New protests against health measures in Canada

Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec: opponents of health measures in Canada, some of whom have occupied the city center of the federal capital for a week, began to gather this Saturday to demand the lifting of restrictions. This protest, part of a movement of truckers in the west of the country, has turned into an occupation of Ottawa: for eight days, the streets in front of Parliament and under the offices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been occupied by dozens trucks and demonstrators.

This Saturday morning, the first demonstrators arrived in the capital in freezing cold to gather around campfires, waving Canadian flags and signs against the government, in a more festive atmosphere than last Saturday, when Nazi flags had been observed. Some have started setting up makeshift shelters – temperatures could drop to -30C – and they have vowed not to move until restrictions are lifted. Up to 2,000 people could join the truckers already present in the streets of Ottawa, according to the police, who are also expecting a thousand counter-protesters. The organizers assured their side to expect tens of thousands of people.

“Our Freedom”

Friday, for the first time, the police hardened the tone towards the demonstrators, promising to “end this illegal demonstration and of an unacceptable dangerousness”, according to its leader Peter Sloly, without however providing a precise timetable. Despite the exasperation of the people of Ottawa, the government ruled out the possibility of sending the army to dislodge the demonstrators. For the mobilization of the weekend, 150 additional police officers were however deployed in the streets of the capital.

Doug Ford, the Premier of the province of Ontario again asked the demonstrators to leave Ottawa, denouncing an “unacceptable” situation – a petition to this effect gathered Friday afternoon nearly 40,000 signatures. So far, no appeal has yet reversed the determination of the demonstrators, initially mobilized against the vaccination obligation for truckers crossing the border between Canada and the United States. “We will stand up to them for as long as it takes to get rid of the restrictions,” said Jim Torma, one of the protest coordinators.

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“The question is not that of the vaccine, it is that of our freedom”, explained this Saturday morning Kimberly Ball, who traveled five hours to come and demonstrate with her husband. “It’s really, really hard. (…) Some people we know, friends, have lost their jobs because of these “vaccination” obligations, she regrets. The movement is notably supported by billionaire Elon Musk and former US President Donald Trump.

Access to hospitals

Similar protests are underway or planned for this Saturday in southern Alberta, and in the cities of Winnipeg, Toronto and Quebec. Metropolitan Toronto police closed some downtown roads on Friday in an effort to minimize disruptions that could affect access to emergency services and hospitals. The city’s mayor, John Tory, said he hoped for a “respectful and peaceful” demonstration. “We all want to do everything we can to avoid (finding ourselves, editor’s note) in the situation of Ottawa,” added the city councilor.

Canadian authorities are now focusing on those who “fund and enable this illegal and harmful demonstration,” the Ottawa police chief said. A crowdfunding campaign raised more than 10 million Canadian dollars (6.8 million euros) for the protesters, but the platform GoFundMe on Friday withdrew the kitty on the grounds that it did not respect its conditions of use, and indicated that the remaining funds will be redistributed to charities.

Even if the mobilization of truckers is only supported by a minority of Canadians (32% according to a recent survey), this still represents a larger segment of the population than just the unvaccinated, who correspond to 10 % of Canadian adults. In Canada, the health measures established by the provinces remain very restrictive, among the most restrictive in the West. The province of Quebec is notably one of the regions in the world which has imposed the most days of confinement on its population.

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