(This story contains offensive language in ninth paragraph)
OTTAWA, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Canada's beleaguered Conservative
opposition leader is backing a trucker protest against the
Liberal government's strict COVID-19 vaccine mandates, with
critics warning the movement is led by far-right activists with
a history of trying to incite violence.
The so-called "Freedom Convoy" - due to bring hundreds of
trucks to Ottawa from east and west on Saturday - started out as
a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border
but has turned into a demonstration against government
overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccine streak.
Some political analysts say embattled Conservative leader
Erin O'Toole is now using the protest in a bid to gain more
support. O'Toole has opposed vaccine mandates since Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau announced them https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canada-require-covid-19-vaccinations-federal-lawmakers-2021-10-20
in October on the eve of the election.
"The convoy itself is becoming a symbol of the fatigue and
the division we're seeing in this country," O'Toole told
reporters on Thursday.
Canada's Anti-Hate Network, an independent watchdog, said
the convoy's leading promoters, a few of whom have described the
protest as Canada's equivalent of the violent storming of U.S.
Capitol Hill in Washington a year ago, are not truckers but
members of the far-right https://www.antihate.ca/the_freedom_convoy_is_nothing_but_a_vehicle_for_the_far_right.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents some 4,500
carries, opposes the protest, saying this is "not how
disagreement with government policies should be expressed."
About 90% of Canada's cross-border truckers and 77% of the
population has had two shots.
Action4Canada, one of the organizers, has vowed to stay in
Ottawa until the mandates are reversed. "Put an end to the
vaccine mandates and all things COVID! It is time for the
tyranny and corruption to end," the group said on its website.
Organizers insist the demonstration will be peaceful, and
that was the case for a few hundred people and vehicles that
turned out on Friday, a day early. They paraded up and down the
street in front of parliament, with some honking their horns
while waving Canadian and "Fuck Trudeau" flags.
"We're staying here as long as it takes," said Jennifer from
Prince Edward Island. She declined to provide her last name. She
drove 18 hours to Ottawa in a convoy from the Atlantic coast.
Ottawa police were out in force on Friday, and said they
would do the same on Saturday.
O'Toole, facing party calls for a leadership review due to
September's election loss to Trudeau and flagging support in
opinion polls, has said he would meet the truckers. He posted a
video on social media blaming Trudeau for potential supply chain
problems the trucker mandate may cause.
Among past Conservative voters, there was a 26 percentage
point drop since last year's vote of those who have a favorable
view of O'Toole, an Angus Reid Institute poll https://angusreid.org/federal-politics-january-2022
from this week showed.
Around 20-25% of Conservative party voters oppose vaccine
mandates, the highest rate among the parties in parliament,
according to polls. Canada is now in the middle of a spike in
Omicron variant cases that is straining hospitals https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadian-hospitals-strain-omicron-hits-health-workers-2022-01-24.
Some convoy participants have threatened and harassed
journalists trying to interview them on their way to Ottawa.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said on Friday convoy supporters
are "inciting hate, violence, and in some cases criminality" on
In an editorial published Thursday in the Toronto Sun,
O'Toole acknowledged he was concerned the protest could be
hijacked by "individuals who plan to use (it) as a means for
violence.... (which would) only serve to delegitimize valid and
Trudeau on Friday said he was concerned about the protest
turning violent in an interview with the Canadian Press, and
said this week the convoy represented https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-trudeau-slams-fear-mongering-over-covid-vaccine-mandate-truckers-2022-01-24
a "small fringe minority" who "do not represent the views of
Just as a rock-throwing anti-vaccine https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-trudeau-trailing-polls-goes-attack-two-weeks-before-vote-2021-09-06
protester during last year's campaign brought Trudeau sympathy
and support, disruptions resulting from the protest could
bolster Trudeau at O'Toole's expense.
"This is a country that's all about peace, order and good
government," said David Coletto, chief executive officer of
Abacus Data polling company, so if there is violence or chaos,
the Conservatives will be seen as "cheerleaders."
"This is a political gift to the Liberals," Coletto said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by David
Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; editing by