A “Freedom Convoy” of trucks joined by thousands of demonstrators brought Ottawa to a virtual standstill for a second day Sunday to protest Canada’s vaccine mandates, as other sympathetic truckers blocked a border highway into the UX.
“This afternoon, a large presence of police continues throughout the downtown core and the movement of protesters and trucks continues to be managed,” the Ottawa police said in a statement.
“These high-risk situations were de-escalated and resolved with no arrests,” the authorities said, adding, however, that “police resources are fully stretched” in dealing with the obstruction, which appeared to involve hundreds of truckers.
The protest originated last week in western Canada, where dozens of truckers organised a convoy to drive from Vancouver to the Canadian capital Ottawa to demonstrate against Covid-related restrictions, particularly a recent vaccination requirement for truck drivers crossing the long US-Canada border.
Trucks began arriving in Ottawa on Friday in multiple convoys, and were joined by thousands of other anti-vaccination protesters.
In solidarity with the convergence on Ottawa, truckers Sunday staged what police described as a “complete blockage” of Highway 4 in western Canada’s Alberta province along the US border. The road is a major artery for commercial goods between the nations.
“As of right now… the port of entry remains open technically speaking, however nobody would be able to get to them except on foot,” Curtis Peters, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta, told AFP, adding that some 100 trucks were blocking the roadway.
In Ottawa, the desecration of a war memorial and harassment of some city officials and NGO volunteers sparked an angry response, and the police said they had launched “several investigations.”
“I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial,” Wayne Eyre, chief of the country’s Defense Staff, said on Twitter.
“Those involved should hang their heads in shame.”
Barricades were installed Sunday to block vehicle access to the area around the war memorial, after several illegally parked vehicles were towed away.
And an organisation advocating for the homeless, Shepherds of Good Hope, said its workers had been “harassed” by protesters demanding meals on a particularly cold weekend.
It said it had briefly given free meals to some demonstrators in an effort to defuse tensions, but added, “This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time.”
With protesters gathering, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were moved Saturday to an undisclosed location in Ottawa, Canadian media reported.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a major industry group, said the vast majority of the country’s truck drivers are vaccinated. It has “strongly disapproved” of the disruption in Ottawa.