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Canadian truckers block a key border crossing, as their protest morphs and drags on

A protester walks in front of parked trucks on Tuesday in Ottawa, Ontario, as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates implemented by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Dave Chan
/
AFP via Getty Images
A protester walks in front of parked trucks on Tuesday in Ottawa, Ontario, as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates implemented by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A massive protest in Ottawa, Ontario, that began with truck drivers opposing a cross-border vaccine mandate continues to snarl traffic and disrupt everyday life in the Canadian capital more than a week after it began.

Officials from the mayor to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have called on the protesters to leave, saying residents in the city of just over 1 million don't deserve to be harassed. Yet the protesters show no signs of relenting, and some have moved into other areas of the city, which is under a state of emergency.

On Monday, the protests spread elsewhere in the country, as truck drivers blocked traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, a key crossing between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, CBC reported. They also got the backing of more than 100 Alaska truck drivers who rallied in support of the convoy, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

What is the protest about?

The "Freedom Convoy" began last month as a caravan of truck drivers who planned to drive to Ottawa to voice their opposition to a government mandate that requires them to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

That's despite the fact that the Canadian Trucking Alliance says the "vast majority" of the country's trucking industry is vaccinated.

But the narrow focus of the protest quickly grew as more people joined the demonstration to voice their own grievances against Canada's government.

Some protesters say they're staying until all public health mandates are lifted, while others have called for the dissolution of the current government, as NPR's Emma Jacobs reported.

In addition, signs for QAnon, right-wing militias and Confederate and Nazi flags have also appeared among the protesters, Jacobs said.

A group of police officers walk past a Canadian flag near Parliament Hill as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday in Ottawa, Canada.
Dave Chan / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A group of police officers walks past a Canadian flag near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Ottawa City Councillor Matthew Luloff told NPR's Morning Edition on Tuesday that the protest has morphed into a more far-reaching and hostile demonstration against the government than was originally planned.

"Some of the most well-known radicals in this country have now descended upon the capital. Some of them are calling for violence. Some of them are threatening individual politicians," said Luloff, who also noted the presence of hate symbols and antisemitic flyers at the protest.

"Now at the same time, there are people within this group that are demonstrating downtown with legitimate concerns," he added, "but you don't have a productive conversation at the business end of a gun or the grill of a semitruck."

With a note of frustration, Luloff said that although protesters are calling for Trudeau and other government officials to resign, Canada just had an election several months earlier.

The protests have been largely peaceful — with some exceptions

Protesters have largely remained peaceful. Much of the criticism of the protest is focused on the disruptions to city life for those residing and working in Ottawa.

Mayor Jim Watson previously told CBC that residents feel like "prisoners in their own home" as crowds amass downtown, block traffic and at times harass people on the street.

Law enforcement authorities didn't confront the protesters at first, but they've begun to crack down on demonstrators in recent days.

Ottawa police made several arrests over the weekend, seized fuel from some protesters and issued more than 450 tickets. The city is also under a state of emergency, and a judge ruled that truckers couldn't sound their thunderous horns for 10 days.

Truckers refuel their trucks in the cold during the Freedom Convoy truck protest on Feb. 5 in Ottawa, Canada.
Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Truckers refuel their trucks in the cold during the Freedom Convoy truck protest on Feb. 5 in Ottawa, Canada.

There have also been several incidents for which the protesters drew widespread condemnation. One person was filmed dancing on Canada's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a homeless shelter said a group demanded meals and threatened the shelter's staff members. Police said they've opened several criminal investigations.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has also criticized the tactics of the protesters and accused them of cultural appropriation, according to Indian Country Today.

Protesters draw outrage from many Canadians, and support from some in the U.S.

Still, the standoff — as well as the movement it represents — has galvanized many conservative leaders in Canada and the U.S., with figures like former President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene praising the convoy and championing its cause.

As Jacobs reported over the weekend, polling shows that Canadians are becoming more supportive of lifting certain public health measures — "but that doesn't equal support for protesters' methods or some of the other far-right causes of the organizers in Ottawa."

Members of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada are split on how to respond, she added. Party lawmakers are largely supporting the convoy, and some have posed for photos with demonstrators. But two have broken with the party and called for the protest to end, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford saying it had "become an occupation."

Trudeau, who is recovering from COVID-19, has said that engaging the military in response to the protests is "not in the cards right now."

NPR's Rachel Treisman contributed to this report.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 9, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier headline mistakenly said truckers in Ottawa blocked a key border crossing, a reference to the Ambassador Bridge. The bridge links Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit; it is not located near Ottawa, the Canadian capital. Previously posted Feb. 8: An earlier version of this story misspelled Matthew Luloff's first name as Mathew.
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