Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he will meet some of those heading to Ottawa in a convoy against vaccine mandates, as the head of security for the House of Commons warned MPs that some protesters may target their personal residences in the country’s capital.
Mr. O’Toole said he denounces extremist elements that are “using the plight of truckers to bring division,” but sided more forcefully with the convoy than he had earlier in the week. He said he intends to visit with some of the truckers when they arrive this weekend but will do so away from Parliament Hill. The truckers in the convoy are against a requirement to be vaccinated to cross the U.S. border.
The security alert to members of Parliament was sent by Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell. A copy of the internal memo was obtained by The Globe and Mail. It notes that some individuals – not named – have inquired online about the personal addresses of local MPs in connection with the rally. The memo describes this activity as potential doxing, or a process where personal information is posted online with malicious intent.
Mr. McDonell’s memo urges MPs who may be confronted with a demonstration at their home or constituency office to “not get involved and to go somewhere safe.” He also advises MPs to “close and lock all exterior doors” in such circumstances.
The concerns show how an event styled as a “freedom convoy” has been snowballing as it drives toward Ottawa. Nearly two weeks ago, Canada and the United States imposed vaccination mandates on crossborder truck drivers. Some truckers were angered by the policy and began treks toward Ottawa from Western Canada, Eastern Canada and parts of the United States. Several legs of the protest are now converging along Ontario’s 400 series highways on their way to the city.
But the convoy’s pull has grown to the point that it is no longer just about truckers so much as it is a rallying cause for those opposed to COVID-19 countermeasures imposed by governments. “Canadian truckers rule,” said Elon Musk on Twitter Thursday. The billionaire U.S. entrepreneur has previously criticized vaccine mandates.
Now that thousands of people are en route to Parliament, authorities appear alarmed about the potential for some to break ranks from what organizers have repeatedly insisted will be a peaceful event.
Security forces on Parliament Hill are currently preparing for up to 10,000 protesters to set up camp in downtown Ottawa. A memo by the Parliamentary Protective Service sent to MPs and staff members shows the road running in front of Parliament Hill will be closed to general traffic, with the two lanes farthest from the Hill reserved for the protesters and the other two kept clear for emergency vehicles.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said earlier this week that he has been working with federal national-security agencies to minimize any potential for violence. “There are a range of people on social media who are producing a range of statements from benign to threatening and all of that is being monitored,” he said.
Some elected officials say that the security concerns should not overshadow people’s legitimate right to protest government-imposed pandemic measures. “The truckers are working Canadians who are frustrated, who in some cases are losing jobs because of [vaccine] mandates, mandates we opposed in the election,” Mr. O’Toole said.
The Conservative Leader said that while the convoy is becoming “a symbol of the fatigue and the division” in the country, he will oppose any group that tries to use the rally for other agendas. “I will, with my loudest voice, condemn anyone that is using the plight of people frustrated with the pandemic … to advance harmful, discriminatory or hateful messages.”
Speaking after a caucus meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has described the convoy as a fringe group, said Liberals will “keep standing up” to politicians like Mr. O’Toole, who he said believe less should be done to encourage vaccination.
Vaccines are the best protection for the health of Canadians as well as the economy and freedoms, said Mr. Trudeau.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh issued a statement Thursday saying the convoy doesn’t speak for Canadian truck drivers.
“I understand people are frustrated that we’re still in this pandemic,” he said. “But I’m concerned by the dangerous rhetoric we’ve seen from the convoy. I’m concerned by extremist elements that are spreading misinformation and attempting to turn the convoy into a Canadian version of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol.”
Several wings of the convoy converged near Canada’s biggest city on Thursday. In a shopping-mall plaza in Vaughan, north of Toronto, several hundred rally-goers held a sendoff for several dozen truckers in their rigs.
Outside a hangar-sized store for hunters, protesters draped themselves in Maple Leaf flags with many saying they were opposed to a broader array of pandemic measures than simply the ones truckers face at the border. At the Vaughan rally people handed out food, blankets, socks and windshield-wiper fluid to anyone driving a car, pickup truck or rig to Ottawa.
Scores of placards and signs hung on trucks denounced the Prime Minister in particular. And some journalists who attended said that the mainstream media faced harassment from some individuals. “So nice to spend my birthday getting spat on, shoved and yelled at,” Canadian Press photographer Frank Gunn said on Twitter.
Carla Seaward, a heavy-equipment operator from Barrie, was driving her H2 Hummer with her two teenagers in tow. She said the plan is for everyone to sleep in the vehicle once the convoy reaches Ottawa.
“Anybody that’s breaking the law is doing it of their own accord. It is not sanctioned by us in any way, shape or form,” she said. “This is meant to be a 100-per-cent peaceful rally. We just want our voices heard.”
Ms. Seaward said that “If we have to park to make our point, we will park to make our point. … We will stay put until something is done about these mandates.”
Ms. Seaward said that she is not a trucker, and that she is choosing to be part of the rally even though her husband died of COVID-19 last July. “We did exactly what we were told and I still lost him at 49 years old,” she said. “So it’s time for us to start living our lives again. Enough is enough.”
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry, has condemned the protests. The vast majority of drivers are vaccinated, according to the group.
Long-haul trucker Deandre Mahadeo, 35, was hailed as a hero Thursday by the crowd in the Vaughan Mills mall plaza. As protesters marched by his idling rig, they offered him and other truckers sandwiches, Tim Hortons coffee, children’s crafts – even the occasional $20 bill.
“This is my first rally,” said Mr. Mahadeo sitting in his cab. He said his livelihood is being directly hit by the 14-day quarantine policy imposed on unvaccinated drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. “I got to pack it in if that’s the case” he said. “I can’t cross the border any more.”
The Globe and Mail
With reports from James Keller in Calgary, Kristy Kirkup in Ottawa and The Canadian Press
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