Canadian truck drivers block border crossing and protest at capital over vaccine rule
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Canadian truck drivers have been blocking a border crossing with Montana and shutting down traffic in the capital, Ottawa. The so-called Freedom Convoy began almost a week ago as a protest over truckers losing their right to cross the U.S.-Canada border unvaccinated. The protesters include members of Canada's far right, as Emma Jacobs reports from Ottawa.
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EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: In front of Parliament, the air smells of diesel exhaust from idling engines. Truck horns blare constantly as they have for days.
DAN BRUBACHER: Don't tell me I need to be vaccinated. Don't you dare tell my kids that they need to be vaccinated.
JACOBS: Dan Brubacher, who drove five hours to arrive here last Friday, mans a table piled with donated food. Underneath is a cardboard box.
BRUBACHER: Baby wipes - so if you can't have a shower, there's other options (laughter).
JACOBS: The convoy is having an impact well beyond Parliament Hill. For blocks, many businesses are closed. Jared Shecter, who works at a coffee shop that has stayed open for takeout, says protesters coming in argue about being asked to wear masks.
JARED SHECTER: Yeah, it's been very tough on, like, all of us, all the staff here.
JACOBS: There have been other incidents blamed by the mayor on the convoy and its supporters - an assault at a homeless shelter, vandalism and epithets shouted at neighbors. Signs for QAnon, right-wing militias and confederate and Nazi flags have been spotted amid the protesters.
SHECTER: Like, a lot of people are saying it feels like an occupation.
JACOBS: Canada's vaccination rate is more than 90%, including among truckers, but many Canadians do share some concerns about the extent of vaccine mandates and lockdowns. Protesters insist far-right groups are a marginal part of their movement - some suggesting those behaving badly are outside agitators or even government plants. But Elizabeth Simons with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network says some convoy organizers, including the creator of a GoFundMe that has raised more than $7 million U.S., have ties to far-right groups.
ELIZABETH SIMONS: Not everyone there is violent or racist or hateful, but there are absolutely networks and movements, like, sub-movements, who are looking to exploit it and are looking to use it to further their own agenda.
JACOBS: The range of ideologies has complicated politicians' responses. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has a breakthrough infection of COVID right now, told reporters Monday the convoy's concerns...
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JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Are heard but are a continuation of what we've unfortunately seen in disinformation and misinformation online, conspiracy theories, about microchips, about, you know, God knows what else that go with the tinfoil hats.
JACOBS: Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole put out an early video praising the convoy and met with members before they reached Ottawa.
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ERIN O'TOOLE: Truckers have been our COVID heroes, period.
JACOBS: But pollster Joseph Angolano noted O'Toole walked some of that back after convoy supporters vandalized a war memorial and a member of O'Toole's party in parliament did an interview that turned out to have a swastika in the background.
JOSEPH ANGOLANO: I don't think he wants to be associated with that, and he is in a tough position. He's in a very, very tough position.
JACOBS: O'Toole, who has been trying to hold the center in his party while fending off a growing populist wing, was ousted as Conservative Party leader by his own members today in a no-confidence vote. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, it's not clear how police would clear the protest. Ottawa's mayor says it's costing the city a million dollars a day. For now, the protester, Brubacher, says he'll stay as long as it takes for mandates to be lifted.
BRUBACHER: If the grass grows here, I'll be mowing the lawn, I guess.
JACOBS: And he adds that, quote, "Justin Trudeau needs to pay the price for what he's done."
For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Ottawa.
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