Parliament Hill was a hubbub of honking Saturday as countless truckers and supporters flooded in from across the country to support what organizers call the Freedom Convoy. Global News Correspondent David Akin reported 1,115 vehicles made up of tractors, 18-wheelers, 725 personal vehicles from Toronto and Western Canada, and 200 vehicles from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Ottawa Police also reported up to 2,000 pedestrians from Quebec in the crowd of people lining the streets. Police note that these numbers fluctuate as new convoys arrive and people leave.
Police estimate it costs over $800,000 per day to police the convoy. The convoy officially planned to stay until at least Monday, but several participants have said they will stay as long as necessary. There is currently no report on how long the demonstration is expected to last.
The original purpose of the convoy was to protest vaccine mandates for truckers that cross the border during their deliveries. They are required to be double vaccinated before crossing, or else receive a negative test result and isolate for two-weeks after arriving. But drivers say they’re alone in their trucks the entire drive, so there is no chance of contracting COVID except at pickup and drop-off.
The original goal has been taken over by people opposed to public health measures in general. The GoFundMe page attached to the convoy, started by Tamara Lich of Medicine Hat, Alberta, states that the aim of the convoy is to protest “rules and mandates that are destroying the foundation of our businesses, industries and livelihoods”. Lich didn’t respond to inquiries in time for publication, but the GoFundMe had raised more than $8,000,000 at the time of writing. The money will be disbursed to drivers to help with the cost of fuel, food, and lodgings, with any leftover “donated to a credible veterans organization which will be chosen by the donors.”
The convoy has received widespread support as people line the highways along its route, shouting and holding up signs to cheer drivers on. People are posting messages of support on social media, tuning into livestreams, and continuing to donate to the GoFundMe.
Not everyone is excited, however. The people of Ottawa say the influx of vehicles on the streets will make commuting and getting essentials like groceries difficult. Police and traffic authorities are expecting significant backlogs of traffic for the entire weekend, roads and highway exits have been closed in anticipating, and the Ottawa Police advised on Twitter to, “Avoid any travel to the downtown core.” Some parts of the convoy started to leave as of Monday, but others announced their intention to stay.
Police advised that they are towing any vehicles that are illegally parked, including those that block emergency lanes, the Cenotaph, and other public spaces. Vehicles have already been towed away from the War Memorial.
« Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect, » Mayor Jim Watson said on Twitter.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has made it clear it does not support « any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges, » and in a statement last weekend, the association noted the majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated. « The Government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate. »
Also, some officials and citizens have expressed concerns about attempts by political extremists to use the convoy to promote their beliefs. Confederate flags have been spotted flying from some vehicles, and numerous participants brought signs that compare vaccine mandates to Communism, Nazism, and the Holocaust.
The federal government stated it will not back down on the cross-border vaccination rule for truckers. In a joint media statement released on January 25, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, and CTA President Stephen Laskowski said COVID-19 vaccines are the « most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 » and protect public health.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not present over the January 29 weekend to address the convoy, as he has had high-risk contact with COVID and was in isolation for a five-day period, but he said in a press conference January 26 that, “The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians. (Canadians) who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values as a country.”
The convoy has sparked similar protests all over the world. A European Freedom Convoy is expected to arrive in Brussels on February 7, and rumours are circulating that an Australian convoy is in the works.