Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fled his Ottawa home as tens of thousands of protesters converged on the national capital in a massive protest against anti-COVID measures.
The loud but peaceful protest in sub-freezing weather was led by thousands of trucks drivers whose convoys converged on the national capital from all points of the compass.
Due to security concerns, Trudeau and his family left their downtown Ottawa home as the protest took over the streets.
His office would not disclose his current location, saying the Prime Ministers whereabouts is a matter of national security.
Earlier this week Trudeau said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” who do not represent the views of Canadians.
About 90 per cent of Canada’s cross-border truckers and 77 per cent of the population have had two COVID vaccination shots.
The truckies’ “Freedom Convoy” started out as a rally of truckers against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against government overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination streak.
Unable to earn a living
“I’m not able to work no more because I can’t cross the border,” said Csava Vizi, a trucker from Windsor who noted he was the family’s sole breadwinner.
“I refuse the vaccine,” he said, calling it dangerous. He spoke from inside his truck in front of parliament.
The rally started early on Saturday and built through the afternoon. Some handed out bag lunches to the truckers, who convoyed to Ottawa from the east and west coasts and places in between.
Few wore masks, but many were in balaclavas as the temperature with windchill was minus 21 Celsius. A downtown mall closed because demonstrators refused to wear masks inside, CTV reported.
The violent rhetoric used by some of the promoters on social media in the run-up to the protest had worried police, who were out in force, but mostly the protest felt like a very cold street party, punctuated by blaring truck horns.
Trudeau announced a vaccine mandate for federal workers on the eve of the October election, then last month Canada and the United States imposed one for cross-border truckers.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole opposes vaccine mandates and expressed support for the protest after holding talks with some of the truckers on Friday.
Not all truckies
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents some 4500 carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers, has opposed the demonstration.
It urged the truckers who participated to do so peacefully and then leave Ottawa. The protest organisers had said they would stay in Ottawa until the government abandons the mandates. Downtown streets could be clogged for days.
“If I have to stay here two months, I’m going be here,” said Vizi.