OTTAWA, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Dozens of trucks and other vehicles blocked the downtown area of Ottawa for a second day after thousands descended on Canada’s capital city on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Trucks remained parked on the streets near parliament on Sunday morning, a day before lawmakers are due to resume work after the holiday break. Some truckers said they will not leave until the mandate is overturned.
Thousands gathered peacefully on Saturday, though some incidents caused anger. One protester filmed dancing on the tomb of the unknown soldier and the appearance of flags bearing swastikas sparked anger on social media, and a downtown mall shut down because protesters refused to wear masks.
The rally started out as a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against the Trudeau government with a strong anti-vaccination streak.
“Large crowds remained in the downtown core throughout the night,” Ottawa police said in a statement. “Officers encountered several challenges with demonstrators, including sporadic road blockages by trucks… These high-risk situations were de-escalated and resolved with no arrests.”
Due to security concerns, Trudeau and his family left their downtown Ottawa home on Saturday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) reported. Earlier this week Trudeau said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” who do not represent the views of Canadians.
About 90% of Canada’s cross-border truckers and almost 79% of the population has had two shots. Canada is now in the middle of a spike in Omicron variant cases that is straining hospitals.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Texas on Saturday, praised the Canadian protesters for “resisting bravely these lawless mandates”. Last week Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk also expressed his backing.
Canada’s Conservative Party supported the protest, which aimed a lot of its anger – in signs and chants – directly at Trudeau. The right-wing People’s Party of Canada, which holds no seats in parliament, turned out at the rally.
“We are super-spreaders of freedom,” People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier said in a speech on Saturday.
But Canadians took to social media to criticize the behavior of some protesters.
Michael Cooper, a Conservative lawmaker who handed out coffee at the protest, was pictured standing near a Canadian flag bearing a Swastika during a TV interview. He later released a statement condemning the “reprehensible” protester on Twitter.
Canada’s top soldier, Chief of the Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre, denounced a woman filmed dancing on the tomb of the unknown soldier, saying he was “sickened”.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said some protesters had harassed a soup kitchen, demanding free meals because their refusal to wear masks meant they were not to order in restaurants, according to an interview with the CBC.
“You have the right to protest, you’ve had your protest, please move on,” Watson said.
Reporting by Steve Scherer Editing by Chizu Nomiyama
Photo Truckers and people part of the Freedom Convoy 2022 block the street in front of the Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Canada, 29 January 2022 as they protest against the government of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The Freedom Convoy 2022 started with truckers from across Canada who oppose the vaccine mandate for truckers to be vaccinated to return to Canada and was joined by other opponents of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. EPA-EFE/ANDRE PICHETTE