Canadian authorities are scrambling to find ways to end the 12-day-long occupation of the national capital’s downtown over COVID-19 measures, hoping a combination of criminal charges, traffic tickets and the prospect of losing access to fuel will end the blockades.
The protests, which started with truck drivers landing in Ottawa in late January, have spread to other parts of the country, and late Monday demonstrators blocked the Ambassador Bridge linking Canada and the United States, halting traffic from both directions.
The bridge, one of the busiest border crossings on the continent, handling around 8,000 trucks a day, reopened on Tuesday for U.S.-bound vehicles, but the Canada Border Services Agency’s website showed lanes from the United States were still “temporarily closed” Wednesday morning.
In Ottawa, the number of protesters against public health measures to fight COVID-19 is dropping, police say, in the face of tougher policing and a 10-day injunction to silence honking – something residents say kept them up at night.
But many of the remaining demonstrators in Ottawa were highly “determined and volatile,” deputy police chief Steve Bell said on Tuesday.
Sleeping in trucks and staying warm at fire pits and portable saunas, the protesters camped out in the frigid Canadian capital of Ottawa are digging in for a long stay, convinced they have momentum and right on their side.
The number of protesters in the “Freedom Convoy” – initially an opposition to vaccine mandates for cross-border drivers that has morphed into a wider protest against COVID restrictions and the Canadian government – has thinned since it arrived in Ottawa 12 days ago.
Several protesters told Reuters they had lost jobs or had trouble finding work because they were not vaccinated.
Others cited objections to government policy beyond the vaccine mandates such as a federal carbon tax and housing unaffordability. Virtually all of them spoke about losing their right to autonomy.
Trucks and other vehicles in the area were emblazoned with variations on “FREEDOM” and exhortations against vaccine mandates, lockdowns and other measures. Some protesters wore Canadian flags as capes or baseball caps reading “Make Canada Great Again,” a play on former U.S. President Donald Trump’s slogan.
Protesters say they are peaceful but some waved Confederate Flags and swastikas in the occupation’s early days. Some Ottawa residents have said they were attacked and harassed. Criminal investigations are under way into, among other things, attempted arson at a downtown apartment building.
Police have arrested 23 people.