The first of what are expected to be thousands protesting the federal Liberal government, vaccine mandates, and COVID-19 restrictions have started to gather on Parliament Hill under clear skies and frigid temperatures.
Ottawa police weren’t reporting any issues Saturday morning related to the event as people slowly rolled into the downtown core to join trucks parked along Wellington Street in front of the parliamentary buildings.
Some vehicles had parked in front of the National War Memorial, but Ottawa police said in a tweet that they moved when asked.
Hundreds more vehicles from Western Canada, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces are expected to arrive in the next few hours to join those already in Ottawa.
The Parliamentary Protective Service expects as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend-long rally. Though the aim of the protest is ostensibly to oppose vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, attendees said that is only a small part of their demands.
“We’re not going to allow a small group of scumbags to control our bloodstream and health,” said Jason Estey over a loudspeaker as protesters circled around him on Parliament Hill Friday.
After his impromptu speech, Estey said he feels the vaccine mandates imposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government infringe on people’s rights.
“I’m honored and privileged â€¦ to be out with this amazing positive vibe, to feel and experience it, and to know we are going to crush the establishment, this deep state shadow government here in Canada and we’re going to have our rights restored,” he said.
Organizers of the group that mainly planned the truckers’ convoy, Canada Unity, are expected to address the crowds Saturday.
The memo being pushed by Canada Unity unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate forced the federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. It does not mention truckers and was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11.
The demonstration on Friday was dominated by fatigue and irritation about the pandemic precautions.
Because of the repeated rounds of lockdowns and public-health restrictions, George Broharov said he was lured to the Ottawa demonstration from his home in Hamilton.
“It’s about people being forced to do something they don’t want to do.” “I don’t agree,” he stated.
While the federal government has mandated vaccination for federally regulated employees and at the Canada-US border, practically all COVID-19 regulations are within provincial control. This includes mask laws, school and company closures, and other restrictions on public and private gatherings.
It’s unclear how long protesters intend to stay on Parliament Hill.
Some protesters said they wouldn’t leave until public-health restrictions and mandates are lifted, or Trudeau is forced out as a prime minister.
Others are not so optimistic the government will fold to their demands.
“It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think anything will happen immediately,” said Phil Powers, a truck driver from Oshawa, Ont., who parked his trailer truck in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street for the weekend.
“This is the Canadian space to have the debate, so that’s why we’re here.”
The mood on Friday was more like a festival, as protesters danced in front of the Centennial Flame to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” carrying signs that read “coercion does not equal consent” and “mandate freedom.”
With people cheering, car horns blaring, music playing, and vehicles circling in a nonstop parade, the volume might be overwhelming at times. There were plenty of expletive-laden placards and decals aimed at Trudeau.
Residents in Ottawa have been warned to avoid the downtown core this weekend if at all possible, according to police.
Police intelligence has alerted them to the risk of violence. Local law enforcement is working with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, and other authorities to identify any potential threats to public safety.