Crowds descend on Ottawa’s downtown core for protest against vaccine mandates

Trucks jammed Ottawa streets and crowds packed Parliament Hill on Saturday to protest the federal Liberal government's vaccine mandates.

By The Canadian Press and News Staff

Crowds of trucks jammed Ottawa streets and crowds packed Parliament Hill on Saturday to protest the federal Liberal government, vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.

The sounds of honking horns echoed around the core of the national capital from vehicles parked and idling in front of the parliamentary buildings and around the National War Memorial.

Demonstrators marched up and down Wellington Street, which runs right in front of Parliament Hill and the Prime Minister’s Office, flying the national flag, the Quebec flag and the occasional American flag.

Many of those in attendance appeared to be unmasked. Some could be seen carrying copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Others carried signs reading “God keep our land glorious and free,” “Make Canada great again,” and “we are here for our freedom.” Still others bore expletive-laden signs targeting Trudeau.

Hundreds more vehicles from Western Canada, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces have been expected to attend Saturday as well.

By the afternoon, Ottawa police said the city’s downtown core had no more room for vehicles, other than first responders.

The sheer size of the protest, which was expected to attract thousands to Ottawa, led local police to ask for backup from nearby forces.

Ottawa police say they have officers from forces in Ontario including Toronto, Durham Region and London, as well as officers from the OPP and RCMP.

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The Canadian Trucking Alliance says it appears a number of protestors in Ottawa have no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push.

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 says in a statement that the industry must adapt and comply with this mandate, noting the vast majority of drivers have done so.

They add that truckers’ actions at the demonstration will have an impact on the image of their colleagues nationally.

“Your behaviour today will not only reflect upon you and your family but the 300,000 plus fellow Canadians that, like you, take great pride in our industry,” reads the statement. “The impact your actions will have on the image of the majority of your colleagues from coast-to-coast who do not share your opinion but share your passion for the industry and country.”

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Police were already out keeping emergency lanes open. Ottawa police warned that vehicles obstructing those lanes or other locations that must be kept clear for public safety reasons would be towed. Officers planned to remain downtown until crowds disperse.

The Office of the Prime Minister could not confirm a report early Saturday that Trudeau was relocated from Rideau Cottage because of security concerns.

In a statement to CityNews the PMO said it would not comment on security matters, but said the prime minster was continuing his isolation from a COVID-19 exposure “in the National Capital Region.”

“We’ve consulted Ottawa Public Health on appropriate protocols.”

The Parliamentary Protective Service expects as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend-long rally. Though the aim of the protest is ostensibly to oppose vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, attendees said that is only a small part of their demands.

“I can travel freely through the border, and not be in contact with anyone. Yet I’m locked into my own country right now,” said Tom Pappin, 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 the gathering wouldn’t likely be a one day protests, saying that attendees are likely to stay parked by Parliament until vaccine mandates are lifted. Some protesters have said they wouldn’t leave until public-health restrictions are lifted or Justin Trudeau is forced out as prime minister.

While the federal government has imposed a vaccine mandate for federally regulated workers and at the Canada-U.S. border, almost all COVID-19 restrictions fall to provincial jurisdiction. That includes mask mandates, business and school closures, and other public and private gathering limits.

Phil Haggart was among the group to counter-protest the convoy’s message, saying he wanted to show that there were voices in favour 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 protestors rang cow bells close by.

While the mood of attendees appeared jovial and peaceful, not everyone was optimistic that the government would fold to their demands.

“It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think anything will happen immediately,” said Phil Powers, a truck driver from Oshawa, Ont., who parked his trailer truck in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street for the weekend.

“This is the Canadian space to have the debate, so that’s why we’re here.”

Organizers of the group that mainly planned the truckers’ convoy, Canada Unity, are expected to address the crowds Saturday.

The memo being pushed by Canada Unity unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate force the federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. It does not mention truckers, and was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11.

Police have warned their intelligence is flagging the potential for violence. Local law enforcement is working with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, RCMP and other agencies to identify any potential threats to public safety.

With files from Laura Osman, Mia Rabson, Stephanie Taylor, Erika Ibrahim, Jordan Press and CityNews staff

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