Canada Protests Sound Common Refrain: 'We Stand for Freedom'

By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER, TED SHAFFREY and KATHLEEN FOODY, The Related Press

WINDSOR, Ontario (AP) — Canadians who’ve occupied downtown Ottawa, disrupted journey and commerce with the U.S. and impressed copycat protests from New Zealand to the Netherlands sound a typical be aware when requested about their motivation: Selections about their well being should not be made by the federal government.

“We stand for freedom,” mentioned Karen Driedger, 40, who home-schools her children and attended protests in Ottawa and Windsor. “We imagine that it ought to be everybody’s private determination what they inject into their our bodies.”

The chorus is not new to a pandemic-weary world, two years after the COVID-19 virus prompted curfews and closures, face-mask mandates and debates over vaccine necessities. Nonetheless, the timing of the protests has raised some eyebrows, since they started simply as most of the hardest pandemic-era restrictions had been being lifted throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe; consultants say antipathy towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a major underlying pressure.

The in-your-face protests which have fueled frustrations across the nation and world have been aided by publicity and help from far-right and anti-vaccine teams. And influential Individuals akin to former U.S. President Donald Trump and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk have rallied behind the protesters.

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Most Canadians have been supportive of the pandemic restrictions, which well being officers have careworn are vital to guard the general public from a virus that has killed no less than 5.8 million individuals globally. The overwhelming majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 loss of life price is one-third that of america.

Trudeau has labeled the protesters a “fringe,” and authorities have braced for violence as a result of some have expressed hope that the rally will turn into the Canadian equal of final January’s riot on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

The Canadian “freedom convoy” was introduced final month by a gaggle based by a QAnon conspiracy idea supporter and different organizers, and contains the ex-leader of Alberta’s far-right Maverick Get together.

Protesters who spoke to The Related Press this week defended their actions and argued that they symbolize many extra annoyed residents.

Don Stephens, a 65-year-old retired graphic designer, mentioned he’s come into Ottawa twice to point out help for protesters there. He views them as representatives of a “silent majority that had been longing to have their voice heard.”

Mat Mackenzie, a 36-year-old trucker from Ontario, mentioned he’s been among the many protesters in Ottawa for 15 days, feeling “an obligation” to point out his opposition. Residents ought to be answerable for making selections round masks, vaccines and different COVID mitigation efforts, not authorities officers, he mentioned.

“I can let you know 90% of truckers listed below are possible vaccinated. We’re right here for freedom of alternative,” Mackenzie mentioned. “And that’s what we’re right here to battle for.”

Michael Kempa, a criminology professor on the College of Ottawa, mentioned there are two faces of the protest. It is not nearly vaccine mandates and different COVID restrictions; organizers have mentioned they need to oust Trudeau’s Liberal authorities and be a part of forming a brand new one, he mentioned.

“In some ways, the pleasant face protesters are appearing because the foot troopers of the organizers,” Kempa mentioned. “We’re seeing an enormous quantity of misinformation. People who find themselves legitimately offended are being manipulated by the protest management.”

Many Canadians have been outraged over the crude conduct of some demonstrators. Some urinated on the Nationwide Conflict Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whereas others carried indicators and flags with swastikas and used the statue of Canadian hero Terry Fox to show an anti-vaccine assertion, sparking widespread condemnation.

The pictures of protests throughout Canada have ignited copycats elsewhere.

In Paris, police prevented a threatened blockade of the French capital on Saturday. However just a few dozen autos had been capable of disrupt site visitors on the famed Champs-Elysees, prompting police to fireplace tear gasoline to disperse the gang.

“The convoys are for the restoring of our liberties,” mentioned Pierre-Louis Garnier, a 64-year-old who attended a protest in Paris on Friday to welcome an anticipated convoy that by no means materialized.

Within the Netherlands, dozens of vans and different autos, some waving Canadian flags, have descended on The Hague, the historic Dutch parliamentary complicated.

“We live now in police state,” mentioned Hans Evenstain, a 76-year-old protester mentioned Sunday. “That’s not life anymore. We need to transfer freely and that’s why we’re right here for us and for our kids and our grandchildren.”

In Belgium, federal police had been urging individuals to keep away from Brussels on Monday, when a convoy is anticipated to collect within the nation’s capital, and the headquarters of the 27-nation European Union.

Within the New Zealand capital of Wellington, authorities have turned to blasting Barry Manilow songs and the 90s dance hit “Macarena” on loop to interrupt up a convoy of protesters encamped exterior Parliament this week.

In Windsor, the place protesters had blocked the doorway to the Ambassador Bridge that may be a essential conduit for the auto business in each the U.S. and Canada, police moved to finish the demonstration Sunday, arresting a couple of dozen protesters and starting to tow autos.

Earlier than Sunday’s crackdown, the shutdown usually had the texture of a block get together.

Protesters milled about, carrying Canadian flags affixed to the ends of hockey sticks whereas music blared and meals was handed out. They put up indicators bearing slogans akin to “Freedom Is Important,” “Say No To Obligatory Vaccines” and “Finish Mandates.”

Troy Holman, a 32-year-old Windsor resident who has been on the protest daily since its begin on Monday, mentioned he believes the federal government overreached with its COVID-19 restrictions, which negatively impacted his spouse’s small enterprise.

“If we weren’t doing one thing akin to this, nobody would take note of us,” he mentioned Saturday. “Sadly, we now have to be right here, as a result of that is what’s going to get the eye of the federal government.”

Shaffrey reported from Ottawa and Foody reported from Chicago. Related Press reporters Rob Gillies in Toronto, Elaine Ganley in Paris, and Thomas Adamson in The Hague contributed to this story.

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