OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — A convoy of truckers set to descend on Ottawa to protest a vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers is prompting Canadian police to prepare for violence and politicians to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration.
Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said Wednesday officers had been in been in contact with protest leaders whom he said have been co-operative and shared their plans. But Deputy Chief Steve Bell voiced concern about “parallel groups” that intelligence suggests will also turn up to the protest.
The truckers are protesting a new requirement that truckers entering Canada be fully immunized as of Jan. 15. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15% truckers in Canada — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Some with far-right views have latched onto the protest. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Donald Trump Jr. took to social media Tuesday to endorse the Canadian truck convoy’s fight against “tyranny” and to urge Americans to follow suit.
At the meeting in Ottawa, police disclosed they are preparing for a range of scenarios including the potential for violent outbreaks. Police say they are planning for the arrival of between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators, but say the situation is “fluid” and changing by the hour.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was a “small fringe minority who are on the way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views."
“What we are hearing from some people associated with this convoy is completely unacceptable,” he added.
While police support the right to peaceful protest, officers would be prepared to move protesters out of the demonstration zone should the situation become violent or threatening, said Soly, the Ottawa police chief.
Some supporters of the convoy, including some opposition Conservative lawmakers, have taken to social media to warn the vaccine mandate for truckers will leave store shelves empty.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has assured Canadians there’s no reason to fear food shortages will result from a small minority of truck drivers refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Moreover, he said there’s been no “measurable impact” on the number of trucks crossing the border since the vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 15. Last week, he said almost 100,000 trucks crossed the border — about the same as usual for this time of year.