New Zealand anti-vaccine mandate protesters have dug mini trenches across parliament grounds, after the sprinklers were turned on overnight in an attempt to force them to leave.
The protest, now entering its fifth day in the capital, Wellington, is modelled on the anti-vaccine protests in Canada that have crippled Ottawa for the last two weeks and have recently blocked the land border crossing in Windsor.
And protesters in New Zealand appear to be drawing heavily on inspiration from their North American counterparts, with Canadian flags being held aloft on parliament grounds and draped across the front of trucks.
“It’s very odd to see the Canadian flag being used in protests,” New Zealand political scientist Dr. Bryce Edwards tells Global News from Wellington.
“But for some of the protesters, the Canadian flag is now a symbol of anti-vaccination mandates, and so they are embracing it.”
New Zealand’s protest began with a so-called “trucker convoy” as well — with various travelling through the country’s two main islands before meeting up in Wellington — though social media users reported seeing few trucks, and mostly passenger vehicles.
Protesters have been camped out on parliament grounds since Tuesday, despite facing strong resistance from police.
According to local media, at least 122 protesters have been arrested so far, after police on Thursday (NZ time) moved in to remove tents from parliament’s lawn and to remove illegally-parked vehicles blocking Wellington streets. Many, however, stood firm and refused to leave.
In a last-ditch effort to get protesters to leave on Friday night, New Zealand’s speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard, announced that he would activate the sprinklers on parliament grounds to drench them — despite the fact that it was already raining in Wellington.
“No-one who is here is here legally, and if they’re getting wet from below as well as above, they’re likely to be a little bit less comfortable and more likely to go home,” Mallard said in a press release.
“Some people have suggested we add the vaccine in the water, but I don’t think it works that way.”
In response, protesters attempted to put orange road cones over the sprinklers, according to videos posted on social media, but when that didn’t work, they dug trenches across the grounds in order to divert the water and keep their tents dry.
Edwards, who has visited the protest throughout the week, said the mood on parliament grounds on Friday was a “striking contrast” to Thursday.
“On Thursday it was incredibly tense, and very violent. Both the police and protesters were incredibly physical, and it was uncomfortable for an outsider like myself to be amongst,” he tells Global News.
“But on Friday it became incredibly relaxed and festive. It was more like a music festival — a rather hippie one.”
Edwards also noted a strong Canada-inspired influence at the protest. He said many people had Canadian flags or were “shouting ‘support the truckers!'”
“There are some attempts to import the Canadian convoy politics and style to this protest,” Edwards says.
“They have obviously been inspired in terms of the Canadian convoy, and that is how this protest started. But I think most of the protesters probably don’t know much about what is happening in Canada.”
Edwards said he had also experienced strong reactions from Canadians to videos he had been sharing on social media of the New Zealand protest.
Many Canadians had commented, saying they wished the police in Canada would be as strong-handed as they appeared to be in New Zealand, Edwards says. Others were writing to Edwards to show support for the truckers.
“So it does seem that there’s a number of Canadians that are following what’s happening in NZ and taking some lessons from it — from both sides,” he says.
Police have been brought in from around the country to bolster the capital’s forces to deal with the protests, according to local media, as talk of a “second wave” of occupiers circulates on social media, with more due to arrive Friday night and throughout Saturday.
In a news conference on Thursday evening, Wellington police’s district commander said the protest was “unprecedented for New Zealand.”
“We’ve never had an occupation of the scale … It was never going to be a short process. We are conscious of that. It has to be a measured approach, and it will take some time, potentially,” Superintendent Corrie Parnell said.
Police say the spread of misinformation among protesters was making it difficult to diffuse the situation.
“Police have identified a range of different causes and motivations among the protestors, making it difficult to open clear and meaningful lines of communication,” Parnell said in a statement on Friday afternoon.
“Misinformation, particularly on social media, has been identified as an issue.”
Parnell also said police were concerned over the number of children that were involved in the protest, a concern shared by police in Canada.
“Police are also concerned that people are encouraging children be brought to the protest site to support their efforts,” Parnell’s statement said.
One protester named Glenn, who did not want his last name used, said more people arrived on parliament grounds Friday night and even more were due to join on Saturday.
He said he had joined with others to “push against police for eight hours” on Thursday, but since then the protest has been “very, very peaceful.”
Glenn started a group called Resistance Kiwi in July 2021, when he believed vaccine mandates could be coming in the future.
Resistance Kiwi now has about 2,500 members and was one of the main groups involved in bringing together the Wellington protest.
“Canada has inspired many groups around the world,” Glenn told Global News.
He was also calling on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to step down.
“This government has brought segregation and discrimination on society. The message down there at parliament is just to end the mandates.”