Thousands of protesters have gathered in Canada’s capital 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.
Canada’s Defence Staff chief General Wayne Eyre said those involved in the demonstration “should hang their heads in shame”, tweeting: “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.”
Protesters 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 an upside down Canadian flag with a sign that said “mandate freedom”.
Mr 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, told the Associated Press that all vaccine mandates should be ended.
He said: “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”.
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 politicians to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.
Mr 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 is at home, but on Saturday it said “National Capital Region” amid a report he has been moved to an undisclosed location. One of Mr Trudeau’s children 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 on January 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunised 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 organisers of the protest have called for the forceful elimination of all Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates and some called for the removal of Mr Trudeau.
Some opposition Canadian Conservative politicians served coffee to the protesters. Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole met with some truckers. The protest has also attracted support from former US President Donald Trump and some Fox News personalities.
Mr Trump told a rally in Conroe, Texas: “We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way. They are doing more to defend American freedom than our leaders by far.”
Former US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said the threat against democracy is not 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,” Mr Heyman said, who was the US envoy under former President Barack Obama.