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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to bend to demands of a raucous trucker protest that has swarmed Canada’s capital in an effort to force authorities to abandon Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates.
The movement has drawn thousands of people — and dozens of honking big rigs — to Ottawa’s famously placid core around Parliament Hill.
“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and, frankly, disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capitol,” Trudeau told reporters Monday in his first public comments since convoys arrived in Ottawa. “We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. We won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”
The protests so far: The demonstrations have been nonviolent, but smaller, more menacing elements in the crowds have threatened lawmakers and journalists and to destabilize Trudeau’s government.
Over the weekend, some protesters were spotted dancing and urinating on national war monuments, waving racist banners and even barging into a soup kitchen for the homeless.
Behind the movement: Organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy launched the campaign after Trudeau’s government created a rule, as of Jan. 15, that requires unvaccinated truckers returning to Canada from the United States to quarantine and take Covid tests. The Biden administration installed a similar measure for reentry into the U.S. that took effect a week later.
The movement’s original demands included getting the Trudeau government to repeal the vaccination rule for border-crossing truckers — and cancel government Covid tracking apps and all vaccine mandates.
The convoy rumbled into Ottawa after dayslong drives from different parts of the country.
The frustrations of those fed up with two years of Covid restrictions have fueled the high-profile event. Far-right individuals have used the protests to promote their own objectives.
The movement has also amassed a lot of cash. As of Monday,a GoFundMe campaign for the cause had brought in more than C$9.25 million from nearly 115,000 donations.
The demonstrators are threatening to disrupt downtown Ottawa for as long as necessary.
No meeting with the PM: Trudeau said he has no intention of meeting with the demonstrators.
“I have attended protests and rallies in the past, when I agreed with the goals, when I supported the people expressing their concerns and their issues. Black Lives Matter is an excellent example of that,” he said when asked why he was unwilling to meet with the convoy. “But I have also chosen to not go anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric, violence towards fellow citizens and a disrespect not just of science but of the frontline health workers and, quite frankly, the 90 percent of truckers who have been doing the right thing to keep Canadians safe to put food on our tables.”
When the convoy was driving towards Ottawa last week, Trudeau said nearly 90 percent of truckers in Canada are vaccinated.
The House returns: Trudeau’s message for the truckers came as the House of Commons resumed its work Monday for the first time since December. Lawmakers are returning to their parliamentary duties, though many members are appearing via virtual links.
Still, some MPs made their way into Parliament despite the protests outside.
Trudeau also announced Monday that he's tested positive for Covid. He said he has no symptoms and that he plans to continue working.
The politics of protest: Trudeau criticized his Conservative rivals — and specifically called out Leader Erin O’Toole — who have met with truckers in the convoy.
“All politicians need to think very carefully about who they're supporting, about what messages they're putting out,” Trudeau said. “We have seen over the past many, many months, Conservative politicians sharing disinformation about vaccines, encouraging conspiracy theories online. And I think Erin O'Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he's walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers, let alone the vast majority of Canadians.”
O’Toole has denounced groupshe says are using the broader convoy movement to promote hate and racism.