Canadian Cities See Anti-Vax Mandate Protests Spread

Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, faced protests on Saturday against vaccine mandates which spread from the capital of Ottawa.

The “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against harsh public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“We’re all sick and tired of the mandates, of the intimidation, of living in one big prison,” said Robert, a Toronto protester who did not give his last name. “We just want to go back to normal without having to take into our veins the poison which they call vaccines.”

Protesters have crowded downtown Ottawa for the past eight days.

The well-organized protest, which police say has relied partly on funding from supporters in the United States, saw protesters bring in portable saunas on Saturday to combat frigid temperatures. One man rode through the area on horseback, carrying a Trump flag, as social media videos showed. President Trump has spoken out in support of the truckers against “the harsh policies of far-left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.”

GoFundMe took down the Freedom Convoy’s donation page on Friday, saying it violated the platform’s terms of service. The group had raised about C$10.1 million. But a GiveSendGo fundraiser was immediately created in its stead, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than 24 hours.

In a confusingly worded statement, GoFundMe said it would give refunds to those who request it by Feb. 19 and work with organizers to distribute the rest to verified charities.

On Saturday, GoFundMe said it would refund all donations automatically but not before Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the company “professional thieves.” Florida Governor Rick DeSantis and other Republican state lawmakers vowed to investigate the California-based company over the move.

Toronto police ramped up their presence in the city and closed a major downtown avenue, which is home to several hospitals. Some fear protesters might impede access to those hospitals, though many truckers and protesters have not only picked up trash along roadways but have also built pop-up soup kitchens to serve hot food to the public.

About 500 healthcare workers and supporters rallied in downtown Toronto, near the site of the planned trucker convoy demonstrations, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Several Toronto healthcare workers said 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.

Some protest vehicles arrived in Quebec City for a planned Saturday protest, coinciding with the city’s annual winter carnival. Meanwhile, trucks blocked traffic near Manitoba’s provincial legislature in Winnipeg on Friday and demonstrations were expected in Montreal, Calgary, and Regina. Some cities erected barricades to keep protesters away from legislature buildings or banned traffic around them.

An Ottawa resident filed a class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers, seeking up to $10 million in damages.

Last week, Ottawa police reported no incidence of violence or injuries so far during the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration in downtown Ottawa, according to CTV News. But CTV reported on Feb 1 that Ottowa police arrested and charged two people in relation to the ongoing Freedom Convoy demonstrations.

This article used reporting from Reuters.