Thousands descended on Parliament Hill Saturday as part of the so-called “freedom convoy” to air grievances against COVID-19 public health measures, vaccine mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Traffic was snarled by big rigs lining Wellington Street, in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings, while passenger vehicles circled honking horns.
WARNING: This video was a live feed of a protest and may contain adult language not suitable for all viewers. Discretion is advised.
The movement’s goals have been foggy since the start — and the protest’s objective was equally hard to discern. Many protesters held “F–k Trudeau” flags, while others held signs opposing vaccine mandates and COVID-19 health measures.
Protesters on foot stretched from Sussex Drive through to the area outside the parliamentary buildings.
The convoy initially kicked off with a focus on opposing vaccine mandates — especially the one aimed at cross-border truckers.
By 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, Ottawa police said crowds were beginning to disperse from the demonstration, but “traffic issues continue” and a large police presence would remain on scene.
Police said in a statement that there were no incidents of violence or injuries reported, and recommended to not travel to the downtown core.
The government announced in November 2021 that all Canadian truckers seeking to cross the border from the United States would need to be vaccinated in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine. That mandate went into effect on Jan. 15.
The United States instituted its own ban on unvaccinated truck drivers a week after Canada implemented its policy.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump called out the Ottawa protest during a rally in Texas on Saturday.
“We are with them all the way,” he said. “They have really shown something.”
He said that the protesters are “resisting bravely” vaccine mandates that he called “lawless,” and “are doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders, by far.”
In the days since the trucks have hit the roads, the stated goal of the movement has become muddied.
In a GoFundMe associated with the event, which has raised over $8 million, organizers say their goal is to “put an end” to “mandates.”
However, among the crowds on Saturday, signs ranged from anti-mandates to anti-vaccines — while others wanted Trudeau out of office.
Many of the signs also called for “freedom” — and protestors say they’re willing to stick around for “as long as it takes” for them to achieve their goals.
“A week, two weeks, three weeks. We’ll stay. And all of my friends are all around here, and they’re going to be with us,” said André Landry, a member of the convoy.
When pressed for details on what kind of change he’d like to see, he said he’s hoping “everybody” will become “normal and free.”
Landry also said he isn’t vaccinated because “the needles can’t go through my skin.”
“They’re not strong enough,” he said.
Jerimiah Jost joined the convoy from Southern Alberta. He said this is “not an anti-vaccine rally.”
“This is a freedom rally. This is about moms being able to watch their kids playing hockey. This is about husbands being able to be present when their wives have birthing issues and they go into surgery,” he said.
“This is about just everyone being able to choose.”
Jost said he was in “tears” yesterday as he drove because “there’s so much hate and division.”
“All I want is for this country to come together. I don’t care if you want to get boosted. I don’t care if you want to wear a mask. You can do whatever you want,” he said.
“I just really want to see people back to where they can love one another, and choose to respect each other’s choices.”
As for concerns about any violence at the protest, Jost said he isn’t worried.
“I know that the Canadians here are respectful,” Jost said.
“It’s going to be an amazing next week of doing this.”