A convoy of truckers protesting against the federal vaccination mandate could arrive in the capital as early as Thursday, and other groups and counterprotesters will likely join their multiday demonstration, Ottawa police say.
Senior Ottawa law enforcement officials told the police board on Wednesday that the protesters are difficult to predict and officers are preparing contingency plans in case of violence. The number of participants is quickly changing, but the officials said that, so far, they expect 1,000 to 2,000 people to arrive in trucks and other vehicles, and stay through the weekend.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said the main group of truckers, which calls itself the Freedom Convoy, has been peaceful as it rolls through towns and cities, but others who plan to join the protest or hold counter demonstrations are being more aggressive.
“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,” Chief Sloly told the board.
Acting deputy chief Trish Ferguson said it will be a “significant and extremely fluid event” and police are “planning for a range of potential risks, including but not limited to counter demonstrations, blocking of intersections, interfering with critical infrastructures, and unlawful and violent activity.”
In the past two weeks, Canada and the United States have imposed vaccination mandates on cross-border truck drivers, angering some truckers and prompting warnings that the new rule will further disrupt already stressed supply chains. The federal government has not indicated it plans to back off. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry, has condemned the protests and says most drivers are vaccinated and busy shipping goods.
However, the convoy is finding some support from Conservative MPs who have broken with Leader Erin O’Toole’s position. Mr. O’Toole on Monday wouldn’t say whether he supported the protesters, and that it wasn’t for the leader of the official opposition to attend demonstrations on Parliament Hill.
Since then, a growing number of Tory MPs have made their support for the convoy clear, including deputy leader Candice Bergen, MP and former leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, and former leader Andrew Scheer. On Twitter this week, Mr. Scheer called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the “biggest threat to freedom in Canada” and said the vaccine mandates are an example of his ”overreach.”
At a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau dismissed the convoy participants as a “small fringe minority.” He said their views are unacceptable and do not represent the views of Canadians.
On his way out of the first day of a party caucus retreat on Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole told reporters the trucker’s rally would be discussed this week. “We have to make sure that everything is peaceful; peaceful is the priority,” he said, without elaborating.
Before the meeting, two Conservative riding associations went public with calls for a leadership review by June, rather than August, 2023, as scheduled.
Since the federal election last year, Mr. O’Toole has struggled to manage the fault line within the Conservative Party over vaccination mandates. Some people in that caucus view the mandates as an infringement on civil rights, but pollsters say they are offside with most voters. The issue dragged down Mr. O’Toole’s campaign in the final weeks before the September election, and is still a point of contention.
The caucus will get a full airing of what went right and wrong in the campaign on Thursday when it is briefed on the party’s election postmortem. Two caucus sources told The Globe and Mail they expect the review will highlight the need to improve the election readiness strategy and modernize voter identification and contact systems.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not permitted to disclose the internal party deliberations.
The convoy has gained massive support online. Its Facebook page has more than 135,000 likes.
The group has also attracted people with extremist views. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump. Another commenter on the group’s Facebook page suggests the protesters “flood the legislature buildings.”
Donald Trump Jr. took to social media on Tuesday to endorse the Canadian truck convoy’s fight against “tyranny.”
On Facebook, Tamara Lich, one of the convoy’s organizers and a member of the western separatist Maverick Party, posted a video disavowing any threatening comments or violence.
“Nobody in this convoy will be inciting violence or uttering threats. That is not what we’re here to do,” Ms. Lich said. “Violence and threats is not our mandate.”
She told participants to report any violent behaviour or comments to police.
Ms. Lich created the Freedom Convoy 2022 GoFundMe page, which as of Wednesday had raised more than $5.6-million since Jan. 14. On Tuesday, GoFundMe froze access to the money until the group presents a transparent plan for how it will be used.
With a report from The Canadian Press
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.