OTTAWA: A week-long occupation of Canada’s capital by truckers opposed to vaccine mandates was set to ramp up Saturday with thousands of demonstrators expected to pile into Ottawa while other cities also braced for protests.
Police said they were expecting up to 2,000 protesters as well as 1,000 counter-protesters to join the hundreds already parked in front of parliament, but organizers said tens of thousands were headed to Ottawa.
Similar protests are also planned for Toronto, Quebec City and Winnipeg. “This remains... an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration,” Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told a news conference Friday.
Following thousands of complaints from local residents of threats and harassment by protesters who have made even sleep difficult with incessant honking, and an online petition signed by 40,000 demanding action, Sloly vowed to crack down on what he called an “unlawful” protest.
But he did not offer a timeline. Reached for comment by AFP, protest coordinator Jim Torma said on behalf of organizers that the protesters would not back down.
“They’re not going to hide us,” Torma said. “We’re going to be in (politicians’) faces as long as it takes” to force an end to public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.
With tensions already high and counter-protesters expected to now converge on the city, however, “the prospects for confrontation remain high,” warned federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
The so-called Freedom Convoy started on Canada’s Pacific coast in late January and picked up supporters along its 4,400-kilometer (2,700 miles) trek to the capital, as well as more than 10 million Canadian dollars ($8 million) in online donations.
However, the online fundraising platform GoFundMe said Friday that it had removed the Freedom Convoy fundraiser from its site after receiving evidence from law enforcement that the demonstration “has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”
The number of protesters in Ottawa had peaked at several thousand last Saturday, according to officials, before dwindling to a few hundred by midweek.
Donald Trump Jr. and Elon Musk have both tweeted support for the truckers. On Friday, former US president Donald Trump encouraged them too, saying in a statement that the “harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau... has destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates.”
A recent Abacus poll showed 32 percent of Canadians supported the protesters, although only 10 percent of Canadian adults are unvaccinated.