“Freedom Convoy” Protests in Ottawa Enter Third Week
Ottawa was a sea of red and white as protestors held-out in Canada’s capital for the third consecutive weekend.
The protests originally began in response to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border. Though truckers were originally exempt from vaccination requirements in order to avoid straining the supply chain, as of January 15 unvaccinated truckers can no longer cross the Canadian border without a fourteen day quarantine. When speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that 90% of Canadian truckers were vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents members of the industry, estimates that enforcing the mandate could still mean losing 12,000-16,000 cross-border drivers. In response to the mandate, hundreds of truckers from several provinces drove across the country and descended on Ottawa, calling for an end to the mandate. The so called “Freedom Convoy” was quickly joined by hundreds of supporters, and the demands evolved from an end to the vaccine mandate for truckers to a general protest against vaccine mandates and restrictive public health measures nation-wide.
Thousands of demonstrators have been clogging up Parliament Hill, the center of the Canadian government. In the city’s downtown area, protestors decked out in Canadian flags chanted and danced in the street. Many Ottawan residents expressed frustration as parked trucks and encampments blocked roadways and even spread into residential areas. Continuous honking has also been an issue, and on February 7 the Ontario Superior Court granted a 10 day injunction that banned the use of horns in the area. Police have handed out tickets, but have held off from arresting protestors. Some counter-protestors have taken to the streets, urging those there in support of truckers to go home, and even standing in the street to block vehicles attempting to join the Freedom Convoy.
A few hours away in Windsor, Ontario, police struggled with protestors who entrenched themselves on the Ambassador Bridge. Millions of dollars of goods travel back and forth across the bridge daily, making it a vital commercial link between the US and Canada. On both sides of the border, car plants belonging to major manufacturers like Ford and Toyota canceled shifts and ceased production as automotive parts were unable to travel across the bridge. On February 11, Ontario Premier announced a state of emergency for the province, and threatened harsh fines for anyone blocking infrastructure. A court order mandated that protestors leave the bridge, but police struggled to clear out the blockade. They towed vehicles and forced protestors off of the bridge, but an influx of people reinforced the presence of demonstrators. By Sunday, the numbers had shrunk, and about 25 to 30 arrests were made according to a Windsor Police Chief. As of Sunday night, the bridge has been cleared and reopened, with normal traffic expected to resume soon.
The Freedom Convoy seems to have struck an international chord, as similar protests have been staged across the globe. Over 100 people were arrested in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, as protestors against the vaccine mandate crowded outside the Parliament building. In France, hundreds of vehicles arrived in Paris. Police set up checkpoints and stopped about 500 vehicles from entering the city center, but a few dozen still breached the barriers and stalled traffic. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in a show of force far stronger than Ottawan officials have been willing to undertake as of yet.
With protestors vowing to stay in the city until all mandates are lifted, and with officials hesitant to clash with protestors head-on, Ottawa likely won’t see a return to normalcy anytime soon.