Quebec premier says no tolerance for mayhem as COVID-19 protest convoy heads to capital

Sûrete du Quebec police officers sit in their car blocking the street in the back of the legislature, preparing for the arrival of demonstrators against measures taken by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19, in Quebec City, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. A group of people coming from Sept-Iles, joined by people from Saguenay and the Beauce region are expected to gather until Saturday. The streets around the legislature have been blocked to stop trucks and motorists from blocking the surroundings as the Quebec Winter Carnival begins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec City officials were reinforcing security measures around the legislature Thursday, as demonstrators opposed to COVID-19 health orders were expected to begin arriving ahead of a weekend protest.

Premier François Legault made it clear that mayhem of any kind would not be tolerated at the demonstration, which is inspired by the ongoing protest at Parliament Hill that some Ottawa city councillors have deemed an “occupation.”

“I have no problem seeing people in the street saying whatever they want, but I want to see normal life being possible,” Legault told reporters on Thursday in Sherbrooke, Que. “That includes having children go to the Carnaval de Québec.”

Click to play video: 'N.B. professor studying extremism looks at recent Ottawa protest against COVID-19 restrictions'
N.B. professor studying extremism looks at recent Ottawa protest against COVID-19 restrictions

The Carnaval de Québec, the provincial capital’s signature winter event, opens Friday and city officials said organizers intend to go ahead as planned.

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By midday, a handful of people were already at the protest site near the legislature. Police were also present and municipal trucks were parked around the legislature, blocking off access to cars.

The city said in a news release on Thursday that officials are monitoring the situation and asking residents to get around using public transit. It said public libraries would remain open in the area and that city officials and police would work together to maintain public access to businesses.

Bernard “Rambo” Gauthier, a well-known union leader from Quebec’s Côte-Nord region, posted a video to Facebook on Thursday morning, stating he was departing with about 50 vehicles toward the provincial capital and promising to stay there.

“We’re doing this for the next generation — our kids — but also for ourselves,” Gauthier said in the video. “I’m tired of not being able to see my friends, go out for a beer with my friends, go out to the restaurant with my girlfriend — a normal life. It’s been two years we’ve been like this.”

It’s unclear how many people will descend on the provincial capital. More convoys are expected to arrive in Quebec City from other parts of the province for the hastily organized event, while others were planning to go to Ottawa in support of the demonstrators who have been in that city for almost one week.

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Downtown Ottawa streets were still clogged with trucks of all sizes Thursday and the steady drone of honking vehicles could be heard near Parliament Hill. An organizer of the Ottawa protest told reporters that demonstrators would stay there until the government ends “all (COVID-19) mandates and restrictions on our freedoms.”

Quebec provincial police promised a heavy presence at the legislature. In a video statement, Sgt. Hélène St-Pierre said police would ensure demonstrations remain peaceful.

Quebec opposition parties on Thursday wanted to know what the government planned to do about the demonstration.

“A peaceful demonstration is acceptable,” Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said. “Having people jamming the city of Quebec for weeks is not acceptable.”

Québec solidaire’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the organizers of the protest were the same people who had planned previous demonstrations against mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccines to exploit the fatigue and anger of people fed up with the pandemic.

“Protesting against public health measures, asking all of them to be cancelled, this is an indirect attack to the most vulnerable people in our society,” Nadeau-Dubois said. “And that goes against what we stand for in our heart.”

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 42 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Thursday. The Health Department said there were 2,637 people in hospital with COVID-19, a drop of 93 compared to the previous day. Of those in hospital, 191 patients were listed in intensive care, a decline of 13 patients.


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