have been set up at various points in the city. As a result, many people will have to park elsewhere and walk to Parliament Hill.

A crowd on the lawn in front of Centre Block has only increased in size since the morning. Demonstrators flying flags, carrying signs and cheering have marched up and down Wellington Street, which runs in front of Parliament Hill and the Prime Minister’s Office.

In the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, people have lined pedestrian overpasses such as Highway 417, cheering as big rigs pass underneath.

Some have directed their frustrations at the media as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, carrying signs with the common “F*** Trudeau” slogan.

Holding a sign reading “small fringe minority,” a reference to comments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in describing the convoy, Montreal resident Chris Eid said many people disagree with what is happening in the country.

“And that’s why we’re here. We’re fighting for our freedom and liberty,” he said.

“I just want Justin Trudeau to come talk to the people, to his people. He’s supposed to unite us and he’s been doing the opposite, unfortunately.”

Don Finlayson of Oshawa, Ont., says he received two shots of COVID-19 vaccine and got “really sick two weeks ago,” but plans to be in Ottawa for two or three weeks.

“It’s not just about the jab. Like everybody thinks all the truck drivers here are worried about the mandate. We’re not,” said Finlayson, who runs a construction company.

“We’re here for the Indigenous who have no fresh water. We’re here for children not to wear their masks 10 hours a day …. We’re here for the homeless, we’re here for the veterans … This is not the way it goes. We need to make sure that all our Canadians stand together.”

VACCINE MANDATES

The freedom convoy began in part over a federal government decision to impose a vaccine mandate on cross-border Canadian truckers, requiring those who are unvaccinated to quarantine when returning to Canada. The United States has imposed a similar mandate, with unvaccinated truckers having to quarantine as well when entering the country.

However, the convoy has come to represent a general opposition to vaccine mandates and passports, as well as public health restrictions, most of which have been put in place under public health orders at the provincial and territorial level.

Trudeau has previously said that nearly 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated.

Speaking to CTV News Channel on Saturday, Private Motor Truck Council of Canada president Mike Millian said surveys the organization has done suggest the number is closer to about 75 per cent.

But as is the case with the rest of society, he says there are drivers who support the convoy and others who don’t.

“It’s a bit of a polarizing topic,” he said. “Our association agrees with vaccines, but we have stated that we were against and are against vaccine mandates for essential workers and truck drivers.”

In a statement, the Canadian Trucking Alliance said a number of protesters appear to have “no connection” to the trucking industry and are pushing a “separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements.”

The organization asked those in the trucking industry who are participating to do so peacefully.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Friday met with some participants of the convoy and said he supports the truckers’ “right to be heard.”

Some Conservative MPs, as well as People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, are expected to arrive on the Hill to speak and show their support for the protesters.

Meanwhile, organizers from Canadians United Against Hate have cancelled a planned in-person vigil in Ottawa to mark the fifth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting. The vigil will instead be held virtually.

POLICE

Officers from multiple Ontario police forces, including Toronto, York Region, Durham, London and the Ontario Provincial Police, are assisting Ottawa police and the RCMP.

Ottawa police did not report any arrests Friday night or any major incidents. Police are not allowing trucks to park in front of the Prime Minister’s Office due to security concerns.

Officers are attempting to keep emergency lanes open and plan to continue towing any obstructing vehicles.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wrote on Twitter that police confirmed cars parked on the grounds of the national cenotaph, which includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, have been removed, calling the act “a sign of complete disrespect.”

By Saturday afternoon, the City of Ottawa reported that streets in the downtown core had closed due to the lack of space for vehicles, other than those used by first responders.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly is encouraging city residents to avoid the downtown area. Police are anticipating “significant traffic delays and disruptions” along several downtown streets. MPs and government staff have been advised to avoid the parliamentary precinct this weekend.

Some trucking industry leaders have raised concerns over the escalating rhetoric coming out of the convoy, as well as fringe groups attaching themselves to the movement. One group involved in the convoy known as “Canada Unity” wants to see the Senate and Governor General unilaterally overturn the federal vaccine mandates — something that is legally impossible.

Ottawa police also said they received a “direct threat” to the safety of their officers from a counter-protest source and are aware of “other groups and individuals” who may not “share the same peaceful goals.”

Sloly said interactions with the convoy’s organizers have been “productive and co-operative” and police are prepared to investigate, arrest, charge and prosecute anyone committing violent acts or breaking the law.

However, he said while the convoy’s organizers have given assurances that the demonstration will be peaceful, with planned events Saturday and Sunday, he expects there to be other “lone wolf” protesters who are not directly affiliated with the main group.

Sloly also warned of “social media actors,” who may or may not be in the city, but will try to incite “hate, violence and in some cases criminality.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa, CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press




www.ctvnews.ca

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