Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said that he will be meeting with truckers when they arrive in Ottawa tomorrow as part of a convoy that has travelled across the country in protest of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.
O’Toole said that Canadians are tired and frustrated after the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the convoy of truckers is an expression of those emotions.
“I’ve never seen the country more divided,” he said during a press conference Thursday. “This convoy in many ways represents people who feel they do not have a voice in Ottawa.”
O’Toole said he would make sure everyone has a voice and no one is left behind.
The Conservative leader called for the protest to be peaceful and said he would be meeting with truckers outside of Parliament Hill, but not the organizers of the protest.
Extremist views have been linked to the protest, with messages calling for violence circulating on messaging apps, including one far-right vlogger who hopes it will turn into Canada’s “January 6th,” referring to the day in 2021 when supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the federal Capitol in an attempt to change the results of the election.
O’Toole said some are stealing the “plight” of truckers to call for hate, and he has zero-tolerance for anyone promoting violence or discrimination. He said he would try to “take down the temperature” when meeting with truckers and call out “extremist elements.”
“There should not be violence or intimidation against anyone,” he said.
Ottawa police have voiced concern over the protests and “parallel groups” that intelligence said will turn up. They are preparing for 1,000 to 2,000 demonstrators on Saturday.
The convoy was sparked by mandatory vaccinations being enforced on Canada’s truckers, a policy also enacted in the U.S., but has since evolved into a protest on broader COVID-19 measures, such as lockdowns or vaccine passes, taken throughout the pandemic. It has since raised over $6.5 million on GoFundMe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said the “vast majority,” up to 90 per cent, of Canada’s truckers are vaccinated, and the protest signifies a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views” that don’t represent Canadians.
“(Canadians) who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values as a country,” he said.
However, the necessity of the vaccine mandate on truckers has been questioned given that they spend most of their time in isolation. Truckers were exempt from the U.S.-Canada border closure earlier in the pandemic because they were considered essential workers.
The U.S. has also mandated vaccines for truckers, meaning cross-border transporters will still need to be vaccinated
Other Conservatives have voiced support for the convoy, including deputy leader Candice Bergen and former leader Andrew Scheer, who said that Trudeau is the “biggest threat to freedom in Canada.”