A convoy of vehicles converged on Ottawa on Saturday in a demonstration that was initially pitched as a protest against vaccine mandates for truck drivers, but that has snowballed into a broader movement against pandemic-related measures, including mask mandates and lockdowns.
Police on Saturday used plows to block off a perimeter to vehicle traffic around Parliament Hill as lines of trucks that arrived the day before stayed parked on Wellington Street.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network said the convoy leaders have a history of hateful speech and Canadians should be considering their alignment with them.
Thousands of people wove their way through the trucks and onto Parliament Hill, waving flags, playing music and creating a racket with horns, drums, tambourines, and other instruments.
The crowd on the lawn in front of the Centre Block swelled in size since earlier this morning, with people mostly shoulder to shoulder as movement slowed.
Among the people on the Hill were parents with their kids, groups of friends, and elderly or disabled people using canes. People carried signs with aggressive and obscenity-laced rhetoric directed mostly at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
As of Saturday afternoon, the protests were peaceful and there was a largely party-like atmosphere on Parliament Hill, with some people handing out cookies and coffee and others drinking beer and smoking marijuana.
The latest developments:
- Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole spoke out in support of protesters’ right to demonstrate peacefully, but condemned those who parked their cars on the National War Memorial.
- Former U.S. president Donald Trump gave a shoutout to the convoy protesters at one of his trademark rallies in Texas, saying “we are with them all the way.”
- Politicians, including Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, are condemning Nazi imagery displayed at the protest in Ottawa.
- The mayor of Terry Fox’s hometown in British Columbia is calling for the immediate removal of protest signs and materials from his statue in Ottawa.
- The Canadian Anti-Hate Network says Canadians should be considering their alignment with convoy leaders who have a history of hateful speech.
- An industry group says many people converging on Ottawa are not connected to the trucking industry and do not represent truckers when they make remarks.
- Organizers of an in-person candlelight vigil in Ottawa to mark the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting cancelled the event, citing a risk of violence from some people associated with the convoy.
Conservative Michael Cooper is distancing himself from a Parliament Hill demonstrator who was flying a Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it behind the Alberta MP during a television interview.
Cooper says he didn’t know someone “with whom I’m not associated” was flying the Nazi symbol “some distance behind my back” as he spoke to the CBC.
He says he condemns Nazism, calling it “the purest form of evil.”
Cooper also says whoever flew the flag with the symbol “should be eternally ashamed,” adding that the person didn’t represent those at the protest who acted responsibly, whom Cooper supports.
The statement comes after the mayors of the two towns overlapping his Alberta riding, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, called on Cooper to apologize for “his behavior and lack of judgment.”
Pictures and video of Nazi imagery being displayed at the truckers’ protest spurred swift condemnations from across the political spectrum, including from some of Cooper’s caucus colleagues.
Fellow Alberta Conservative Damien Kurek was also at the protest.
In a tweet, he, too, condemns “any signs of hate, antisemitism, or disrespect” and writes that many protesters he spoke with believed those signs “are disgraceful and don’t represent those involved.”
- The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, also spoke out.
“I support the right to peacefully protest but that should not be confused with blatant disrespect for the men and women who have served, inspired, and protected our country,” he tweeted. “The individuals desecrating these memorials should be ashamed and their behaviour undermines the brave Canadians who have sacrificed for our country.”
- The Canadian Press
9:50 p.m. ET
Former U.S. president Donald Trump, speaking Saturday in Texas at one of his trademark rallies, shouted out the protests briefly as he urged the crowd to reject vaccine mandates in all their forms.
In “resisting bravely” what he called “lawless” mandates, truckers in Canada “are doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders, by far,” Trump said.
“We are with them all the way. They have really shown something.”
- The Canadian Press
8:52 p.m. ET
Politicians are condemning Nazi imagery displayed at a protest against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 measures in Ottawa.
Photos being circulated online show protesters waving the the Nazi flag and a Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it.
Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner says that symbolism is a “banner for evil, murder, unjustness” and the genocide of millions of Jews.
She says the Nazi flag should never be flown in Canada.
Marty Morantz, another Conservative legislator, says the voices of people espousing such hate “must always be condemned - never defended or explained away.”
- The Canadian Press
8:10 p.m. ET
Further south at the U.S. border in Coutts, Alta., RCMP said several hundred, possibly up to 1,000 vehicles, took part in another protest, eventually blocking Highway 4 to the U.S. border crossing in both directions.
Cpl. Curtis Peters, an RCMP spokesman, said there was no access to the border on the Canadian side and that U.S. officials were turning traffic around on the other side.
He said no arrests had been made by late Saturday afternoon, but that Coutts itself was blocked off in case emergency vehicles needed to get in.
“We’re engaging in dialogue with them and encouraging them to rethink that,” Peters said from Coutts late Saturday afternoon.
- The Canadian Press
3:36 p.m. ET
In the morning, vehicles were still moving through some streets in the downtown, but by 2:30 on Saturday, the City of Ottawa said all streets in the downtown core were “closed due to gridlock.”
“There is no more room for vehicles, other than first responders,” read an update from the city posted to Twitter.
Police said in a statement that vehicles are being redirected away from the core even as more trucks are trying to make their way downtown.
The Ontario Provincial Police, who are responsible for Highway 417, the main east-west artery through Ottawa, told drivers to avoid the westbound lanes because of traffic backlogs linked to the demonstration.
The sheer size of the protest, which attracted thousands to Ottawa, led local police to ask for backup from nearby forces.
Ottawa police said they have officers from forces in Ontario, including Toronto, Durham Region and London, as well as officers from the OPP and RCMP.
To the west of Ottawa’s downtown, city officials said the demonstrations shut down a nine-kilometre stretch of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.
– Marieke Walsh, with a report from The Canadian Press
3:25 p.m. ET
The mayor of Terry Fox’s hometown is speaking out after images surfaced of protesters putting an upside-down Canadian flag and protest sign on the national hero’s statue in Ottawa.
Brad West, Mayor of Port Coquitlam, B.C., said Mr. Fox was a unifier and the protest materials should be removed immediately.
“Whatever your cause, you don’t get to appropriate his legacy and you don’t touch his statue. Ever. This should be removed immediately,” said Mr. West in a tweet.
Mr. Fox became a household name during his Marathon of Hope in 1981, where he raised money and awareness for cancer research by attempting to run across the country after having a leg amputated due to cancer. He died partway through the endeavour.
– Salmaan Farooqui
2:41 p.m. ET
Protesters on the Hill who spoke with Globe reporters said they were opposed to vaccine and mask mandates, but while some wanted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau booted from government, others just wanted the federal and provincial restrictions reversed.
“He needs to get out,” Vanessa Lemire of Témiscaming, Que., said. “He works for himself; he doesn’t work for the people.”
Ms. Lemire said her complaints don’t just rest with the federal government but also with Premier Francois Legault’s policies in Quebec. “Quebeckers are starting to rise up,” she said.
She also repeated conspiracy theories, calling the pandemic a lie and saying the last federal election was rigged.
Tyler Armstrong, a flatbed truck driver from Hamilton, Ont., stood in front of his truck parked on Wellington St. as horns blared around him.
Mr. Armstrong, 25, said he arrived in Ottawa on Friday and that he is here “fighting for freedom” and to an end to mandates across Canada. Mr. Armstrong said because he is not vaccinated, he can no longer work.
“You can’t cross the border, you can’t go to a restaurant. It’s not right,” he said.
He said he supports the call for the government to be replaced, saying the crowd in Ottawa shows that the Liberal government is doing something wrong.
“I feel very proud to be Canadian at this moment just because of the amount of people that have come out, so, it’s awesome.” He said he chose not to be vaccinated because “it’s forced.”
“I just don’t think anything should be forced. It’s not right.”
Nearby, Peter Ravensbergen, 40, from Smithville, Ont., sat in his truck with his two oldest boys who are 12 and 14. Mr. Ravensbergen said they arrived on Friday.
“I am here to represent our farm, to basically stand up for freedom, stand up for the freedom to choose, stand up for the freedom to be able to work in this country,” he said from his truck window.
Mr. Ravensbergen said they farm and truck their own goods: flowers and plants. He said he is not vaccinated because he does not trust the vaccine, but added that many at the protest are vaccinated, but they are fighting for the “freedom to have choice.”
He said the vaccine mandate has not affected his job because he works in Ontario, but he came to the protest to support others in the trucking community.
“Our goal is just to raise awareness that we are not a fringe group of (the) minority here. This is a huge group of people that want to fight for freedom in Canada,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the protesters as a “fringe minority.” Mr. Ravensbergen said that description shows that Mr. Trudeau is “obviously not paying attention to what’s going on around us, or choosing not to.”
Mr. Ravensbergen said he does not agree with those calling for the government to be overthrown, saying Ottawa “just needs to stand up and actually listen to the people of Canada.” He said he doesn’t know when the protest will end, as he sits in his truck completely boxed in by other trucks.
“I think that’s going to depend on the rest of the truckers around us. I think expecting Trudeau to come out and say, ‘Fine, we end the mandates’ is not realistic. I think it’s more just to raise awareness (that) Canadians are not happy with the way things are going.”
Tonight, he and his boys will sleep in the box of the truck, where they have a heater and cots.
– Marieke Walsh, Janice Dickson
1:28 p.m. ET
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which monitors and reports on extremist groups, says the organizers of the trucker convoy have a long track record of racist and extremist views.
“We see the organizers calling for Justin Trudeau to be tried for treason. Other organizers ... have made Islamophobic comments and racist comments,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the organization.
While it is fair to protest vaccine mandates, he said, politicians and ordinary people alike should consider whether they want to be involved in a demonstration that has been organized by far-right groups with histories of hateful speech.
Mr. Balgord said it’s concerning to see Conservative politicians at the protest, especially after parliamentary security warned MPs to stay away from the event.
“When parties start to pander to fringe racists and extremists, they end up eating into the party and getting more power in the party,” Mr. Balgord said.
– Salmaan Farooqui
1:15 p.m. ET
Few wore face masks, but many of the estimated thousands who gathered on the snow-covered lawn in front of Parliament were in balaclavas as the temperature in Ottawa with wind chill was -21 degrees.
“It’s not just about the vaccines. It’s about stopping the public health mandates altogether,” said Daniel Bazinet, owner of Valley Flatbed & Transportation in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast. Mr. Bazinet is unvaccinated, but operates domestically and so is not affected by the cross-border mandate.
He is in a convoy of some 200 trucks slowly arriving from the east, and says public health policies pushed by Mr. Trudeau’s government have gone too far.
“Where’s it all going to end? That’s how a lot of people feel,” he said in a telephone interview.
12:35 p.m. ET
The Canadian Trucking Alliance says it appears a number of protesters in Ottawa have no connection to the trucking industry.
The group is telling Canadians that many of the people they may see or hear in media reports at the trucking protest on Parliament Hill do not speak for the industry or represent truckers as a whole.
About one-tenth of truckers that haul goods are estimated to be affected by requirements on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border for drivers to be vaccinated in order to cross freely.
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.
For truckers protesting the vaccination mandate at the border, the trucking alliance is asking them to be peaceful and then leave the city.
The statement adds that truckers’ actions at the demonstration will have an impact on the image of their colleagues nationally.
– The Canadian Press
- Related: Almost one in five Canadian truckers is South Asian, but many don’t see themselves represented in the trucker convoy
11:44 a.m. ET
Organizers have cancelled a planned in-person vigil in Ottawa to mark the fifth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting that left six men dead and five others seriously wounded.
A lone gunman shot and killed six worshippers shortly after the end of evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017.
Canadians United Against Hate had organized an interfaith candlelight vigil for tonight at a human rights monument by Ottawa City Hall, a few blocks south of Parliament Hill.
The group now says it will be holding a virtual vigil because of the truckers’ protest in downtown Ottawa and the risk of violence from some attendees.
The Ottawa vigil is one of several organized by community groups.
The events coincide with the first National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, which was proclaimed last April.
– The Canadian Press
Jan. 29, 11:15 a.m. ET
Ottawa police weren’t reporting any issues Saturday morning related to the event, as people slowly rolled into the downtown core to join trucks parked along Wellington Street in front of the parliamentary buildings.
The national flag was flying from some vehicles, or draped around the shoulders of some protesters, many of whom appeared to be unmasked. Some were carrying copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Some vehicles had parked in front of the National War Memorial, but Ottawa police said in a tweet that they moved when asked. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson followed up in a tweet:
Hundreds more vehicles from Western Canada, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are expected to arrive in the next few hours to join those already in Ottawa.
Officers are keeping emergency lanes open and plan to continue to tow vehicles obstructing those lanes and any other places police need to keep clear for public safety.
– The Canadian Press
Jan. 28, 9:11 p.m. ET
Ottawa is on edge as police and businesses prepare for a convoy of protesters demanding an end to vaccine mandates, which began converging on the country’s capital Friday.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly described the demonstration as “unique, fluid, risky and significant,” during a press briefing on Friday. He said that while organizers have advised police that it will be peaceful, the force does not know when the rally will conclude and is concerned about the possibility of “lone-wolf individuals.”
“These demonstrations are national in scope, they are massive in scale. Unfortunately, they are polarizing in nature, and they come almost two full years into a highly stressful and tragic global pandemic,” he said.
Chief Sloly said Ottawa police are prepared to investigate, charge and prosecute anyone who acts violently or breaks the law in association with the demonstrations. He said they are co-ordinating with federal, provincial and local partners to ensure that they are identifying people who pose a threat.
– Janice Dickson, Marieke Walsh and Michelle Carbert
Jan. 28, 6:08 p.m. ET
Prime Minister Trudeau on Friday disavowed this weekend’s trucker convoy protests in an interview with the Canadian Press and said he was concerned by the anti-vaccine-mandate movement.
“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,” he said.
Similarly, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said while he understands people are frustrated, he is concerned by the “dangerous rhetoric we’ve seen from the convoy.”
The Conservatives oppose vaccine mandates and several high-profile Conservative MPs have supported the protest. On Friday, Leader Erin O’Toole met with some truckers taking part in the protest at a truck stop south of Ottawa.
“I wanted to talk to some people that were actual truckers protesting and using their democratic right and some of the people that were gathering to wave flags and show their support,” he said in an interview.
Ontario Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Lianne Rood both said they would meet the protesters in Ottawa.
“I’m going to look for an opportunity to bring coffee and support and friendship for peaceful, law-abiding, hard-working, freedom-loving truckers, who have kept my family and yours alive throughout this pandemic by putting food on our table.” Mr. Poilievre said.
Some of the self-proclaimed organizers of the convoy are also behind a document, dubbed a “memorandum of understanding,” that says they want to replace the Trudeau government with a government made up of themselves, the Senate and the Governor General and require all levels of government to end pandemic-related measures like vaccine mandates. The document, written in French and English and dated 2021, has more than 243,000 signatures online.
The group has attracted other people with extremist views. One online video includes a man expressing hope the protest will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump. A commenter on the group’s Facebook page suggested the protesters “flood the legislature buildings.”
– Marieke Walsh