Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, are bracing for disruptions this weekend as protests against vaccine mandates spread from the capital of Ottawa.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures.
Protestors have shut downtown Ottawa for the past eight days, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and some saying they wanted to dissolve Canada’s government.
Toronto Police said they would have a ramped up presence in the city over the weekend due to anticipated protests. On Friday they closed a major downtown avenue, which is home to several hospitals, fearing protestors would otherwise impede access. Entry was limited to hospital staff, patients, family and people picking them up.
“If anyone is planning to come here for a protest that is not peaceful and not respectful I would urge you, on behalf of all Toronto residents and business, to please stay home,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Friday.
Healthcare workers were planning a rally of their own in downtown Toronto on Saturday.
Some protest vehicles arrived in Quebec City on Thursday evening for a planned Saturday protest, coinciding with the city’s annual winter carnival. Trucks blocked traffic near Manitoba’s provincial legislature in Winnipeg on Friday.
Some Ottawa residents, subjected to near-incessant honking, smashed windows and harassment for wearing masks, critisised Ottawa police for not doing more to end the blockade.
Ottawa police warned on Friday of a crackdown on what they called an “increasingly dangerous” protest and dedicated 150 officers to “patrolling and addressing unlawful and threatening conduct in the most impacted neighbourhoods.”
Several Toronto healthcare workers said Thursday they received advice from their hospitals to not wear hospital scrubs in public in light of the protest. Police said this was not their advice.
“The notion that we have to somehow skunk around or be afraid of who we are and what were doing, I think, is offensive and regrettable and, I think, a sad commentary on our society,” emergency room doctor Raghu Venugopal told Reuters.
Venugopal said he supported people’s right to protest peacefully but hoped police cleared access for hospital staff and patients.