OTTAWA — Truckers and thousands of sympathizers blocked Ottawa streets for a second day Sunday to protest Canada’s vaccine mandates, as reports of vandalism and harassment by some demonstrators sent tempers flaring.
“This afternoon, a large presence of police continues throughout the downtown core and the movement of protestors and trucks continues to be managed,” the Ottawa police said in a statement.
“These high-risk situations were de-escalated and resolved with no arrests,” the authorities said, adding that “police resources are fully stretched” in dealing with the protests which appeared to involve hundreds of truckers.
But the desecration of a war memorial and the harassment of some city officials and NGO volunteers sparked an angry response, and the police said they had launched “several investigations.”
“I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial,” Wayne Eyre, chief of the country’s Defense Staff, said on Twitter. “Those involved should hang their heads in shame.”
Barricades were installed Sunday to block vehicle access to the area around the war memorial, after several illegally parked vehicles were towed away.
And an organization advocating for the homeless, Shepherds of Good Hope, said its workers had been “harassed” by protesters demanding meals on a particularly cold weekend.
It said it had briefly given free meals to some demonstrators in an effort to defuse tensions, but added, “This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time.”
The protest originated last week in western Canada, where dozens of truckers organized a convoy to drive from Vancouver to the Canadian capital Ottawa to demonstrate against COVID-19-related restrictions, particularly a vaccination requirement for truck drivers crossing the US-Canada border.
Both Canada and the United States imposed that requirement in mid-January.
Trucks began arriving in Ottawa on Friday multiple convoys coming from across the country, where they were joined by thousands of other anti-vaccination protesters.
But the signs and comments seen on gridlocked Ottawa streets reflect broader discontent, with many targeting the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, who has been in isolation after a COVID-19 exposure, has been moved with his family to a secret location in Ottawa, Canadian media reported.
Despite the size of the crowds in Ottawa, some Canadians say they represent only a vocal minority.
To date, 82% of Canadians aged 5 or older have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Among adults, the figure is 90%.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a major industry group, said the vast majority of the country’s truck drivers are vaccinated. It has “strongly disapproved” of the gathering in Ottawa.