TORONTO (AP) – In a scene at odds with Canadians’ reputation for niceness and rule-following, thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital over the weekend, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill.
Some urinated and parked on the National War Memorial. One danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas.
In the aftermath of Canada’s biggest pandemic protest to date, the demonstrators have found little sympathy in a country where more than 80 per cent are vaccinated. Many people were outraged by some of the crude behaviour.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Ottawa protesters a “fringe minority” and said they reflected the proliferation of “disinformation and misinformation online, conspiracy theorists, about microchips, about what else that go with the tinfoil hats.”
Organisers, including one who has espoused white supremacist views, had raised millions for the cross-country “freedom truck convoy” against vaccine mandates. It attracted support from former United States (US) President Donald Trump and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk.
Trudeau and his family were moved to an undisclosed location during the protest. (Two of his children tested positive for COVID-19, and a test Monday revealed he, too, was infected. He said he is fine and working remotely. )
A smaller but still significant number of protesters remained on the streets on Tuesday, saying they won’t leave until all vaccine mandates and other 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.
“It’s time for Canada and the rest of the world to find other ways to deal with this virus,” said protester Michelle Kloet, 47, of Canmore, Alberta.
During the demonstration, the statue of Terry Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster and set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada, was draped with an upside-down Canadian flag and a sign that read “Mandate freedom”.
“My kids were shocked. Like all Canadian young people, they have grown up with Terry Fox as a hero,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “This is not the Canada who we want to be. And I really proudly believe, and I know, this is not what Canada is.”