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Freedom Convoy lined up on Wellington Street in Ottawa on January 28, 2022. Photo: Wikipedia
08 Feb 2022

Ottawa declares State of Emergency as anti-covid demonstrations turn volatile

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While anti-vaccine demonstrations have already been ongoing in Germany for over one month, the Canadian capital has recently declared a State of Emergency after the central parts of the city have been blocked by hundreds of large transport trucks and thousands of protestors demonstrating against Covid vaccine mandates.

 

Cover photo: (Above) Freedom Convoy lined up on Wellington Street in Ottawa on January 28, 2022. Photo: Wikipedia

 

UPDATED Feb 9 : While demonstrations have been going on for over a month in Germany, rallies which occasionally have been violent, several European countries and some  US states, have now lifted all  - or most - Covid-19 Pandemic restrictions. Some countries, like Germany and Canada,  still maintain pandemic measures which include keeping the unvaccinated out from restaurants and other social activities. This "exclusion" of the unvaccinated has - at east officially - been the "spark" which has lit "the fire" among parts of the population - however extremist and revolutionary groups seem, at least in part, to have been attempting to take advantage of the crowds´ anger.  

The demonstrations in Germany started in the beginning of January, and we will write an overview of those in coming days. 

 

Thousands of people have been demonstrating in Canadian cities, including the largest city of Toronto. Demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, however residents in especially the capital of Ottawa have complained about truck drivers honking their horns at all hours, and many residents have reported feeling threatened  by some of the protesters. 

As many as 5000 trucks are reported to have been parked in the "red zone" in central Ottawa, during the most intense weekend. The official number is at least 3500 truck tractors blocking the streets during the height of the demonstrations. As many as 15000 people are reported to have been on the streets of Ottawa. 

In the last week, demonstrations have decreased in intensity in the capital, but instead moved across Canada where protesters have focused on blocking  important bridges and border crossings between Canada and the US. 

The total cost for policing the situation in Ottawa alone was on Thursday Feb 10 estimated to be close to one billion Canadian dollars per day, according to live broadcasts from the CBC TV-news station. The costs to industry due to blocking trade between Canada and the US is estimated to close to half a billion dollars per day, just between Detroit and Windsor, and more if you add other blocker border crossings in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. 

 

Ottawa in a complete gridlock

There has been no report on demonstrators hindering fire vehicles or ambulances - however some streets have been blocked by so many trucks that even those demonstrators who have wished to leave Ottawa´s central areas, have been unable to do so, according to statements from Ottawa Police. 

Ottawa Police has also expressed concerns about large stores of fuel intended for trucks left idling in the streets. Attempts have been made to cut off the fuel supply to the vehicles, but police efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The issue is also complicated since temperatures are sub freezing and in many cases, there are children living in the trucks with their parents. 

Escalating numbers of protestors led police to call for reinforcements as large numbers of residents have been feeling more and more terrorized by the noise and alleged bullying behaviour from demonstrators. 

Demonstrations started large scale on January 29 and culminated over the past weekend with thousands of protestors and more than a thousand truck tractors parked on public streets. Many central streets have been completely blocked for more than 12 days, and hundreds of residents have felt forced to evacuate their homes. 

 

 

Anti democratic sentiments - expressed by some

By Monday February , a court order was issued to stop the noise between 08:00 am and 8:00 pm after a private citizen made a lawsuit against the protesters in downtown Ottawa. Since then, the numbers of protestors have subsided somewhat. On Tuesday February 8, however more than 400 truck tractors were still blocking the downtown area of Ottawa, and Parliament Hill.  

 

Freedom Convoy protesters at Parliament Hill on February 1, 2022
Freedom Convoy protesters at Parliament Hill on February 1, 2022. Photo by Wikipedia

 

Hundreds of children participating in the demonstrations - Police asking for 1800 more officers

One condition complicating the situation is the fact that about 100 truck drivers have brought their children with them to live in their trucks, making policing the situation even more sensitive. Ottawa Police has called for Ottawa child services to look in to the conditions for the children. 

Another thing complicating the situation is the special equipment necessary in order to tow away such large vehicles, especially as crowds have at times been reported to be acting threatening towards first responders.

As of Tuesday, 22 arrests have been made, and thousands of fines have been issued for minor violations. However police have been unable to break up what has been called "an illegal occupation". Ottawa Police has asked for 1800 extra police officers to handle the situation, and has called for the federal government to step in with federal police to take over the handling of demonstrations affecting Parliament Hill, so that local police resources can focus on local city streets. 

 

Attempt to burn residents alive - unclear who is behind

After two men were caught on a surveillance video trying to light an apartment building on fire during night to Monday, a criminal arson  investigation has been instigated.

What made this case especially serious is that the main doors of the apartment building had been taped shut from the outside, effectively stopping residents from getting out. A third man on the surveillance video can be seen entering the lobby to put out the fire, minutes after it was started. Police is now trying to identify the persons in the surveillance footage.  

It is unclear if the fire was started by protestors, however it is clear that only three hours before the arson attempt, there had been a conflict between protestors and residents of the affected building.

 

Roadblocks stopping traffic between Canada and US

In the province of Alberta, major roads leading to the US have been blocked, and many truck drivers not supporting the blockades have been cut off without food and water.  The economically important Ambassador bridge between Detroit iand Windsor has also been blocked by protesters.    

The demands on behalf of protestors are for the government to end all pandemic restrictions, which is a process that has already started in many provinces. 

 

Protests going on three weeks

The "Freedom Convoy" began on January 15 as a movement against a Canadian vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a widespread protest against public health measures and against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government.

The demonstrators themselves are a diverse group without a clear leadership, and are not clearly defined as a left or right wing movement. The demonstrations have however allegedly been supported and funded by groups that are defined as extreme far right, and Evangelical, Far Right Christian

Some of the organizers have also expressed extreme subversive opinions, calling for violent revolution, however those ideas don´t necessarily represent all protestor . Several protesters have been seen wearing "MAGA-caps" supporting Donald Trump, or the Canadian version "Make Canada Great Again".

There has also been swastikas, neo nazi flags and Southern confederate flags spotted in the crowd, but more so in the beginning of the demonstrations - possibly pointing towards the most extreme elements not actually being tolerated by the movement.

 

Prime minister under fire for vaccine passports

During Tuesday, prime minister Justin Trudeau received heavy criticism, both for his handling of the demonstrations, and for how he has handled vaccine mandates. Trudeau has, also internally from his own party,  received criticism for his severe stance towards those without vaccine passports. Just like in  many countries in Europe, full vaccination status has since September been required in order to enter restaurants, gyms, and in order to work in certain professions such as health care and international transport. 

 

Canada a world leader in vaccination rate

Canada has a 90 % vaccination rate, and this vaccination rate is also reflected among Canadian long haul truck drivers, who are mostly not supporting the Freedom Convoy demonstrations. Sentiments among those in favour of vaccination has recently largely shifted to ignoring those who oppose vaccinations, and not try to convince them or co-herse them further. However, the Liberal government has been firm on defending vaccine mandates, despite the high level of vaccination. Trudeau´s stand has also been to not negotiate with the demonstrators or engage in any dialogue with them. 

 

A new phenomenon to Canada 

While those in support are cheering about "freedom", many others now chillingly remembering the haunting moments when Capitol Hill in Washington was stormed by an angry mob only 13 months ago. While Freedom Convoy displays a much lower level of aggression and subversion, the general public is largely leary of some of the similarities.   

While the US is more used to large public rallies and even riots, this is the first time when Canada has experienced  a nationwide blockade affecting almost every major city in the country. The closest event would be in January 2020, when some native aboriginal bands and their supporters blocked railroads throughout Canada. However, the recent Freedom Convoy movement is more disruptive and divisive than what Canadians are normally used to.