Protests against COVID-19 public health measures continue in Ottawa amid heavy police presence

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Ottawa’s city centre is once again filled with the sound of honking and chanting as thousands of truckers and others opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions gathered near Parliament Hill on Sunday for a second full day of protests.

Organizers have planned a prayer service led by Henry Hildebrandt, an Ontario pastor whose church was forcibly closed last year after public health orders were violated. They’re also set to hold a news conference on Sunday afternoon.

The protest was initially focused on the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but it has expanded into a larger movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s not about the trucking mandate, these mandates affect everyone in Canada at some level,” Phil Powers, a trucker who participated in Saturday’s protest, told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.

Police expected as many as 10,000 people to join the protests on Saturday, but they did not release an official estimate of the crowd size.

Much of downtown Ottawa remains clogged by parked vehicles and crowds of protesters. A heavy police presence was maintained overnight and into Sunday.

Aside from honking and yelling, the protests on Friday and Saturday were peaceful, with Ottawa police reporting no instances of violence or injuries. Organizers have repeatedly urged protesters to be peaceful and avoid aggressive behaviour, threats and trespassing.

However, the loud and disruptive protests on Saturday featured several incidents roundly condemned as disrespectful, including protesters jumping on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and adorning a statue of Terry Fox with anti-vaccine material and an upside down Canadian flag.

Ottawa police say there are “several criminal investigations” underway relating to the incidents.

WATCH | An on-the-ground look at the Parliament Hill protests: 

An on-the-ground look at the Parliament Hill protests

21 hours ago

Duration 1:26

CBC’s David Common provides an update on the state of protests in Ottawa on Saturday as thousands called for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions. 1:26

The Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter reported its staff were harassed by protesters pressuring them to provide meals.

Some of the protesters carried Canadian flags, while others held placards that urged people to “Think for Yourself,” a slogan used in anti-vaccine circles. Some demonstrators were seen flying the Patriotes flag, a nod to the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38, when French-speaking settlers from present-day Quebec fought against British colonial rule.

At least one Confederate flag was spotted in the crowd, a holdover from the U.S. Civil War that is often associated with racist and far-right elements. Indigenous demonstrators flew the Mohawk warrior flag and waved the flag of the Métis Nation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were not at their home in Rideau Cottage on Saturday, and his office did not discuss his whereabouts for security reasons.

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