Street party – at minus 20 degrees!
Supporters of the Canada truckers protesting against corona measures fill the city center of the Canadian capital Ottawa.
The mood is exuberant: people are dancing between the parked articulated lorries, all wrapped up thickly because of the bitter cold. Trucks hum, horns honk, music blares, red maple flags flutter in the cold wind, some carry them on ice hockey sticks. After dark, even firecrackers light up the night sky.
And again and again the protesters’ battle cry: “Freedom”.
What almost looks like a folk festival has long been an ordeal for Canada’s government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (50). For almost three weeks, a hundred trucks and thousands of rally participants every day have occupied Ottawa’s city center. And the protest against vaccination requirements and mask mandates by rebelling truck drivers not only became a challenge to state power, but also a symbol of a corona uprising by frustrated citizens.
The voice of Canadian truckers is being heard – around the world. There are rallies of sympathy from New York to Paris.
BILD met some of the protest truckers in Ottawa – the “ground zero” of the now global “Freedom Convoy” blockades. Your cabs are your home. Sunday was day 17 of the blockade!
“I do this mainly because of the kids, when I see them having to walk around in masks, it just breaks my heart,” says driver Troy Dory. His experience here would be an “emotional rollercoaster ride”, and what was particularly moving was the enormous willingness to help. During the conversation, people knock on the window pane and hand him banknotes. The driver: “Some say thank you with tears in their eyes…”
At the same time, the threats of the Trudeau government sound increasingly martial – even if the actions have so far seemed rather helpless. “Everything is on the table,” the prime minister rumbled, referring to considerations about a possible use of the army to break up the blockades and occupations. Many residents of downtown Ottawa are increasingly frustrated by the ongoing 24-hour protests.
The situation on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor (Canada) and Detroit (USA), which had been blocked for five days, had come to a head. The blockade of the most frequented border crossing in North America, through which a goods transport worth 327 million dollars otherwise rolls every day, recently hit Detroit’s auto industry after components were stuck in the truck traffic jam. The clearing of the bridge had started at the weekend.
“We drove throughout the pandemic,” says truck driver Igor Zvokic: “But suddenly it was said that if we drove to the USA without a vaccination, we couldn’t go back to Canada.” He’d just had enough, was one of the first to park his truck near Parliament. He misses his family and proudly shows a photo of his small children.
“They can arrest me,” he continues. “And then they release me the next day – what’s the point of that?” Every day he loses 500 to 1000 dollars in income. But it would be worth it, he said with conviction: we should finally stop forcing people to do something they don’t want. He himself was vaccinated, he says, but it should remain a “free decision”.
He also thinks that there should be constructive talks about the end of the Corona rules. Instead of the threats. Zvokic: “Otherwise there will be more and more here – wait until spring”. He looks through the windshield at the dancing people, seems thoughtful: “It looks like a street festival – but for me it’s not a party, people go home while I sleep in my truck…” It’s difficult to endure, especially at the weekend.
The concern that Trudeau could get serious is hardly noticeable among the boisterous crowds on this third weekend of protests. A “Jacuzzi” was even set up in front of the Prime Minister’s office. But the rhetoric of many politicians is getting rougher: The Premier of the Province of Ontario, Doug Ford (57), recently declared a state of emergency. He was angry about the “illegal occupation”, all of which would no longer be “a normal protest action”.
The dimensions of the blockade become visible when the BILD inspects the premises: the magnificent avenue that leads past the famous Parliament Hill is completely blocked with a good 30 trucks. Trucks are also humming on other streets of historic downtown Ottawa. Dozens of blocks are occupied. It is hard to imagine how an eviction could be carried out in practice at all. The logistics in the camp are sophisticated. Helpers carry petrol cans to the trucks, there is hot food, drinks and other utensils.
Motivated by the Canadians, protest actions are also planned in the USA. Starting in Los Angeles, a protest march is to be set in motion across the United States. The destination: the capital Washington DC. The highlight of the protest drive could be a mass rally – planned on the day of the “State of the Union” speech before US President Joe Biden in Congress (March 1).
Ottawa driver Dory almost marvels that ordinary people in semi-trailer cabs have sparked a global movement. Why did they of all people hit the nerve of a world exhausted by the pandemic? He shakes his head almost in embarrassment: “That’s a really good question, at first I had my doubts about taking part, but now I hope that we can make a difference!”
His announcements are clear: there should be no more corona rules. And: “We will only leave once this has been achieved!”