Explainer: How Ottawa’s anti-vaccine mandate protests are spreading globally

Image source: CNN

Horn-blaring demonstrations demanding an end to Canadian COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers have caused gridlock in the capital Ottawa since late January. The protests are now spilling to key Canada-United States border crossings and disrupting trade.

Copycat protests have also sprung up in Australia, New Zealand and France, while truckers in the United States have said they are planning similar demonstrations.

How did the protests start?

COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers, imposed in January by Canada and the United States, angered some drivers. They started the “Freedom Convoy” of trucks driving across Canada to Ottawa late in the month. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, an industry group, said it opposes protests on public roadways, however, emphasizing that most Canadian truckers are vaccinated. The protests have broadened to oppose restrictions more generally against unvaccinated people, although provincial governments control these, not the federal government.

What impact are the protests having?

Two border blockades are disrupting hundreds of millions of dollars in Canada-U.S. trade. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to meet with protest organizers and moved to an undisclosed location outside Ottawa as the convoy arrived. He has since returned to Ottawa and said following public health measures is the best way to fight the pandemic.

The protests may have contributed to the opposition Conservative Party’s ousting of leader Erin O’Toole, who angered some Conservative legislators for initially distancing himself from the protests.

A trucker carries a gas canister with "Freedom of Choice" written on it, as truckers and supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 9, 2022. REUTERS/Lars Hagberg
A trucker carries a gas canister with “Freedom of Choice” written on it, as truckers and supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 9, 2022. REUTERS/Lars Hagberg

Some provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, have eased COVID-19 measures since the start of the protests, but denied a connection.

What are the authorities doing about the protests?

Canadian authorities are scrambling to end the Ottawa occupation, hoping a combination of criminal charges, traffic tickets and the prospect of losing access to fuel will end the blockades. 

A court granted an interim injunction this week preventing people from sounding horns in downtown Ottawa.

Protesters say they are peaceful but some waved Confederate flags and swastikas in the occupation’s early days. Some Ottawa residents say they were harassed.

Police have generally avoided mass arrests and aggressive efforts to clear blockades, and Alberta police said they were unable to find local tow-truck operators willing to assist them.

What do Canadians think about the protests?

A recent poll found 62% of Canadians surveyed oppose the “Freedom Convoy.” Canadians have largely followed government’s health measures and nearly 79% of the eligible population has taken two doses of the vaccine.

But sentiment ranges widely, as it does about government response to COVID-19 itself. Some Canadians support the protests, saying they are tired of government over-reach, while others are alarmed that police have been unwilling or unable to end unlawful blockades.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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