Covid Mandate Protests: ‘Freedom Convoy’ Blockades Leave Ottawa On Edge

freedom convoy

Canada’s capital Ottawa on Saturday was bracing for a surge of demonstrators to join a week-long protest against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that has blockaded much of the downtown core, unnerved residents and been described by officials as an “occupation” and a “siege.”

Ottawa Police Services Board held an emergency meeting on Saturday afternoon, but failed to devise a clear plan of action regarding truck drivers and their supporters, who have been protesting against the country’s Covid-19 mandates for over a week.

As of Saturday afternoon, police estimated at least “500 heavy vehicles associated with the demonstration to be in the red zone,” as thousands of people joined the protest at Parliament Hill and elsewhere across Ottawa for a second weekend. Smaller groups of counter-protesters were also reported in the streets, even as a major rival event was called off last minute.

Media reports including a report by The Washington Post said:

Local police said Friday that they expected as many as 400 additional trucks and up to 2,000 people to join the self-described “Freedom Convoy” over the weekend. They said that some 1,000 people could also be planning a counterprotest.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, under fire for what critics have called a lenient response to the blockades, said police would be “hardening” the perimeter around the protests and deploying 150 more officers to “deliver a clear message” that “the lawlessness must end.” Roads, highway ramps and bridges could also be closed.

“The demonstrators . . . remain highly organized, well-funded, extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstrations safely,” Sloly, who said he had received death threats, told reporters on Friday. “This remains, as it was from the beginning, an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration.”

During a press conference on Friday, Sloly even warned his fellow officers that anyone seen giving “food, water, fuel, logistics, or funding” to a protester would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The protests were initially started in response to U.S. and Canadian rules requiring cross-border truckers to be fully vaccinated to enter their respective countries. But they have ballooned into a movement against all public health measures, which are mostly imposed by the provinces, and Trudeau, who was reelected in September.

In a “memorandum of understanding,” Canada Unity, one of the main groups behind the convoy, calls for the governor general, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, and the Senate to override the public health measures or to topple the government – far outside their constitutional powers.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a watchdog group, has documented links between several of the convoy’s organizers and the far-right.

The convoy has spurred solidarity demonstrations, including a blockade near a U.S.-Canada border crossing in Alberta. Protests in cities including Quebec City and Toronto are planned this weekend.

Ottawa police have said that the convoy is benefiting from national and international logistical and financial support, including from a “significant element” in the United States.

GoFundMe, the crowdfunding site, said Friday that it had removed a fundraiser for the convoy that had raised more than $8 million because it violated its terms of service. It said it had evidence from law enforcement “that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation” with reports of “unlawful activity.”

A parliamentary committee voted this week to call on GoFundMe representatives to testify about the fundraiser.

The demonstrations – which have drawn praise from Fox News personalities, Donald Trump and Tesla founder Elon Musk – have left residents on edge.

Big rigs and other vehicles – emblazoned with signs blasting Trudeau in obscene language and reading “Mandate Freedom” – have blocked main arteries and intersections in the downtown core, causing traffic chaos. The deafening sound of horns has filled the air for much of the day and night. Police say residents have been the targets of racist vitriol.

A woman’s shelter said some women have admitted themselves into hospital “due to the increased trauma from the noise and fear.” A downtown shelter for vulnerable youth said it would close this weekend to protect the safety of its staff and customers.

As Ontario began a planned loosening of covid-19 measures this week, many businesses shut down or delayed reopening, citing safety concerns. The Rideau Centre, a major downtown shopping mall, has been closed for the last week after it was swarmed with protesters who refused to comply with a provincial mask mandate.

A downtown ice cream shop said it would close until next Wednesday after one of its employees was physically assaulted on the way to work, “blocked on the sidewalk by two men and shoved to the ground for wearing a mask.”

“It is not a protest anymore,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week. “It has become an occupation.”

The organizers have vowed to remain until their demands are met. They have built a wooden structure and stockpiled diesel fuel and propane near Parliament, raising security concerns and prompting police criticism.

Sloly has defended the police response, citing worries that the protesters will use vehicles against them and that they might be armed.

He said this week that there might not be a “policing solution” to the blockades and that officers were considering “military aid to civil power” to end them. Trudeau has said that deploying the military is “not in the cards right now.”

Police have charged at least four people in connection with the demonstrations and issued some 30 traffic tickets. They’ve opened a hate crimes tip line and said that there are dozens of active investigations, including into the desecration of the National War Memorial, which is now fenced off.

Vaccine mandates have been popular in Canada, according to public opinion polls, and Canada has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. The Canadian Trucking Association, an industry group, has distanced itself from the demonstrations, noting that the vast majority of its truckers are vaccinated.

Even if Trudeau dropped the vaccination requirement for cross-border truckers, unvaccinated Canadian truckers would still be unable to cross the border because of the U.S. rule.

Several lawmakers have cheered the convoy on, even happily posing for photos with the big-rigs that have paralyzed the city in the background. They’ve drawn charges of hypocrisy because many of them called for an aggressive police response when an Indigenous-led movement blockaded railroads to protest a pipeline in 2020.

On Friday, some federal Conservative Party lawmakers broke ranks, including Danny Patterson, a Senator who resigned from the Conservative caucus, deploring protesters who flew Confederate and Nazi flags last weekend.

“We are on day eight of this occupation. Our city is under siege. What we are seeing is bigger than just a City of Ottawa problem. This is a nationwide insurrection. This is madness. We need a concrete plan to put an end to this,” said the chair of the board, Ottawa City Council member Diane Deans, at the beginning of the nearly two-hour-long virtual discussion.

Sloly decried the lack of resources – and legal authority – to disperse the protest.

Deans asked Sloly what kind of resources and help he needs to put an end to the demonstration “right now,” and whether he wants the city to request assistance from the federal government or even the military. Sloly said there is “no quick answer,” as the situation is constantly evolving, and reiterated that “we do not have sufficient resources to adequately and effectively address this situation.”

At one point, Deans wondered whether the city had legal grounds to declare an unlawful assembly and then a riot, in order to conduct mass arrests, instead of pursuing “one criminal charge at a time.”

“There are so many people out there engaged in a broader act of… mayhem, that we need to be able to bring it all under control,” she said.


The anti-mandate movement spread far beyond the nation’s capital, with a major protest in solidarity with the Freedom Convoy held in Toronto, where police set up road blocks throughout downtown on Saturday.

It was met by a group of counter-protesters holding signs in support of healthcare workers.

Thousands of demonstrators also descended on the provincial capital of Quebec, while rival protesters faced off in Vancouver.

Smaller protests were reported in Calgary Fredericton, Regina and Winnipeg.

Officers are collecting driver IDs, registration and insurance information, and financial information where possible to assist in future prosecutions, Sloly warned.

The police chief said during the press conference that the scale of the protest was “unprecedented.” 

Man Plows SUV Into Freedom Convoy Protesters

A 42-year-old Canadian man is facing multiple criminal charges after driving his Jeep Patriot through a group of protesters in Winnipeg on Friday night, injuring four people.

The Winnipeg Police said that after plowing through the crowd, the suspect fled the scene at high speed, breaking several red lights. He was eventually chased down and arrested following a “brief struggle,” according to a press release.

Police confirmed that the suspect struck four adult males, who were part of the Freedom Convoy protest at the Legislature Grounds. Three of the victims suffered minor injuries, while the fourth was taken to a hospital for treatment and later released.

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