Standing in front of several trucks near Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on Monday, Emily Martin was wearing a black winter hat adorned with the words “fringe minority” in white.
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It was a reference to a statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used to play down the scope and scale of the protests.
Ms. Martin, who arrived in Ottawa from her farm near Niagara Falls, about seven hours away, said she was hardly on the fringes of Canadian society. Rather, she is a mother, who was channeling the anger of many Canadians across the country, fed up and exhausted by pandemic restrictions that have wreaked havoc with their lives.
“It feels like we are in jail,” said Ms. Martin, 31, whose family produces honey.
Ms. Martin said she wanted her two young children, age 4 and 14 months, to be able to play soccer and visit their 99-year-old great-grandmother, who is living in a nursing home. She herself hasn’t seen the older woman since before Christmas, because of pandemic restrictions.
With the protests in their second week, the feeling on the streets outside Parliament on Monday was festive, as frigid temperatures eased a bit to somewhere just below freezing. A group of people danced to music blaring from the flatbed of a huge truck. Handmade signs decorated the iron fences encircling the Parliament grounds.
“We are not bad people for having questions,” said one. “For cowards, freedom is always extremist,” said another.
Rodica Stricescu, 64, a caregiver in a nursing home, came to Ottawa with her daughter from Windsor, Ontario, about an eight-hour drive away. Ms. Stricescu, who moved to Canada from Romania in 1995 in the aftermath of Communism’s fall, said her protest was about affirming freedom, not the intricacies of vaccine mandates.
“I ran from Communism to be here — I don’t want the same situation to happen here,” she said. She said she had felt forced to get vaccinated because of her workplace, and she was not happy about it.
Many of the protesters also framed their quest as a matter of personal freedom.
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“It’s been a long few years here. I’ve seen a lot of government overreach,” said William Swinimer, 29, a trucker from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who said he was attending a protest for the first time. “I don’t think we should give up our Canadian way of life.”
Nicole Vandelaar, 31, a hairdresser who said she was not vaccinated, came to the protest with her father, a dairy farmer. She said lockdowns and other restrictions were creating a mental health crisis — and high rates of depression — in Canada.
“That’s the real pandemic,” Ms. Vandelaar said.
On the other side of the debate are infuriated Ottawa residents, who are irate at the occupation of their city by demonstrators, some of whom have honked horns, snarled traffic, desecrated national war memorials and threatened residents.
Zully Alvarado, a hair stylist who volunteers at a homeless shelter, walked through protest grounds with a mask under her chin — a symbol of defiance against the protesters, she said, since she does not normally wear a mask outside.
“This is unbelievably selfish,” she said, referring to the disruption of daily life in the capital.
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“I find it so disrespectful.”
Leah McInnes-Eustace, 54, a communications consultant in the nonprofit sector who lives about two miles from the Parliament building, said the unruly protests had exacerbated her existing mental health issues. “I’ve just found myself with kind of a constant, high level of anxiety,” she said. “I can feel it in my body.”
Dwayne Winseck, a professor of communication and media studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, said his wife had been yelled at by protesters while walking their poodle in the neighborhood. He has also faced abusive comments online for expressing his thoughts about the protest.