OTTAWA, Ontario — (AP) — Protesters opposed to vaccination mandates and COVID-19 restrictions held rallies in cities across Canada on Saturday in solidarity with a week-long protest in the nation’s capital.
Officials in Ottawa and many provincial capitals ensured that escalating protests against public health measures related to the pandemic remained peaceful on Saturday.
Around noon Saturday in Ottawa, thousands of protesters mingled near open fires on the snow-covered lawn in front of Parliament Hill. Attendees roasted hot dogs and handed out pastries under tarps, while two men on horseback rode through the city, one carrying a flag in support of former US President Donald Trump.
The “freedom truck convoy” drew support from Trump and other Republicans.
In Toronto, several hundred protesters gathered on the south side of the Ontario Legislature, chanting “freedom” over loudspeaker reggae and sporting signs reading “Freedom”
Nearby, a few hundred health care workers and supporters marched from the University of Toronto to the row of hospitals just south of the Legislature. They were holding signs reading ‘free-dumb’ and ‘N95 masks for all’.
Toronto police have set up roadblocks throughout downtown, preventing any protesters in trucks or cars from approaching the provincial legislature, located near five major hospitals.
Protesters also gathered in Quebec City, Fredericton and Winnipeg, with rallies also planned in Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and at the US border crossing in Coutts, Alberta.
Police forces in those cities say they have learned from Ottawa’s predicament and have developed strategies designed to protect key infrastructure, such as vital traffic corridors and hospitals, and also prevent possible violence.
Winnipeg, Manitoba police have charged a 42-year-old Manitoba man who allegedly drove his vehicle into the group of “freedom convo” protesters gathered in that city. They said the incident happened on Friday evening and resulted in three men being treated at the scene for minor injuries, while a fourth man was taken to hospital and released. The accused faces multiple counts, including assault with a weapon and dangerous operation of a conveyance.
“He wasn’t really for or against either of the general views,” said Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Cst. Rob Carver.
Back in Ottawa, attorney Paul Champ filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of residents seeking millions of dollars in damages and an injunction prohibiting truck drivers from honking their horns at all hours. The judge said he wanted to give all parties to the trial time to submit all documents to him, adding that he planned to make a decision on the horns on Monday afternoon.
Many Canadians were outraged by the rude behavior. On Friday evening, some protesters lit fireworks on the grounds of the National War Memorial. A number of them carried signs and flags with swastikas last weekend and compared vaccination mandates to fascism.
Protesters have said they will not leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are gone. They are also calling for the removal of the Trudeau government, although it is responsible for some of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.