Health minister says vaccines are not ‘the enemy’ as protest convoy descends on Ottawa

Health minister says vaccines are not 'the enemy' as protest convoy descends on Ottawa-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Trucks parked on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa early Jan. 28, 2022. Part of a convoy protesting COVID-19 rules, including the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, are expected in Ottawa later that day with a larger rally expected Saturday. (Félix Desroches/Radio-Canada)

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos defended his government’s vaccination push Friday as a convoy of protesters opposed to vaccine mandates prepares to descend on Ottawa this weekend.

“The enemy is not vaccination. The enemy is COVID-19 and the best tool to fight this enemy is to be vaccinated,” he said during a public health briefing Friday morning.

“We understand now there is frustration around COVID-19, but we also know that the only way to exit COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.”

The protest was billed initially as a demonstration by Canadian truck drivers against new vaccination rules in their industry — but those with broader concerns about public health measures and the federal government’s handling of the pandemic have fastened themselves to the movement.

Some of those tied to the protest have vowed to stay until all vaccine mandates are repealed or the government somehow resigns.

While a few convoy vehicles have started lining the streets near Parliament Hill already, organizers say most of the convoy will arrive Saturday morning.

Ottawa police said they don’t know yet how many people will show up this weekend — or even how long they plan to stay.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said Canadians have the right to protest peacefully but warned against “lone wolf individuals who may insert themselves into the mix” seeking violence.

Sloly described the situation as “unique, fluid, risky and significant” and said police and security resources, including cameras, will be bolstered throughout the downtown.

“Let me be very clear. We are prepared to investigate, arrest if necessary, charge and prosecute anyone who acts violently or breaks the law in the demonstrations or in association with the demonstrations,” he said.

“We have seen in other jurisdictions where these behaviours have led to people getting injured, killed and/or incarcerated. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that that does not happen again.”

O’Toole plans on meeting with protesters

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he plans to meet with members of the convoy but does not plan to meet with its actual organizers.

“I will be meeting with truckers, I will be meeting with parts of the convoy. I will try and do it outside of the Hill core so it can be done effectively,” O’Toole told an evening news conference Thursday.

While urging politicians to lower the temperature, the Conservative leader also said the government’s insistence on making vaccines mandatory is unjustly causing people to lose their jobs.

In a tweet posted Thursday night, O’Toole said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals want to “smear and demonize” truckers.

Trudeau, who is self-isolating after one of his children tested positive for COVID-19, has called the protesters a “fringe minority.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh denounced the convoy earlier this week and accused its organizers of voicing “inflammatory, divisive and hateful comments.”


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