Canadian truckers and their supporters who oppose the government’s vaccination mandate have begun to arrive in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, for a protest outside of Parliament on Saturday.
Calling themselves the “Freedom Rally” or “Freedom Convoy,” the truckers are traveling from the western, eastern and southern ends of the country to Ottawa, with the police estimating that 1,000 to 2,000 people will converge there on Saturday.
The loosely organized convoys, one of which departed British Columbia last Sunday, has raised more than 7 million Canadian dollars in GoFundMe donations en route. Of that, 1 million Canadian dollars was released by GoFundMe so far, after the organizer submitted “a clear distribution plan for funds being used to cover fuel costs of participants,” the company said in an email.
Most Canadian truckers are vaccinated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference on Wednesday, citing a close to 90 percent vaccination rate among them and calling the protesters a “small fringe minority.”
More than 77 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, and almost 88 percent of those aged 5 and older have received at least one dose, according to federal public health data. The country’s Omicron wave peaked more than two weeks ago, and cases have plummeted, but deaths have risen from a daily average of less than 20 in late December to more than 164.
As the convoy has crossed the country from western Canada, many of its supporters and participants have included people outside of the commercial trucking community who want an end to all pandemic restrictions and public health measures, as well as people demanding Mr. Trudeau leave office.
Regardless of Canada’s mandates, truckers crossing the southern border are required to present U.S. border officials with proof of vaccination, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy that went into effect on Jan. 22.
The truckers have attempted to link logistics delays to Canada’s mandate for vaccination, a claim repeated by the Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole in a video posted on Thursday to his social media accounts.
“You probably noticed some empty shelves at your grocery store,” Mr. O’Toole said. “That’s because Justin Trudeau put in a place a mandate that all truckers entering this country, either Canadian or American, have to be fully vaccinated.”
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However, most logistics experts say that shortages have been limited and caused by other factors, as the majority of truckers only travel within the country’s borders. Canada’s food supply chain has been affected by extreme weather in Western Canada in the past several months, including droughts in Prairie Provinces, and wildfires and floods in British Columbia. The government says that its statistics show no decline in cross-border truck traffic.
American personalities including Elon Musk, Donald Trump Jr. and Joe Rogan have voiced their support for the Canadian demonstration on social media and talk shows.
The Ottawa Police Service, along with three other police and security agencies, have mobilized to ramp up security around Parliament Hill ahead of the protest, and have asked the public to avoid the downtown core.
The sergeant-at-arms and corporate security officer in Canada’s House of Commons, Patrick McDonell, warned members of Parliament that they may be confronted by protesters at their residence or constituency offices, in an internal memo obtained by various Canadian media outlets. Since the House of Commons is currently not in session and resumes sitting on Monday, many Parliamentarians are not in town.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance said in a statement last Saturday that it “strongly disapproves” of the protests on public roadways, highways and bridges.
Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa.