Trudeau says he will not send military to end trucker 'anti-vax' protest in Canadian capital
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media during a visit to the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday poured cold water on sending in the military to clear protestors opposed to Covid vaccine mandates, whose convoy of big trucks are clogging Ottawa's downtown.

The city's police chief, under pressure from locals weary of harassment and incessant honking, had pitched the idea during a briefing the previous day.

"That is not in the cards right now," Trudeau told a news conference, adding that governments must be "very, very cautious before deploying the military in situations against Canadians."

Since Saturday, Canada's capital has been beset by protestors led by truckers opposed to mandatory Covid vaccines for traveling between Canada and the United States.

By midweek, their numbers had dwindled to several hundred from a peak of 15,000 over the weekend, but they continued to make their case against public health measures loudly.

Trudeau, who's isolating after contracting Covid, said it was up to police to deal with them, but added that the federal government is ready to provide support from federal police and intelligence services.

At the same time he urged protestors to go home, saying locals had had enough of the "significant disruptions" caused by the protestors.

Honking at parliament

Outside parliament, protestors -- whose leaders vowed at a news conference Thursday to stay until all Covid restrictions are lifted -- strolled between the big rigs, Canadian flags draped over their shoulders and waving anti-Trudeau placards.

"I am here supporting the protest for my children," Caroline Leader, who lives a two-hour drive from the capital, told AFP.

"They're six and eight, and I believe they deserve full freedom, bodily autonomy. They should be free to move around, to travel regardless of their medical choices or status," she said.

Manning a grill on the street and serving pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausages to protestors, local resident Shannon Laurent agreed that people "should be allowed to choose whether or not to get vaccinated."

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" set out from Canada's Pacific coast in late January, with supporters along the way joining them for the 4,400-kilometers (2,700-miles) drive.

Bal Tiwana, from Calgary, lamented not being able to travel as much as he used to, due to pandemic restrictions.

"Me and my wife used to travel all the time, and now can't get on a plane or drive across the (Canada-US) border to leave the country," he said.

Since November, anyone traveling by train or plane within Canada or departing from a Canadian airport must present proof of vaccination against Covid-19.

'Fatigue has set in'

Although most Canadians (68 percent, according to an Abacus poll) do not support the protest, it's clear that many are growing increasingly frustrated by public health restrictions on their daily lives.

"Fatigue has set in," explained Roxane de la Sablonniere, a psychologist at the University of Montreal.

In Canada, most measures enacted by provincial governments remain very restrictive, among the toughest in the West -- including lockdowns, a curfew in Quebec that has now been lifted, and capacity limits on restaurants, bars and other public venues.

"The majority of the population does not support the truckers in Ottawa, but there is still a significant minority who identify with it," Daniel Beland, a politics professor at McGill University in Montreal.

And it's much higher than the 10 percent of Canadian adults who have not received Covid jabs, he noted.

This upcoming weekend, the Ottawa protest is expected to swell again, while similar demonstrations are planned in other cities including Quebec City and Toronto.

"Our movement has grown in Canada and across the world because common people are tired of the mandates and restrictions in their lives that now seem to be doing more harm than good," convoy organizer Tamara Lich told a news conference.

"We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination," she said.

Meanwhile in Alberta, a group of truckers and farmers protesting vaccine mandates at a border crossing to the US state of Montana allowed traffic to partially resume Thursday.

(AFP)