OTTAWA, Ontario — Thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns.
The sounds of honking horns echoed around Ottawa’s downtown core. A convoy of trucks and cars parked in around Parliament Hill with some parking on the grounds of the National War Memorial before police asked them to move.
“Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted.
Some compared COVID restrictions to fascism and made use of Nazi symbols on upside down Canadian flags. One truck carried a Confederate flag while many carried expletive-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The statue of the late Terry Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster, then set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada, was draped with a upside down Canadian flag with a sign that said “mandate freedom.”
David Santos said he came from Montreal because he believes the vaccine mandates are not health-related but what he calls a “control thing” by governments.
The convoy of truckers and others prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and warn residents to avoid downtown. A top Parliament security official advised lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.
Trudeau has said Canadians are not represented by this “very troubling, small but very vocal minority of Canadians who are lashing out at science, at government, at society, at mandates and public health advice.″
The prime minister’s itinerary for the day usually says he is in Ottawa if he’s at home, but on Saturday it said “National Capital Region” amid a report he’s been moved to an undisclosed location.
Some are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a great number of the protesters have no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. The alliance said in a statement that the industry must adapt and comply with this mandate, noting the vast majority of drivers have done so.
The organizers of the protest have called for the forceful elimination of all COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates and others called for the removal of Trudeau.
Some opposition Conservative lawmakers served coffee to the protesters and the party leader met with some truckers. The protest has also attracted support from Donald Trump Jr. and some Fox News personalities.
“Today the threat against democracy isn’t only happening in America,” former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman tweeted. Heyman earlier said the confederate flag and what it represents is offensive to most Americans and should be to Canadians as well.
The Parliamentary Protective Service expects as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend-long rally.
“I’m locked into my own country right now,” said Tom Pappin, an unvaccinated man who came from just outside Ottawa. “I can’t go on a holiday. I can’t go to a restaurant, I can’t go bowling. I can’t go to a movie. You know, these are things that it’s just gotten out of control.”
The 52-year-old said attendees are likely to stay parked by Parliament until vaccine mandates are lifted.
Phil Haggart was among the group to counter-protest the convoy’s message, saying he wanted to show that there were voices in favor of public health measures to slow the spread of the virus. “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 as protesters rang cow bells close by.
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