People hold a sign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and vaccinations during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill, which began as a cross-country convoy protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truckers, in Ottawa, on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

People hold a sign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and vaccinations during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill, which began as a cross-country convoy protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truckers, in Ottawa, on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Trudeau denounces ‘hateful rhetoric’ at Ottawa trucker protest, won’t meet with convoy

Convoy arrived in Ottawa this weekend to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced “hateful rhetoric” from the trucker convoy currently protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions during a press conference Monday (Jan. 31).

Trudeau held his press conference from isolation after he and two of his children tested positive with the virus. The prime minister said he felt fine and would continue to work while following public health guidance.

Trudeau said he understood that it was frustrating for all Canadians that COVID-19 was still affecting their lives to such a great degree nearly two years into the pandemic but that some of the hate seen at the protest, including swastikas, Confederate flags and the desecrating of memorials was unacceptable.

Some protesters jumped on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and covered the Terry Fox statue with anti-vaccine mandate posters and an upside down Canadian flag, drawing criticism from many officials. Video posted to social media showed protesters cleaning up the Terry Fox statue after it the flag and posters were hung on it.

READ MORE: Officials decry ‘desecration’ of monuments during Ottawa protest

“Freedom of expression, assembly and association are cornerstones of democracy but Nazi symbolism, racist imagery, and desecration of war memorials are not,” Trudeau said. “It is an insult to memory and truth.”

He took aim at politicians who have been seen at convoy locations across the country, urging them to “think long and hard about the consequences of your actions.”

Trudeau singled out Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Some Conservative MPs have met or expressed support for the truckers convoy, although O’Toole himself has denounced the “blatant disrespect” of those who desecrated memorials in the capital.

“We have seen over the past many, many months Conservative politicians sharing disinformation about vaccines, encouraging conspiracy theories online and I think Erin O’Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he’s walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers, let alone the vast majority of Canadians,” he said. The Canadian Trucking Alliance denounced the desecration of monuments in the capital and has said in the past that 90 per cent of truckers are fully vaccinated, a rate that mirrors that of the general population.

The prime minister said he would not meet with these protesters as he has in the past with Indigenous groups and Black Lives Matter, citing the hate symbols and rhetoric espoused by some members of the truck convoy and their supporters.

“I have attended protests and rallies in the past when I agreed with the goals, when I supported the people expressing their concerns and their issues,” Trudeau said. “But I have also chosen to not go anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric, violence towards fellow citizens, and a disrespect not just of science, but of the frontline health workers and quite frankly, the 90 per cent of truckers who have been doing the right thing to keep Canadians safe to put food on our tables.”

VIDEO: Protesters show no sign of rolling off as Ottawa residents brace for more disruption


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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