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Canadian truckers and their supporters who oppose the government’s vaccination mandate began arriving in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, for a protest outside Parliament on Saturday.
Calling themselves the “Freedom Rally” or “Freedom Convoy,” the truckers travel from the western, eastern and southern ends of the country to Ottawa, with police estimating that 1,000 to 2,000 people will converge there on Saturday.
The loosely organized convoys, one of which left British Columbia last Sunday, have raised more than C$7 million in GoFundMe donations along the way. Of that, C$1 million has been released by GoFundMe so far, after the organizer submitted “a clear distribution plan for the funds used to cover attendees’ fuel costs,” the company said in a statement. an email.
Most Canadian truckers are vaccinated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference Wednesday, citing a nearly 90% vaccination rate among them and calling the protesters a “small marginal minority.”
More than 77% of Canadians are fully immunized and nearly 88% of people age 5 and older have received at least one dose, according to federal public health data. The country’s Omicron surge appears to have peaked more than two weeks ago, although limited access to PCR testing means official numbers are understated. Deaths have risen from a daily average of less than 20 at the end of December to more than 164, surpassing the peak of last winter and approaching the record reached by Canada last summer.
As the convoy crossed the country from western Canada, many of its supporters and participants have included people outside the commercial trucking community who want an end to all pandemic restrictions and public health measures, as well than people demanding that Mr. Trudeau leave office.
Regardless of Canada’s mandates, truckers crossing the southern border are required to present proof of vaccinations to U.S. border officials, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy that took effect Jan. 22.
Truckers tried to link the logistical delays to Canada’s vaccination mandate, a claim repeated by Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole in a video posted to her social media accounts on Thursday.
“You’ve probably noticed empty shelves in your grocery store,” O’Toole said. “It’s because Justin Trudeau put in place a mandate that all truckers entering this country, whether Canadian or American, must be fully vaccinated.”
However, most logistics experts say the shortages have been limited and caused by other factors, as the majority of truckers only travel within the country’s borders. Canada’s food supply chain has been impacted by extreme weather in Western Canada in recent months, including droughts in the Prairie provinces, and wildfires and floods in British Columbia. The government says its statistics show no drop in cross-border road traffic.
American figures, including Elon Musk, Donald Trump Jr. and Joe Rogan, expressed their support for the Canadian protest on social media and talk shows.
The Ottawa Police Service, along with three other police and security services, stepped up to increase security around Parliament Hill ahead of the protest and asked the public to avoid downtown.
Sergeant-at-Arms and Corporate Security Officer at Canada’s House of Commons, Patrick McDonell, warned MPs they could face protesters at their residences or in their constituency offices, in an internal memo obtained by various Canadian media. With the House of Commons not currently sitting and resuming on Monday, many parliamentarians are out of town.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said in a statement last Saturday that it “strongly disapproves” of protests on public roads, highways and bridges.
Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa.