The demonstrations initially began as a peaceful protest against the rules in place for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated cross-border truck drivers.
Protests over Canada’s new restrictionson unvaccinated truckers have intensified. Following isolated protests in Quebec over the now-scrapped plan to tax the unvaccinated, the national capital of Ottawa and the western province of Alberta have become the centres of the campaign.
The demonstrations initially began as a peaceful protest against the rules in place for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated cross-border truck drivers. However, the Ottawa rally descended into violence over the weekend, with protestors defacing monuments, displaying hate symbols and threatening locals. The Alberta blockade too has been declared unlawful by the Canadian police. The demonstrations have also resulted in the stranding of perishables at border checkpoints, sparking fears of disruption to supply chains and loss of revenue.
What triggered these events?
In November 2021, Canada said that all cross-border essential workers, including truck drivers, will be required to produce proof of vaccination to travel across the border from January 15. Under this mandate, unvaccinated Canadian truckers who enter the country from the US are required to undergo Covid-19 tests and two weeks of self-quarantine. The US has also imposed a similar requirement which came into effect on January 22.
As the rules came into force, around 90 per cent of the truckers were recorded as vaccinated. However, a section of the workers raised their voices against the mandate, largely driven by anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown sentiments. A day before the rules kicked in, a GoFundMe page was set up under the banner of ‘Freedom Convoy 2022’. The page has raised nearly CAD $ 9.9 million so far to take the “fight to the doorsteps of our Federal Government and demand that they cease all mandates against its people.”
The Ottawa rally
On January 29, hundreds of trucks descended on the national capital as a part of a planned march against the mandates. Though initially peaceful, the protests soon turned violent with protestors — several unmasked — reportedly urinating on the city’s National War Memorial, flying Nazi and Confederate flags, harassing local businesses and residents, chanting derogatory slogans against the Prime Minister, and defacing national monuments.
I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame.
— General / Général Wayne Eyre (@CDS_Canada_CEMD) January 29, 2022
As the situation deteriorated, it was reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were moved from their residence near the Parliament House in Ottawa to an undisclosed location.
Meanwhile, in Alberta
At the Coutts border crossing in Alberta, the protesting truckers are blocking a major highway — CBC News terms it “the primary conduit for the approximately $6 billion in trade” between Alberta and the US — connecting the province to Montana in the western US, resulting in disruption of services and inconveniencing residents.
BREAKING: Massive convoy of truckers have blockaded the US-Canada border crossing in Alberta pic.twitter.com/A4KHrzETbv
— Truckistan Amb. Poso 🏁 (@JackPosobiec) January 31, 2022
The border point too saw a bout of violence when the protestors reportedly breached police barriers and clashed with officers on Tuesday. The Alberta police said that though attempts were made to engage with the protestors to find a peaceful resolution, they have chosen not to comply. “What may have begun as a peaceful assembly quickly turned into an unlawful blockade,” it said in a statement.
PM Trudeau, who is in quarantine after testing Covid positive, has refused to roll back the mandates or meet with the protestors.
“Over the past few days, Canadians have been shocked – and, frankly, disgusted – by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital. I want to be very clear: We’re not intimidated by those who hurl abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. And we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism, or dishonour the memory of our veterans. There is no place in Canada for this behaviour. So, to those responsible: It needs to stop. And to those who joined the convoy but are uncomfortable with the symbols of hatred and division on display: Be courageous and speak out. Do not stand for, or with, intolerance and hate,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
The country’s lawmakers too denounced the objectionable actions of the protestors, issuing a statement condemning the hateful messages seen at the Ottawa protest.
To the nearly 90% of truckers across the country who’ve gotten vaccinated and are working hard to keep our shelves stocked and our economy moving: Thank you. Just like we’ve relied on you, you can rely on us to stand with you – and make sure you can do your job safely. pic.twitter.com/NfyDYN6GQA
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 2, 2022
However, opposition leader Erin O’Toole, who heads the Conservative Party, has stated his opposition to vaccine mandates and questioned Trudeau’s refusal to engage with the truckers.
According to a report in The Toronto Star, O’Toole has said that the protests are a reaction to Trudeau’s vaccine-focussed election campaign of 2021.
“We as a country need to ask ourselves, how did we end up with division and vaccine politics that look more like America’s than anywhere else? How did Canada, a country that has always prized dialogue, discussion, moderation, end up with this anger and spite in our politics?” said O’Toole, adding “The prime minister must ask himself. Yes, he won, but at what cost?”