Canada Freedom Convoy: official blasts US 'foreign interference' as lorry chaos spreads

Canadian public safety minister tells US Republicans to stay out of his country's affairs

Central Ottawa on Monday, where the Freedom Truck Convoy has used hundreds of parked lorries to paralyse the city's business district. EPA
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the lorry driver protests besieging central Ottawa for more than a week are undermining democracy and the country's public safety minister has told US Republicans to stay out of Canada's domestic affairs.

The escalating rhetoric comes after Canada’s capital declared a state of emergency on Sunday as police struggled to rein in protests against vaccine mandates.

“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives,” Mr Trudeau said in an emergency debate in Parliament on Monday, while the protest continued outside.

“It has to stop.”

Everyone is tired of Covid-19, he said, but the disruptive protests were not the way to address the situation. He said restrictions won’t last forever and noted that Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

“This is a story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united, and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” Mr Trudeau said, referring to images from the initial days of the protest two weekends ago showing signs and flags adorned with Nazi symbols.

In Parliament on Tuesday, interim Opposition Leader Candice Bergen hammered the prime minister for his handling of the protests and called for an end to the mandates.

“Here in Canada, though we have a prime minister who refuses to lead and instead is being divisive,” said Ms Bergen, “Canadians want their lives back. So again, I ask the prime minister, will you follow the evidence, will you follow the science and end the mandates and restrictions quickly?”

Mr Trudeau responded by saying his government had “Canadians' backs every step of the way” and would follow the science.

The vaccine mandate protests are widening across Canada, with lorry blockades halting commercial traffic at critical border crossings including the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit.

The nearly century-old structure that connects to Windsor, Ontario, was shut down in both directions late on Monday.

The land crossing is the most important link for goods moving between Canada and the US and a crucial artery for car parts suppliers and manufacturers. About 1.4 million lorries entered the US through Detroit last year, almost all of them via the bridge.

With the Ambassador Bridge still closed to traffic, the government has had to actively pursue alternative routes for goods.

“The second thing we can do specifically is to rely on our [Canada Border Services Agency] officials to divert traffic including goods and services to other ports of entry,” Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino.

Many members of the US Republican Party have made comments supporting the demonstrations, including former president Donald Trump, who called Mr Trudeau a “far-left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates".

Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and Covid restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Mr Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

Prominent Republicans including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton complained after crowdfunding site GoFundMe said it would refund the vast majority of the millions of dollars raised by demonstrators.

The site said it cut off funding for protest organisers after determining that their efforts violated the site’s terms of service by engaging in unlawful activity.

In response, Mr Paxton tweeted: “Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers’ worthy cause”.

Mr Mendicino shot back: “It is certainly not the concern of the Texas attorney general as to how we in Canada go about our daily lives in accordance with the rule of law.”

“We need to be vigilant about potential foreign interference … Whatever statements may have been made by some foreign official are neither here nor there. We’re Canadian. We have our own set of laws. We will follow them,” Mr Mendicino said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who activated the capital's state of emergency, has pleaded for almost 2,000 extra police officers to help quell the raucous nightly demonstrations staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy, which has used hundreds of parked lorries to paralyse the city's business district.

The protests have also infuriated people who live around the city centre, including neighbourhoods near Parliament Hill, the seat of the federal government.

Ottawa police have begun trying to cut off supplies to the convoy.

Police have arrested 22 people since the protests began last month and have issued more than 1,300 tickets but they are struggling, admitting it has been an “extremely challenging” 12 days.

As police pursue ways to end the protests, their job has been complicated by the presence of children.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said that about 25 per cent of the more than 400 lorries currently parked in central Ottawa have children in them.

“It's something that concerns us for the well-being of everyone within the area, from the risk of carbon monoxide and fumes, we're concerned about cold, we're concerned about access to sanitation. The ability just to shower, there's a multitude of concerns,” said Mr Bell.

Agencies contributed to this report

A man pretends to drink from a fuel can after police said they will be targeting the truckers' fuel supply. Reuters
Updated: February 09, 2022, 4:09 AM