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In Canada’s sedate capital, some are fed up with noisy vaccine protests

By AFP - Feb 09,2022 - Last updated at Feb 09,2022

Empty jerry cans line the street in front of parked trucks as demonstrators continue to protest the Covid-19 vaccine mandates implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday in Ottawa, Canada (AFP photo)

OTTAWA — Canada’s capital is sometimes ribbed as being so quiet it’s dull. But not these days, as truckers and others frustrated over Covid-19 restrictions clog the city center, revving engines in a non-stop blast of anger.

Ottawa residents say they do not recognise their own city. And while some understand the protesters’ gripes, they think that after nearly two weeks of chaos and gridlock, enough is enough.

The so-called Freedom Convoy began in January in western Canada — launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated or test and isolate when crossing the US-Canadian border.

But the movement has morphed into a broader protest against Covid-related restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, and put a spotlight on pandemic curbs around the world.

Hundreds of big-rig trucks are now paralysing the streets of downtown Ottawa, with the mayor calling the situation out of control and declaring a state of emergency.

“People told me, ‘You will see, Ottawa is a dormitory town compared to Montreal or Toronto,’” said Cedric Boyer, a 48-year-old Frenchman who has lived in the capital for two years, smiling at how Ottawa has been turned upside down by the protests and drawn attention from around the world.

Copycat protests have popped up as far away as New Zealand. Calls have gone out on social media for similar rallies in Europe and the United States.

In Ottawa, some people are using those media platforms to make a plea: “Make Ottawa boring again”, playing on the Make America Great Again mantra of former US president Donald Trump, who has expressed support for the truckers.

“In a democracy, everyone has the right to have a different opinion and the right to express it,” Boyer said. “But where that starts poses a bit of a problem. It is when the freedom of some infringes on that of others.”

Boyer said he felt badly in particular for people who cannot work because of the protests. In the downtown area, many stores and restaurants that had just been allowed to reopen after Covid-related closures are shut down again because of the truckers.

Lisa Van Buren, 55, said there is a lot of frustration among Canadians these days.

“I think there is a real anger, we shouldn’t underestimate that anger,” she told AFP.


‘Vocal minority’ 


In a letter to Trudeau, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson complained about “an aggressive and hateful occupation of our neighbourhoods”.

“People are living in fear and are terrified — they’ve now been subjected to the non-stop honking of large trucks for nine days which is tantamount to psychological warfare,” he added.

Since a court ordered that incessant honking to stop, the truckers have turned instead to revving the engines of their big-rigs.

Local people are also suing the protest organisers for the chaos caused by the demonstration, and are seeking Can$10 million ($7.9 million) in damages.

“They may say that they have the support of many people, but I feel that’s the vocal minority that’s taking a lot of our patience away,” said Patrick Lai, a 30-year-old doctor out on a walk, carrying a pair of ice skates.

“I get where they’re coming from, but as someone who works in healthcare, I just feel like when they say, ‘I’ve done the research,’ it’s not the kind of research that I’m talking about,” Lai said of the protest’s complaints about Covid restrictions.

“I don’t tell you how to drive your truck. Don’t tell me as a healthcare worker how to do my job.”

He said he was concerned about a blockage that started on Monday of the Ambassador Bridge linking Ontario province and the US state of Michigan, which is a key trade route.

“I may have supported them at the beginning, but it’s gone on enough,” said Cheryl Murphy, a 74-year-old retiree who lives in downtown Ottawa.

“If Trudeau had come to talk to them at the very beginning, maybe a lot of this stuff would not have happened,” said Murphy.

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