Protest against vaccines in Canada sparks outrage | world news
By ROB GILLIES, Associated Press
TORONTO (AP) — In a scene at odds with Canadians’ reputation for kindness and rule-abiding, thousands of demonstrators protesting vaccination mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital over the weekend -end, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill.
Some urinated and parked on the National War Memorial. We danced at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas.
In the aftermath of the largest pandemic outbreak in Canada to date, protesters have found little sympathy in a country where more than 80% are vaccinated. Many people were outraged by some of the rude behavior.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Ottawa protesters a “marginal minority” and said they reflected the proliferation of “disinformation and misinformation online, conspiracy theorists, about microchips, about God knows what else goes with tinfoil hats”.
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Organizers, including one who espoused white supremacist views, had raised millions for the “freedom truck convoy” across the country against vaccination mandates. He drew support from former 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 on Monday revealed he was also infected. He said he was fine and working remotely.)
A smaller but still significant number of protesters remained on the streets on Tuesday, saying they would not leave until all vaccination mandates and other restrictions were lifted. They are also calling for the removal of the Trudeau government, although it is responsible for some 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 fight this virus,” said protester Michelle Kloet, 47, of Canmore, Alta.
During the protest, the statue of Terry Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a young man and who in 1980 embarked on a fundraising hike across Canada , was draped with an upside-down Canadian flag and a sign reading “Freedom of Mandate.
“My children were shocked. Like all young Canadians, they grew up with Terry Fox as a hero,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. “This is not the Canada we want to be. And I really proudly believe, and I know, that’s not what Canada is.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was “extremely disturbed” to see people “desecrating our most sacred monuments and brandishing swastikas and other symbols of hatred and intolerance.”
The blast was considered so irrelevant to Canada that an American scientist felt compelled to apologize for what he described as America’s influence.
“Canada gave us kindness, tolerance, poutine and hockey, and in return we exported this horrible fake health freedom movement linked to far-right extremism that has caused so much loss of life. insane in America and who could now do the same there,” tweeted Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Our apologies.”
Many protesters refused to wear masks in hotels, malls and grocery stores. A homeless shelter reported protesters demanded he feed them.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said multiple investigations are underway and a hotline for hate crimes, threats and assaults related to the protest has been set up. Sloly said one person was arrested in connection with the protest.
Tim Abray, a Ph.D. candidate, said he was assaulted by “so-called freedom fighters” while taking photos of the protest in his neighborhood.
The most visible contingent of protesters were truckers who parked their large trucks on Parliament Hill. Some of them were protesting a rule that came into effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immune to the coronavirus.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that 85% of truck drivers in Canada are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, police moved on Tuesday to break up a protest convoy of trucks and other vehicles that had been blocking a major US border crossing in Coutts, Alta., since Saturday. It turned violent after some protesters broke through police barriers to join the demonstration, authorities said.
“I have received reports over the past hour of people aligned with protesters assaulting RCMP officers, including one instance attempting to ram into RCMP members, later resulting in a collision with a civilian vehicle,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. “This kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. Without hesitation, I condemn these actions and call for calm.”
Some opposition Conservative lawmakers attended the protest in Ottawa, and Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, who is facing a revolt among her lawmakers, met with some of the truckers.
Phil Haggart, a counter-protester, said he was there to show there are voices in favor of public health measures.
“Masks are important, vaccines are important, and warrants are only important because we need them to stay alive and not fill our hospitals,” he said.
A surge of the highly contagious omicron variant has led to record cases and lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s most populous provinces. Vaccination mandates imposed by provincial governments remain in place.
But restaurants reopened Monday with 50% capacity, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced on Tuesday that he was backing away from his threat to tax the unvaccinated, saying the proposal had divided Quebecers.
“I have to protect the health of Quebecers, but I also have to protect peace in our society,” Legault said.
Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said the rabbit hole of misinformation in Canada is not as deep as in the United States for many reasons, including less political polarization north of the border.
“This leads to much less sympathy or tolerance towards the unvaccinated among Canadians. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis couldn’t get very far in Canada. A Donald Trump would be shunned, even in Conservative Party circles,” Wiseman said.
He added: “Protesters in Ottawa have not helped their cause as the protest drags on.”
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