Vaccination mandate opponents across Canada encountered counter-protesters, heavy police presence
Protesters opposed to COVID-19 vaccination mandates and other public health measures stage protests in cities across the country on Saturday, with some organizers saying they will continue rallies until the federal government lifts all pandemic restrictions.
City officials and police, meanwhile, say they have worked to keep protests peaceful and away from legislative buildings and hospitals.
Protesters in a convoy of trucks and cars have paralyzed downtown Ottawa and rattled nerves with constant honking since arriving in the capital about a week ago.
Since becoming aware of plans to escalate the protest, police forces say they have developed strategies designed to maintain order, public safety and access to critical buildings.
Here’s what’s happening across Canada on Saturday:
A major downtown Toronto intersection is blocked by trucks as part of a protest Saturday in Ontario’s capital against COVID-19 measures and vaccination mandates.
Protesters also gathered a few blocks away on the North Lawn of Queen’s Park, which is located behind the Provincial Legislative Building. Police had closed other downtown roads to most vehicles to ensure access to hospitals near Queen’s Park.
Some trucks were met by counter-protesters, who tried to delay their progress. Additionally, a few hundred health care workers and their supporters marched from the University of Toronto to what is called Hospital Row, just south of Queen’s Park.
In Ottawa, crowds downtown have swelled by the thousands as the nation’s capital braces for a second weekend of protests.
Some protesters appear to have settled down, with bouncy castles, barbecues, wooden shacks and piles of food and fuel appearing on downtown streets and nearby parks. A camp was erected in Confederation Park, including a log cabin, a large supply of wood, and a tent.
Despite police warnings, a crowd of counter-protesters gathered outside Ottawa City Hall, with people carrying signs with slogans such as ‘Bullies Go Home’ and ‘We are not Afraid’ .
Elsewhere, dozens of people gathered in downtown Thunder Bay. Organizers declared their opposition to vaccination mandates and told attendees that racism or any other form of hatred would not be tolerated, saying it was “a family event”.
In Waterloo, authorities closed roads and set up barriers with dump trucks and police vehicles ahead of a planned protest. An online poster for the event circulating on social media appears to show a convoy route map that would have circled Waterloo town centre, roughly the same area closed off by police.
And in London, a procession of vehicles went to City Hall. The convoy jammed traffic and filled the city with loud car horns.
An ongoing blockade preventing travel to the United States border entered its eighth day on Saturday. Protesters in the border town of Coutts are staying put, after a plan drawn up earlier this week to leave the site and head north for a protest in Edmonton was scrapped.
Edmonton is preparing for another anti-vaccine convoy that is expected to arrive at the Alberta Legislative Assembly.
Some law enforcement vehicles are already parked at certain intersections, especially near the legislative building.
As more trucks and small vehicles pour into Quebec City from across the province, police direct traffic in an attempt to prevent the protest from turning into a blockade.
While protesters have been staging smaller demonstrations since Thursday evening, larger crowds are gathering around Quebec’s National Assembly today.
Convoys of drivers arrive from different parts of the province, including the regions of Côte-Nord, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Saguenay and Beauce.
Crowds of protesters, including some families with children, cheered and held up signs calling for an end to vaccine passports and other public health measures, as rows of vehicles honked past the National Assembly.
Protesters carrying Canadian and Quebec flags and “freedom” signs from their cars followed a convoy of heavy trucks into the city from Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon on the south shore. They were greeted by cheering supporters on overpasses above Highway 73.
A small group of counter-protesters are also in the area around the National Assembly, some of them encouraging drivers to honk if they have been vaccinated.
Counter-protesters met a convoy in Vancouver on Saturday, with police saying traffic stopped around 11 a.m. Pacific time.
The convoy planned to pass several hospitals. The British Columbia government has passed a law prohibiting the disruption of health care services within a 20-meter buffer zone around hospitals and other health care facilities.
A similar convoy protest is planned in Victoria outside the BC Legislative Assembly.
Protests continued on Saturday, with police saying traffic on Broadway near the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg is now reduced to one lane in both directions.
Earlier, police said they arrested and charged a man accused of hitting four men with his SUV before driving off on Friday night. The men were taking part in a protest against the pandemic restrictions.
A man driving a white Jeep heading west drove through a group of protesters on Legislative Grounds, striking four men at around 9:50 p.m., Const. said Rob Carver during a press conference on Saturday.
People from two opposing protests converged outside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina on Saturday afternoon – one group calling for an end to COVID-19 public health measures and the other saying they should stay in place.
Around 1:30 p.m. CT, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the building and organizers say they plan to stay in the area until all public health restrictions in Saskatchewan are lifted – which the Premier Scott Moe has already pledged to do.
Meanwhile, a second protest called Take Action Against COVID is calling on the provincial government to do the opposite and maintain public health measures. So far, the divisive protests appear to be peaceful.
About three dozen people gathered outside the provincial legislature in Fredericton.
Supporters honked as people waved signs reading “Mandate Freedom” and “True North Strong and Free”.
A notice on social media said the group would later travel to Quispamsis and protest outside Prime Minister Blaine Higgs’ home, but none of those gathered said they would make the trip.