Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the Canadian capital on Saturday to protest vaccination mandates, masks and shutdowns.
Some parked in the grounds of the National War Memorial, others carried signs and flags with swastikas and the statue of a Canadian hero was defaced, prompting widespread condemnation.
“Parking on this hallowed ground which includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted.
Protesters compared vaccination mandates to fascism, one truck carried a Confederate flag and many carried profanity-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The statue of the late Terry Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster and then embarked on a fundraising hike across Canada in 1980, was draped in an upside-down Canadian flag with a sign that read “Freedom Mandate.”
David Santos said he came from Montreal because he believes vaccination mandates are not health related but what he calls a “control thing” by governments.
The convoy of truckers and others prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and to warn residents to avoid downtown. A senior parliament security official has advised lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes could be targeted.
Trudeau said Canadians are not represented by this “very disturbing, small but very vocal minority of Canadians who attack science, government, society, mandates and public health advice.”
The prime minister’s itinerary for the day usually says he’s in Ottawa if he’s at home, but on Saturday he said ‘National Capital Region’ amid a report that he’s been moved to an undisclosed location.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and the premier of the province of Quebec who proposes to tax the unvaccinated is popular.
Some are in part protesting a new rule that came into effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immune to the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said many of the protesters had no connection to the trucking industry, adding that they had a separate agenda to defend. The alliance notes that the vast majority of drivers are vaccinated.
Protest organizers have called for the forced removal of all COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination mandates and some have called for Trudeau’s impeachment.
Some Canadian opposition Conservative lawmakers served coffee to protesters, including Michael Cooper, who did a live TV hit as a person with an upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika passed by. Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole met with truckers. The protest also drew support from Donald Trump Jr. and some Fox News personalities.
“The threat to democracy today is not just happening in America,” tweeted former US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.
“The use of the swastika and Confederate fag are symbols of hate. So sad to see these symbols anywhere and especially in Canada.
The Parliamentary Protective Service is expecting up to 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend rally.
“I’m locked in my own country right now,” said Tom Pappin, an unvaccinated man who came from outside Ottawa. “I can’t go on vacation. I can’t go to the restaurant, I can’t go bowling. I can’t go to the cinema. You know, these are things that just got out of control.
The 52-year-old said attendees would likely remain parked by Parliament until vaccination mandates are lifted.
Phil Haggart was among the group to counter-protest the message from the convoy, saying he wanted to show there were voices in favor of public health measures to slow the spread of the virus. ‘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 as protesters rang cowbells near.