OTTAWA — 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, others carried signs and flags with swastikas, and some used the statue of late Canadian hero Terry Fox to display an anti-vaccine statement, sparking widespread condemnation.
“Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted.
Protesters compared vaccine mandates to fascism, one truck carried a U.S. 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 and 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.”
Trudeau retweeted a statement from the Terry Fox Foundation that said “Terry believed in science and gave his life to help others.”
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 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 demonstrators were, in part, protesting a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the virus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering the country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a great number of the protesters had no connection to the trucking industry, adding that they had 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 demanded the removal of Trudeau.
Some Conservative Party lawmakers served coffee to the protesters including Michael Cooper, who was seen speaking on live television while a person with an upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika walked past. Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole met with truckers. The protest also attracted support from Donald Trump Jr. and some Fox News personalities.
“Today the threat against democracy isn’t only happening in America,” former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman tweeted. “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.”
The Parliamentary Protective Service expected as many as 10,000 protesters as part of a weekend 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 were likely to stay parked by Parliament until vaccine mandates were lifted.
Phil Haggart was among a group of counterprotesters on hand, saying he wanted to show that there was support for public health measures to slow the spread of the virus. “Masks are important, vaccines are important, and mandates are important only because we need them to stay alive and not fill our hospitals up,” he said as protesters rang cow bells.