OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Protesters opposed to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions held rallies in cities across Canada on Saturday in a show of solidarity with a week-long demonstration in the national capital.
Officials in Ottawa and numerous provincial capitals worked to ensure that escalating protests against pandemic-related public health measures remained peaceful Saturday.
By midday Saturday in Ottawa, thousands of demonstrators mingled near open fires on the snow-plastered lawn in front Parliament Hill. Participants roasted hotdogs and doled out baked goods under tarps, while two men on horseback traipsed through the town, one carrying a flag in support of former U.S. president Donald Trump.
The “freedom truck convoy” has attracted support from Trump and other Republicans.
In Toronto, several hundred protesters gathered on the south side of the Ontario legislature, chanting “liberte″ overtop reggae issuing from loudspeakers and sporting signs that stated, “Freedom”
Nearby, a couple hundred health-care workers and supporters marched from the University of Toronto to hospital row just south of the legislature. They held placards reading, “free-dumb” and “N95 masks for all.”
Toronto police set up road blocks throughout downtown, preventing any protesters in trucks or cars from getting near the provincial legislature which is near where five major hospitals are located.
Demonstrators also gathered in Quebec City, Fredericton and Winnipeg, with rallies also planned for Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and the U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta.
Police forces in those cities say they have learned lessons from Ottawa’s predicament and have developed strategies designed to protect key infrastructure, such as vital traffic corridors and hospitals, and also prevent possible violence.
Police in Winnipeg, Manitoba laid charges against a 42-year-old Manitoba man who allegedly drove his vehicle into the group of “freedom convo” protesters gathered in that city. They said the incident took place late Friday and resulted in three men being treated at the scene for minor injuries, while a fourth man was taken to hospital and released. The accused is facing multiple charges including assault with a weapon and dangerous operation of a conveyance.
“He wasn’t really for or against either of the general views,” Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Rob Carver.
Back in Ottawa, lawyer Paul Champ filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of residents seeking millions of dollars in damages and an injunction against truckers from blowing their horns at all hours. The judge said he wants to give all sides in the lawsuit time to submit all documents to him, adding that he plans to make a decision on the horns on Monday afternoon.
Many Canadians have been outraged over the crude behavior. Some protesters set fireworks on the grounds of the National War Memorial late Friday. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas last weekend and compared vaccine mandates to fascism.
Protesters have said they won’t leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are gone. They are also calling for the removal of Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.
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