CNN, CTV NETWORK, CBC NEWS
By Paula Newton, CNN
A massive protest by Canadian truckers and others against Covid-19 mandates is in its second week, crippling downtown Ottawa with no end in sight. The city’s mayor has declared a state of emergency, and the capital’s police chief is calling for outside help to deal with the protesters.
So what exactly are the demonstrations about, and what’s being done to address them? Why are the protests taking place now? Here are some key questions and answers about Canada’s Covid-19 protests.
What are truckers protesting in Canada?
Thousands of Canadian truckers are participating in the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” fighting a vaccine mandate that is forcing all Canadian truckers crossing the US-Canada border to be fully vaccinated or face quarantine in their homes for two weeks when they return.
The rule went into effect in mid-January in Canada and January 22 in the United States. The US Department of Homeland Security now requires non-citizens entering the United States via border crossings or ferry terminals along the US northern and southern borders be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Before this mandate, truckers were exempted from the vaccine requirement and permitted to cross the border, at times testing for Covid-19, even during the 18-month period that the border was closed to non-essential traffic. Truckers were considered vital to keeping supply chains functioning normally.
According to the Canadian government, nearly 90% of Canada’s truckers are fully vaccinated and eligible to cross the border. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the protesting truckers represent a “small, fringe minority” and his government did not expect the vaccine mandate to significantly affect supply chains.
How did the protests start?
The Freedom Convoy of truckers began its protest in January in Canada’s western provinces with the goal of reaching the nation’s capital, Ottawa, and continuing the protest until the vaccine mandate was lifted.
On its cross-country journey and now in Ottawa, the protest has attracted support from thousands of Canadians, even some who are fully vaccinated, who say they want all vaccine and mask mandates lifted and all Covid-19 health restrictions dropped.
How have the protests evolved?
A large, noisy convoy, including hundreds of trucks and vehicles, descended on Ottawa on January 29. Dozens of trucks remain in Ottawa’s downtown core in what local officials have described as an “occupation.” This past weekend, several cities and towns joined in the protest with hundreds of trucks and thousands of protesters in some of Canada’s largest cities.
The protest in Ottawa continues despite Ottawa’s police chief saying the demonstration is now “unlawful.”
Thursday marked the fourth day protesters impeded access to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario — the busiest international crossing in North America.
In addition, a mix of semi-trailers and farm equipment shut down the border crossing connecting Emerson, Manitoba, and Pembina, North Dakota, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba. The Coutts access point between Alberta and Montana has also been blocked.
Protesters in 60 to 70 vehicles disrupted traffic at Ottawa International Airport on Thursday morning by circling the airport’s arrivals and departure terminals, airport officials said.
What do the protesters want?
In a statement released last week, organizers of the Freedom Convoy said they will remain in Ottawa “for as long as it takes for governments across Canada to end all mandates” associated with Covid-19.
Protesters who spoke to CNN also say they would like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak with them and hear their opposition to the mandates and restrictions.
Trudeau has said he has no intention of meeting with them, and that they hold views “unacceptable” to most Canadians.
What has the impact been on Canadians?
The most profound impact has been in Ottawa’s downtown core, where the convoy of trucks has blockaded several downtown streets, honking their horns in some cases day and night.
Earlier this week, an Ottawa judge signed a temporary injunction that prevents protesters from using horns during their demonstrations, court documents show.
Residents and service providers in the downtown core have told CNN they feel like hostages in a city under siege. The majority of businesses in the area have been forced to close; they include a large mall adjacent to the protest site.
Ottawa police say they opened a hate-incident hotline that has received more than 200 calls in a matter of days, with residents reporting incidents of harassment and intimidation.
Ottawa police said Thursday they have answered more than 1,000 calls for service related to the demonstration. There have been 25 arrests for criminal charges such as mischief, thefts, menacing and transportation of fuel, they say.
More than 1,500 traffic and parking tickets have also been issued.
What has PM Justin Trudeau said about all this?
Trudeau says the protesters do not represent the vast majority of Canadians who have opted to be fully vaccinated and believe that public health restrictions save lives.
During an emergency parliamentary debate in Ottawa on Monday, he implored protesters parked in trucks right outside the building to end their demonstration.
“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop,” he said in his first public appearance since isolating for Covid-19 after he and some members of his family contracted the virus.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that protesters had a right to voice their concerns but said residents didn’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods.
“This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians, but Canadians know the way to get through it is continuing to listen to science, continuing to lean on each other, continuing to be there for each other,” Trudeau said after underscoring the fact that Canadians are tired of Covid-19 health restrictions.
78% of Canadians are vaccinated. Why so much angst now?
According to the Canadian government, almost four of every five Canadians are vaccinated. However, provincial governments and the federal government have enforced various vaccine mandates.
At the federal and provincial level, Canada has enforced some of the strictest Covid-19 measures in the world with widespread mask mandates and restrictions on the size of gatherings, not only at large events and restaurants, but in private homes.
A vocal minority of Canadians says they agree with the truckers’ protest, saying is it time to drop most Covid-19 restrictions. With so many Canadians complying for so long with vaccine and mask mandates and other Covid-19 measures, some say public health officials and government leaders are now going too far.
As one couple who said they were fully vaccinated told CNN, they feel they did their part and now they want to move on.
Had Canadians staged serious protests over Covid-19 rules before this?
Various smaller protests took place across the country against health measures and mandates in 2020 and 2021. However, this is the largest and most widespread protest of its kind to date during the pandemic.
What Covid-19 restrictions are in place now for Canadians who are not truckers?
Several provinces are beginning to drop some mitigation measures and allow the reopening of restaurant dining rooms, theaters, cinemas and gyms, albeit with capacity restrictions.
Decisions about most of these health restrictions and how and when to ease them are determined not by the Trudeau government, but by individual provinces.
There is still a federal vaccine mandate for passengers traveling by air domestically or internationally. In addition, all federal public servants are required to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment.
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