Why truck drivers have shut down Canada’s capital Ottawa over a vaccine mandate?
Police in Canada’s national capital have seized thousands of litres of fuel and removed an oil tanker as part of a crackdown to end weeks-long protests against the government’s COVID-19 health measures.
A “Freedom Convoy” has disrupted life in downtown Ottawa for 11 days now, with honking disturbing the normally quiet life of the city’s residents.
A day after the city declared a state of emergency, Ottawa’s Mayor pleaded for almost 2,000 extra police officers to help quell raucous nightly demonstrations staged by the convoy, which has used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyse the business district.
So, what’s behind the protests? And why are American politicians getting involved? Why are they protesting?
Since January 15, truck drivers and other service providers can only enter Canada if they are fully vaccinated.
A week later, the US required vaccinations from essential non-resident travellers.
An estimated 120,000 Canadian truckers regularly cross the US border to deliver goods, and around 10 per cent of then are unvaccinated, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
What started as a movement opposing the mandate has morphed into a rallying point against the public health measures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
Ottawa’s Mayor has deemed the protesters’ honking “psychological warfare”.
Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
They have also called for the removal of Mr Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures — most of which were put in place by provincial governments.
Mr Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe”, but he faces calls by the opposition Conservative party to extend an “olive branch” to them.
Some Conservative politicians, including one running to lead the party, have met and posed for pictures with protesters.
“When will the Prime Minister stop hiding, show up for Canadians, show some leadership and fix the mess that he’s created?” interim Conservative Party leader Candice Bergen, who has supported the protests, said in the House of Commons.
Canadians have largely followed government health measures, and nearly 79 per cent of the eligible population has taken two doses of the vaccine.
But recent polls have shown frustrations against restrictions are growing.
What has been happening?
The protests have been largely peaceful. But there are fears things will continue to ramp up.
Canadian police say protesters are receiving funding from the US.
One Canadian MP tweeted a photo appearing to show protesters flying a Nazi flag alongside the Canadian flag and banners declaring “F*** Trudeau”.
“This movement has nothing to do with truckers. I don’t know a single trucker that would support this,” the MP, Mark Gerretsen, wrote.
In a letter to Mr Trudeau and the public safety minister, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the demonstrations had “turned into a siege of our downtown area” with 400 to 500 trucks.
“The occupation has turned into an aggressive and hateful occupation of our neighbourhoods,” he wrote.
“People are living in fear and are terrified.”
He called the honking “tantamount to psychological warfare”.
A Canadian judge on Monday (local time) granted an interim injunction preventing people from sounding horns in downtown Ottawa.
Ottawa police have received help from hundreds of officers in other police agencies, but they say it is not enough.
Mr Watson called for 1,800 additional police officers, which would nearly double Ottawa’s existing police force.
Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell told city councillors that police had received “active threats to public figures throughout this occupation”, which they continue to investigate.
Protesters have set up thousands of signs ranging from “no more mandates” and “freedom of choice” to “truck you Trudeau” and “the pandemic destroyed our freedoms” on a street home to Canada’s parliament, the central bank and Mr Trudeau’s office.
Protests have also taken place elsewhere in Canada.
Mr Trudeau and his family left their downtown home after truckers started arriving in Ottawa, and his location has not been disclosed due to security concerns.
Embattled Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly called the demonstration an “unprecedented protest never seen in Canada” and acknowledged that authorities failed to plan for it to last more than three days.
On Sunday night (local time), police began removing gas and fuel supplies at a logistics encampment set up by protesters after the city’s mayor declared a state of emergency.
A well-organised supply chain — including portable saunas, a community kitchen and bouncy castles for children — has sustained the protesters.
It has relied partly on funding from sympathisers in the United States, police said.
Over the weekend, Ottawa police counted 1,000 trucks and 5,000 protesters, down from 3,000 trucks and 10,000 to 15,000 protesters last weekend.
But protests spilled over into other large Canadian cities, including the financial capital Toronto, and were met with counter-demonstrations.
What’s it like for Ottawa locals?
Matias Munoz, a resident of a building near parliament, said people in Ottawa were at their wits’ end after noise from the protest had blared through their homes night after night.
Ottawa police are investigating a fire at an apartment building that was apparently set by protesters.
Mr Munoz said the carpet and floor were charred, and there were blackened fire-starter bricks strewn across the lobby.
Surveillance video showed two men light a package of the bricks in the lobby before dawn and tape, or tie, the front door handles together before leaving through a side door.
The video also showed a different man entering the building and putting the fire out a short while later, Mr Munoz sasai
Why are Americans getting involved?
Canada’s public safety minister said officials should stay out of his country’s domestic affairs, joining other Canadian leaders in pushing back against prominent Republicans who offered support for the protests.
Both Canada and the US require incoming, non-resident travellers to be vaccinated against COVID 19
Many members of the Republican Party have made comments supporting the demonstrations, including former US president Donald Trump, who called Mr Trudeau a “far-left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates”.
Prominent Republicans, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, complained after crowdfunding site GoFundMe said it would refund the vast majority of the millions of dollars raised by demonstrators.
The site said it cut off funding for protest organisers after determining that their efforts violated the site’s terms of service by engaging in unlawful activity.
Ontario Provincial Premier Doug Ford has called the protest an occupation.
In response, Mr Paxton tweeted: “Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers’ worthy cause.”
Texas senator Ted Cruz said on Fox News that “government doesn’t have the right to force you to comply to their arbitrary mandates.”
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino shot back: “It is certainly not the concern of the Texas Attorney General as to how we in Canada go about our daily lives in accordance with the rule of law.”
“We need to be vigilant about potential foreign interference … Whatever statements may have been made by some foreign official are neither here nor there. We’re Canadian. We have our own set of laws. We will follow them,” Mr Mendicino said.
Dominic LeBlanc, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, blamed Republican interference for inciting disorderly conduct and helping to fund entities that are not respecting Canadian law.
Alaskan truck drivers, meanwhile, rallied in support of their counterparts in Canada.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also praised the truckers.
Bruce Heyman, a former US ambassador to Canada, said groups in the US needed to stop funding and interfering in the domestic affairs of the country’s neighbour.
Source: ABC News