OTTAWA, Ontario — It’s been almost two weeks since a convoy of big rigs occupied downtown Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, to protest the country’s COVID-19 rule requiring unvaccinated truckers to quarantine for up to two weeks after crossing back into the country.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has called the protesters a “fringe minority” and other Canadian officials have labeled many of them “extremists.”
But what do the protesters have to say?
On claims they’re ‘fringe’ extremists
Troy Huntington, a company driver from Kemptville, Ontario, says Trudeau’s claims and many media portrayals are not accurate when it comes to the protests and what kind of people the protesters are.
“When I was there earlier it was peaceful, people talking amongst each other and doing exactly what the media has been portraying the whole convoy,” Huntington told The Trucker on Monday.
“We’re just fighting for our government to end the mandates here in Canada.”
Much of the coverage of the protest has focused on extremist elements that have joined the protests, with many reports of Confederate flags and Swastikas being spotted among protesters. Other reports have stated that the protesters want to overthrow Canada’s government.
Huntington said he has not seen those elements himself.
“I haven’t seen any personally, and there were supposed to be some counter-protesters that were supposed to be here on the weekend, but I hadn’t seen anything to counter-protest because I think the people are getting the word about what we are protesting right now,” Huntington said. “There has been reports of Antifa supposedly inserting themselves into our demonstration to make it look like what the media has been portraying the whole thing to be telling us that we are a terrorist group and that we are not complying to the views of our government.”
Antifa is a political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology, according to the Oxford dictionary’s definition.
Huntington said that the mood on the ground has been positive, and that morale is good among the protesters.
“People are just standing up to the government again; just to try to stop these mandates that they are imposing on us,” Huntington said. “The unity amongst every one of all races has been great. There’s a lot of love towards each other, and while the government is trying to separate us by trying to get us to inflict hate towards each other, we’re standing up to that as well. We’re here united.”
Relationship with the city of Ottawa
The city of Ottawa’s attempts to get the protesters to leave has become a major part of the story as well.
On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the city.
In a letter to Trudeau and the public safety minister, Watson said “what was initially described as a peaceful protest has now turned into a siege of our downtown area” with 400 to 500 trucks, according to the Associated Press.
“(Watson) stopped fuel delivery into the city for the trucks and even has the Ottawa Police stopping people and seizing diesel fuel in cans from getting to the trucks,” Huntington said.
Watson asked for 1,800 additional police officers. That would nearly double the existing resources of the entire Ottawa Police Service, which has 2,100 police and civilian members.
“It’s been said that the RCMP has told her union boss that two-thirds of the RCMP will quit, and I can tell that a lot of the Ottawa police do not want to be involved in this at all so they can bring on the police the military, which has been talked about. But at the end of the day until these mandates are taken away we’re not going anywhere,” Huntington said.
Despite fuel being confiscated by police, the protesters can get other supplies.
“There has been a lot of food and water getting down there,” Huntington said. “A lot of it has been donated by local businesses from mostly outside of the city because most of the restaurants in the downtown core area, where the protesters being held at, are closed at the moment.”
One of the other stories from the protests is the conflict between protesters and residents near downtown Ottawa.
“The residence in the area consider us a nuisance because they can’t go about their daily lives,” Huntington said. “But majority these residents are most likely liberal supporters, which … the prime minister is the leader of the Liberal Party. We have been working with the residents to try to keep this as peaceful as possible.”
One of the most contentious stories reported is that of residents who claim their lives, particularly their sleep, are being interrupted by the constant blaring of the trucks’ horns.
On Monday, an Ottawa judge put an injunction in place to silence the horns at all hours for the next 10 days. The injunction authorizes police to arrest and remove anyone they believe is aware of the order and is contravening it. They also have the discretion to release anyone from arrest if that person agrees in writing to obey the order.
“They can put all of the injunctions they want but we’re still not going anywhere,” Huntington said. “The heavy tow trucks that were called in by the mayor and were told to tell the drivers they had COVID won’t even budge to remove your trucks from the city. The mayor is getting angry that we’re not following his crap orders.”
Just the beginning?
Right now, many protesters say they feel like the government is still not listening to them. They just want their voices, and concerns, to be heard.
“The prime minister will not listen to us, the premier of Ontario, Mr. Doug Ford, will not listen to us even though he says he has, and the mayor of Ottawa will not listen to us either,” Huntington said.
“If this was a protest from an actual domestic terrorist group then there would be no questions asked because most domestic terrorist groups from what I’ve seen over the years I’ve done nothing but cause damage and riot in the city. The prime minister is angry at us because he doesn’t like people standing up to his authority.”
Huntington said it all starts with Trudeau and ends up at the city of Ottawa mayor.
“Our prime minister wants our country to be a dictatorship country like China and Cuba and we’re not standing for that,” Huntington said.
One thing is clear, the protest in Canada is looking to be the beginning of an even broader movement. Other countries, including the U.S., are seeing movements of their own taking root on social media.
“The support from across the world has been amazing especially from our friends in the USA,” Huntington said. “Hopefully they will do the same and fight to end the mandates there and know the people of Canada have their backs.”
Joseph Price has been a journalist for almost two decades. He began in community media in 2005 and has since worked at media outlets in Virginia and Arkansas. He is also a commercial drone pilot and video editor. He hosts a weekly community radio show focused on goth, metal and industrial music that airs Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. at www.kuhsradio.org.