After a week-long drive across Canada, a convoy of big rigs has arrived in the national capital to protest vaccine mandates and Covid-19 measures. Organisers insist it will be peaceful, but police say they’re prepared for trouble.
It’s been dubbed the Freedom Convoy, and it’s got the country talking.
The movement was sparked by a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border, implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government earlier this month.
Upset with the new measure that would require unvaccinated Canadian truckers crossing the two nations’ boundary to quarantine once they’ve returned home, a loose coalition of truckers and conservative groups began to organise the cross-country drive that began in western Canada.
It picked up steam and gathered support as it drove east. Many supporters, already opposed to Mr Trudeau and his politics, have grown frustrated with pandemic measures they see as political overreach.
Social media and news footage showed trucks and companion vehicles snaking along highways, cheered on by people gathered on roadsides and overpasses, often waving Canadian flags and signs disparaging Mr Trudeau.
- ‘I lost my job for being unvaccinated’
- Canada’s vaccination rate overtakes US
A GoFundMe campaign has raised, to date, over a whopping C$7m ($5.4m; £4m) from over 99,000 donors.
The unusual protest even caught the attention of people outside Canada’s borders, with podcaster Joe Rogan, Donald Trump Jr – the son of the former US president – and British comedian Russell Brand showing support.
The protesters plan to stay in downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill for at least the weekend, and their demands have grown from reversing the border vaccine mandate to ending all such mandates nationwide.
“We want to be free, we want to have our choice again, and we want hope – and the government has taken that away,” Harold Jonker, a truck driver and trucking company owner, told the BBC as he drove through the town of Brockville, about 115km (72 miles) from Ottawa on Friday.
The convoy has been peaceful as it passed through Canadian towns and cities, and Ottawa police have said they’re in touch with organisers, who’ve been cooperative.
But police say they are concerned about how the convoy has attracted extremist rhetoric, and some far-right groups have suggested they might also head to Ottawa.
“The demonstrations this weekend will be unique – fluid, risky and significant,” Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said on Friday, noting they are “massive in scale” and “unfortunately they are polarising in nature”.
He said that police are preparing for potential parallel and counter-demonstrations and were concerned about people on social media in Canada and abroad “who may or may not come to the city” but “who are nonetheless inciting hate, violence and in some cases criminality”.
Organisers have called out fringe elements, urging participants to report any misbehaviour. Mr Jonker also said extremists would not be welcome.
Police have urged locals to avoid the gridlocked downtown core. Thousands of vehicles and participants are expected for a weekend of planned demonstrations and on Saturday the streets were crowded with vehicles and people gathering near Parliament Hill.