They call themselves “Freedom Convoy” (“Freedom Train”) and have been protesting for a week against the mandatory vaccination for truckers crossing the border between the United States and Canada.
Faced with the chaos caused, the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, declared the state of emergency in the capital this weekend.
Watson said the city was “completely out of control,” with protesters outnumbering police.
He also stressed that the protests represented a “threat to the security” of residents. Authorities have received reports of racial attacks.
Speaking to Canadian radio station CRFA, Watson said protesters were behaving in an increasingly “insensitive” manner by “blaring horns and sirens, (firing) fireworks and turning (the situation) into a party.” ”.
“Clearly, we are outnumbered and we are losing this battle,” he said. “This has to be reversed, we have to take our city back.”
The mobilizations arose from the introduction in January of a new rule that establishes that all truckers must be vaccinated to cross the border between the United States and Canada, but those who are now protesting against other restrictions due to covid.
Since then, protesters have gathered at the downtown Ottawa, near Parliament Hill (home of the Parliament of Canada), and their demands have grown to include an end to all measures across the country and opposition to the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The police had launched investigations after several incidents, including the appearance of flags with swastikas and images of a woman dancing on the grave of an unknown soldier.
Trudeau and his family had to leave their home in Ottawa on Saturday, January 29, for security reasons.
Defense Minister Anita Anand called the incidents “beyond reprehensible.”
State of emergency
The mayor did not give specific details about the measures he could impose, but police said on Sunday that they would intensify the response, including possible arrests of those seeking to help protesters bringing them supplies such as fuel, toilet paper and food.
The state of emergency gives authorities in the capital additional powers, including access to equipment required by frontline workers and emergency services.
Many Ottawa residents reject the protests, complaining about trucks blocking traffic and barriers set up in various city parks, as well as loss of income, speaking of fear of harassment of those taking part in the mobilization the violence.
Police have said they are concerned about how the demonstration has attracted far-right groups and confirmed on Sunday that there are more than 60 criminal investigations underway for acts including robberies, hate crimes and property damage.
“There have been racist signs, there have been many reports of people being assaulted and harassed for wearing a mask,” Stephanie Carvon, an Ottawa resident and former Canadian government national security analyst, told the BBC.
He added that some organizers of the protest have views that he called extremist, but “they successfully framed their actions in the name of the pandemic and the end of the measures, so they endeared themselves to many Canadians who do not necessarily realize realize how far this has come.”
A protester who drove for hours to join the protest in Ottawa, Kimberly Ball, told the AFP news agency that the protest was “about freedom”.
“A couple of people we know, friends, lost their jobs because of these measures,” he said, adding that he had concerns about the safety and efficacy of Covid vaccines.
Canadians are widely supportive of vaccine mandates (more than 80% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated). But the protest has received some support from conservative politicians who say it has become a “symbol of fatigue and division” that is felt in Canada after two years of the pandemic.
About 90% of Canada’s 120,000 cross-border truckers are now vaccinated in line with the country’s adult population.
And while truckers are frustrated with Covid measures they see as government overreach, Trudeau’s new cross-border mandate has raised concerns for other reasons.
Like many countries, Canada is grappling with rising inflation and a supply chain already strained by the pandemic, labor shortages and bad weather.
Prices are on the rise, including those for food and gasoline. Some products are becoming harder to find on grocery store shelves, and Canada’s economy relies heavily on the men and women who transport the vast majority of food and goods consumed in the country to the other side. of the border.
Truckers working on the cross-border routes had previously been exempt from mandates, considered essential workers.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that between 85 and 90% of the 120,000 Canadian truckers who work on cross-border routes are vaccinated and said on Saturday that many of the protesters in Ottawa appeared to have no connection to the industry.
While the alliance does not support the protest, and has said the industry must adapt to the mandate, it says the move could remove up to 16,000 drivers from those routes.
Numerous business groups have also said they are concerned the mandate will only exacerbate existing problems in the supply chain.
“Everything that Canadians depend on, food, clothing, electronics, everything arrives” in the back of trucks, Ambarish Chandra, an associate professor at the Rotman School of Management who studies the US border, told the BBC. .and Canada
With information from Jessica Murphy.
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