OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns.
Some parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, others carried signs and flags with swastikas and some used the statue of Canadian hero Terry Fox to display an anti-vaccine statement, sparking widespread condemnation.
“I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame,” tweeted Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s Defense Staff chief.
Protestors compared vaccine mandates to fascism, one truck carried a Confederate flag and many carried expletive-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The statue of Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster, then set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada, was draped with a upside down Canadian flag with a sign that said “mandate freedom.”
Trudeau retweeted a statement from The Terry Fox Foundation that said “Terry believed in science and gave his life to help others.”
Eric Simmons, from Oshawa, Ontario, said all vaccine mandates should be ended.
They’re not effective, they’re not working. It’s not changing anything. We can’t keep living like this. People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to get the vaccine,” Simmons said.
The convoy of truckers and others prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and warn residents to avoid downtown. A top Parliament security official advised lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.
Trudeau has said Canadians are not represented by this “very troubling, small but very vocal minority of Canadians who are lashing out at science, at government, at society, at mandates and public health advice.″
The prime minister’s itinerary for the day usually says he is in Ottawa if he’s at home, but on Saturday it said “National Capital Region” amid a report he’s been moved to an undisclosed location. One of Trudeau’s kids has COVID-19 and the prime minister has been isolating and working remotely.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and the premier of the province of Quebec who is proposing to tax the unvaccinated is popular.
Some are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a great number of the protesters have no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. The alliance notes the vast majority of drivers are vaccinated.
The organizers of the protest have called for the forceful elimination of all COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates and some called for the removal of Trudeau.
The Shepherds of Good Hope, which has a soup kitchen for the homeless in Ottawa, reported staff and volunteers “experienced harassment from convoy protestors seeking meals from our soup kitchen. The individuals were given means to defuse the conflict.”
Some opposition Canadian Conservative lawmakers served coffee to the protesters. Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole met with some truckers. The protest has also attracted support from former U.S. President Donald Trump and some Fox News personalities.
“We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” Trump said at a rally in Conroe, Texas. “They are doing more to defend American freedom than our leaders by far.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said the threat against democracy isn’t only happening in America.
“Both the use of the swastika and the confederate flag are symbols of hate. So very sad to see these symbols anywhere and especially in Canada,” said Heyman, who was the U.S. envoy under former President Barack Obama.
The Parliamentary Protective Service expects as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend-long rally.
“I’m locked into my own country right now,” said Tom Pappin, an unvaccinated man who came from just outside Ottawa. “I can’t go on a holiday. I can’t go to a restaurant, I can’t go bowling. I can’t go to a movie. You know, these are things that it’s just gotten out of control.”
The 52-year-old said attendees are likely to stay parked by Parliament until vaccine mandates are lifted.