Canada provinces move to ease COVID rules as trucker protest hardens
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OTTAWA (AFP) -- Truckers paralyzing the Canadian capital
in anger at COVID rules showed no sign of backing down Tuesday, as several of
the nation's provinces announced it was time to roll back restrictions that
count among the world's toughest.
With authorities struggling to bring the protest movement to heel,
Saskatchewan in the country's west said Tuesday it was ready to lift all
pandemic restrictions, with Quebec and Alberta also signaling plans to ease
In the capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau -- who a day earlier issued a
stern warning the protests "had to stop" -- appeared to shift tone, saying he
understood "how frustrated everyone is" and that "the time is coming when we
will be able to relax."
"We're all sick and tired of restrictions, of mandates, of having to make
sacrifices," Trudeau said, adding, however, that vaccine mandates were the "way
to avoid further restrictions."
The so-called "Freedom Convoy" began in January in western Canada --
launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test
and isolate, when crossing the US-Canadian border.
Having snowballed into an occupation of the Canadian capital, the protest
has sparked solidarity rallies across the nation and abroad, and by Tuesday had
forced the temporary closure of a key US border bridge, the busiest
international land-border crossing in North America.
Amid a state of emergency in Ottawa, federal police have deployed among
demonstrators waving Canadian flags and anti-Trudeau placards in protests now
in their second week and fast becoming a rallying cry for far-right and
Briefing reporters Tuesday, Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell said his
agents had made 22 arrests to date.
"Our message to demonstrators remains the same: Don't come. And if you do,
there will be consequences," he said.
Under light snowfall, the truckers have been warming themselves by open pit
fires and playing street hockey.
Since a court ordered their incessant loud honking to stop, they have
turned instead to revving the engines of their big rigs.
Police say some of the truckers have brought their children, making any
evacuation more complex -- especially as some have removed their tires and
others have modified their brakes to immobilise their trucks.
Protester Martin Desforges, 46, told AFP he was determined to stay "until
the end," which organizers said would come only when all pandemic restrictions
"I'm against wearing a mask, all distancing measures and restaurant
closures," he said.
"Getting vaccinated should be a decision between a person and their
doctor," echoed fellow protester John Hawley-Wight, "not the government."
More than 80 percent of Canadians aged five and up are fully vaccinated
"We're all fed up," said Francois Legault, premier of Quebec province,
which announced it would lift most COVID restrictions by mid-March, with
hospitalizations now trending downward.
"Right now, we can take a calculated risk and finally turn the page," he
Saskatchewan and Alberta announced a lifting in coming weeks of COVID
restrictions, including requiring testing or proof of vaccine status for
businesses and public venues -- saying the "policy has run its course."
From the original opposition to vaccine requirements, the trucker movement
has morphed into a broader protest against COVID-related restrictions and
Trudeau's Liberal government, and put a spotlight on pandemic curbs around the
US and Canadian business groups on Tuesday demanded protesters end their
blockade of the vital Ambassador Bridge trade route connecting Ontario province
and the US state of Michigan.
"We cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade that
supports families on both sides of the border," said a joint statement.
Another key US-Canada trade link has also been clogged by protestors for
several days, with Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra warning a
prolonged blockade "will have serious implications on our economy, on our
Inspired by the Canada protests, a convoy of trucks and campervans blocked
streets near New Zealand's parliament in Wellington Tuesday to protest against
COVID measures, while calls have multiplied on social media for similar rallies
in Europe and the United States.
The truckers have received US support, including from former president
Donald Trump, while at home, according to a Leger poll, 44 percent of
vaccinated Canadians sympathize with their "concerns and frustrations."
That does not include everyone in Ottawa, however.
"In a democracy, everyone has the right to have a different opinion and the
right to express it," Cedric Boyer, 48, a Frenchman living in the capital, told