Ottawa declares a state of emergency as anti-vaccine mandate protesters lay ‘siege’ to Canada’s capital city

February 7, 2022, 4:58 AM UTC

The mayor of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, declared a state of emergency on Sunday as thousands of protesters, led by the country’s so-called Freedom Convoy of truck drivers, occupied the city center in objection to the nation’s COVID restrictions.

“Declaring a state of emergency reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” the office for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement.

Protesters from across the country arrived in the city last weekend, beginning what Ottawa’s police department described as a “siege” amid a “nation-wide insurrection.” Watson later told local reporters the situation is “completely out of control” and that the city is “outnumbered” and “losing this battle.”

Watson says the protesters are disrupting city life by constantly blaring their horns and sirens and setting off fireworks. Despite the official rhetoric, Ottawa’s state of emergency is quintessentially polite: it defers no additional powers to the local mayor, his office says, besides making it easier to procure equipment for “front line workers.”

The Freedom Convoy movement—which has gained support from U.S. Republicans including former president Donald Trump, plus Tesla CEO Elon Musk—began last month when truck drivers assembled to protest a new rule requiring cross-border truckers to get vaccinated or submit to COVID tests and quarantine.

But the protesters now encamped in Ottawa—500 truck drivers in idling cabs and 18,000 supporters, according to police estimates—have grown to reflect a wider discontent with Canada’s COVID restrictions.

Mask mandates remain in place across Canada and some provinces require vaccine passports for entry to venues like restaurants. Canada’s COVID restrictions contrast the trend in European countries like Denmark and the U.K. where governments have lifted COVID restrictions and adopted a policy of living with the virus.

Canada, with a population of 38 million, has reported over 3 million COVID cases and 34,000 COVID deaths since the pandemic began—far lower figures per capita than in the U.S., where total COVID deaths passed 900,000 on Friday.

And Canadians have mostly gone along with the country’s COVID restrictions. Even 90% of Canadian truckers are already vaccinated, says the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has disavowed the drivers involved in the Freedom Convoy protests. Support for the Freedom Convoy has come, in part, from abroad—particularly the U.S.

Over the weekend, U.S. Republican lawmakers promised to “investigate” California-based GoFundMe after the fundraising site removed an account that had raised $9 million in donations for the Canadian truckers. The site says it will refund donators their money.

Trump has tweeted support for the truckers, saying the drivers are “peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau.” In fact, Canada was following a U.S. policy initiative when it mandated that cross-border truck drivers must be vaccinated, starting Jan. 15.

In a tweet Sunday, Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S. Bruce Heyman criticized U.S. lawmakers who praised the protesters, calling them “radical U.S. politicians” and adding that “Trump and his followers are a threat not just to the U.S. but to all democracies.”

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