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  • Pranay Bamnath



As the protest continues in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, PM Justin Trudeau confronts one of the toughest challenges of his tenure as the premier of Canada. A state of emergency has been proclaimed in Ottawa by the mayor as the city remains at a standstill due to a blockade of communications by protesters. The Freedom Convoy protests, which entered their second week, were spurred by a new regulation enacted by the Trudeau administration mandating that all truckers must be vaccinated to traverse the US-Canada border. The protests, which commenced as a reaction to this new regulation, have since then grown into a much larger sphere, with protesters occupying and blockading many neighbourhoods of Ottawa demanding an end to all vaccine mandates across the country.

Beginning of the protests

On January 29th, several truckers who started from different Canadian cities and towns coalesced in Ottawa. They were protesting the decision made by the Canadian government led by Justin Trudeau, which introduced a law on January 15th mandating that all truckers crossing the Canada-US border must be vaccinated if they intend to cross over. The trucking convoys when they entered Ottawa from different places protesting this rule were then assisted by pedestrian protesters as they marched towards Parliament Hill. Since then, they have persisted by blocking roads, erecting temporary camps alongside the pavements, and calling for all COVID-19 related regulations and mandates to be rescinded.

Government reaction to the ongoing demonstrations

Initially, the government soft-pedaled the intensity of protests when they embarked on their campaign from numerous areas to Ottawa. But then the truckers brought the whole capital to an impasse by cutting down channels of communication. As the protests entered their 14th consecutive day on Wednesday, the government has decided to go tough while the citizens of the city continue confronting several problems, including an increase in the chances of COVID-19 cases due to mass gatherings. The mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has declared a state of emergency in the capital as he acknowledged that the city was losing this battle and was completely out of control.

The Canadian prime minister also appeared in parliament on Monday after being isolated for a week due to a positive COVID-19 test. During an emergency debate in the House of Commons, he was quoted as saying, "It has to stop." While calling on the demonstrations to be stopped as they are disrupting the economic life of the country, he said that some individuals are attempting to blockade our economy, our democracy, and the daily lives of our fellow citizens.

Involvement of the extremist’s groups

The involvement of extremist and fringe groups has surfaced in some parts of the protests, according to the security agencies.Nevertheless, the demonstrations have been peaceful since the start, barring a few occurrences. The law and enforcement agencies have communicated their scepticism about extremist grandiloquence coming from far-right groups involved in the protests. Some people were seen waving Nazi flags and raising Nazi posters, while incidents of racial and homophobic abuse were also recorded during these protests, which have also induced concern for the administration.

The way forward

The Canadian government affirmed that Canada has one of the highest rates of vaccination across the globe, which has saved valuable lives. They further added that vaccine mandates are based on scientific reasoning and are necessary to fight the pandemic. Protesters have also proclaimed they will not vacate until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are knocked off. They are also raising the demand for the expulsion of Trudeau’s government, which secured a triumph in parliamentary elections held last year during the pandemic. Though most of the COVID restrictions are promulgated by various provincial governments, it is the federal government that is receiving the maximum heat.

While the Trudeau government remains adamant to date, the opposition conservative party in the country has asked the government to extend an olive branch of negotiations to the protesters. Some of the leaders of the conservative party have even openly declared their support. The protesters have also got backing from abroad. Many politicians and supporters of the Republican Party in the USA have vocally endorsed and financed the protests through online crowdfunding. Former president of the USA, Donald Trump, has made strong statements supporting the demonstrations, going to the extent of calling Prime Minister Trudeau a “far-left lunatic” who has annihilated Canada with insane COVID mandates.

While the PM has appealed to the protesters to stop the blockade and make way for the city to conduct its affairs, counter-protests by residents against the truckers who are facing enormous problems were also noticed. The administration is also looking for ways to deal rigorously with the situation if it goes violent, and calling for additional resources, including extra 1800 police personnel to reinforce the Ottawa Police Service, is also on the cards. While it remains to be discerned how the situation unravels in the coming days, it is quite clear that there is no easy way out for the Trudeau government.

Cover Image: ottawagraphics / Pixabay

About the author: Pranay Bamnath is a final year postgraduate student pursuing a Master’s in Diplomacy, Law, and Business at Jindal School of International affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He graduated with distinction in Economics (Hons) from Bhopal school of social sciences. His research interests encompass the Middle East, South Asian affairs, Defense and National security, Corporate Intelligence, Indian politics, Climate change, and the Indian economy. He has experience working with eminent Indian think tanks- ORF and NGO Educate girls as a research intern. He is also working on a Capstone project under Mitkat Advisory on the Indo- Pacific region as a corporate intelligence intern. He has previously been associated as a research assistant in the Centre for Afghanistan Studies and Centre for Research and Intelligence analysis at JSIA where he focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan region.

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