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Toronto’s latest: Here’s what the trucker protest looked like on the streets of the city on Saturday


Thousands on foot listened to rabble-rousing speeches at Queen’s Park before marching north to the trucks in Yorkville

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Toronto police succeeded in one of their goals Saturday, keeping a truck convoy protesting COVID vaccine mandates and lockdowns away from the provincial legislature and several downtown hospitals.

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Whether that’s something to celebrate or not remains to be seen.

The service failed to stop the demonstration from causing major disruption elsewhere, as several huge dump trucks, tractor trailers and thousands of protesters clogged a major intersection.

And the driver of at least one of those vehicles vowed to stay put for days or more until governments rescind COVID vaccine mandates.

With his dump truck parked a few feet from the police lines outside the Royal Ontario Museum, driver Dejam Radovic said he will stay there “as long as it takes.”

“I have to make money but I’m not going to go anywhere. You know, I would sacrifice even one year of my life,” he said from the cab of his vehicle. “Nothing can stop us. Nothing can push us. We are not afraid.”

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With the route into Queen’s Park – Ontario’s legislative buildings – blocked off by police, a stream of “Freedom Convoy” vehicles came to a halt and produced instant gridlock just to the north of the area.

Rigs filled the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road in the heart of the city’s tony Yorkville neighbourhood, with the ROM at one corner of the intersection.

A child looks upon rows of farm tractors Friday on University Avenue, just north of Queen’s Park, as farmers and truckers protest.
A child looks upon rows of farm tractors Friday on University Avenue, just north of Queen’s Park, as farmers and truckers protest. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

A backlog of protest automobiles stretched east and west for several blocks on Bloor and north on Avenue as demonstrators streamed around them, effectively shutting down two major thoroughfares. Some of the protesters stopped next to luxury-goods stores like Gucci and Cartier, making for an odd juxtaposition.

South of where police had barricaded streets, more protest vehicles brought traffic to a standstill on busy Queen Street West. Unlike the area around Queen’s Park and the five hospitals that line University Avenue, the neighbourhoods where the honking protesters wound up are packed with condominiums and other homes.

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Vaccine mandate protesters displayed signs at Queen’s Park.
Vaccine mandate protesters displayed signs at Queen’s Park. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

Residents of Ottawa, where such commotion has been going on now for a week, have grown increasingly angry at the imposition, some of them even launching a class-action lawsuit against the protesters.

Toronto police charged a 22-year-old man with administering a noxious substance, assault with a weapon and public mischief for allegedly setting off a smoke bomb near Queen’s Park. But the protest was largely peaceful, as an almost-festive mood prevailed at the Bloor and Avenue intersection.

People danced to recorded music, waved flags and climbed on top of the big trucks parked in the middle of the road.

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Despite taking place near the seat of Ontario’s government and the fact that most vaccine mandates have been imposed by the provinces or private business, much of their anger was directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Flags and signs that simply said F— Trudeau were a popular item. One of the speakers at the start of the demonstration said the prime minister is not even Canadian.

“We should strip him of his passport and get him the hell out of Canada,” the man said to cheers from a crowd that braved temperatures hovering around minus 10 degrees.

Protesters Queens Park withstood the cold on Saturday.
Protesters Queens Park withstood the cold on Saturday. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

Speakers and protesters evoked human-rights legislation and chanted “freedom,” depicting as autocratic policies that require vaccination to work for certain employers and to access such services as restaurants and gyms.

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Yiqi Zhang, 28, said he spent a week in North Korea a couple of years ago and is worried Canada is heading in the same direction.

“If it can happen there, it can happen here. And it is happening here,” said the software developer. “I think vaccines are great, but when the government says you have to do something … it’s immoral.”

His white German Shepherd, Lucy, was wearing a T-Shirt that said “mandate snacks, not the vax.”

I think vaccines are great, but when the government says you have to do something … it’s immoral

protester Yiqi Zhang

Jason Fleming, whose tractor was also stopped a car-length from a line of police officers, said he had been a cross-border trucker and was unemployed for a month when the federal government insisted that such drivers had to be vaccinated. He had to re-certify his truck for domestic routes. Asked what he wants out of the demonstration, Fleming said “our freedoms back. Exactly that.”

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Getting vaccinated “should be my choice to make,” he said.

Police maintain a strong presence as people mass around trucks at the corner of Bloor Street West and Avenue Road on Saturday.
Police maintain a strong presence as people mass around trucks at the corner of Bloor Street West and Avenue Road on Saturday. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

The protest effectively began Friday afternoon when hulking farm tractors parked near the ROM, blocked from driving any further.

The barricades around Queen’s Park were part of a law-enforcement effort designed to stave off a long-term occupation of the city’s core and safeguard the five major hospitals that lie just south of the legislature on University Avenue.

Civic leaders vowed to stop them from repeating what happened in the nation’s capital, where tractor-trailers and protesters have clogged streets around Parliament Hill and filled the core with honking.

“We all want to do what we can to avoid the situation we’re seeing in Ottawa,” said Mayor John Tory Friday. “If anyone is planning to come here for a protest that is not peaceful and is not respectful, I would urge you on behalf of all Toronto residences and businesses, to please stay home.”

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Police used buses to block protest vehicles from reaching the hospitals and downtown core. People used at least one bus to scratch messages in the grime.
Police used buses to block protest vehicles from reaching the hospitals and downtown core. People used at least one bus to scratch messages in the grime. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

By Friday afternoon, police had used parked buses to block off the stretch of University Avenue known as hospital row, home to some of Canada’s largest health-care centres. Previous anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protests in Toronto and elsewhere have targeted hospitals , in some cases impeding access to the facilities. Some health-care workers held their own counter-protest Saturday.

Tory, meanwhile, appeared to take an indirect dig at the protesters, citing the fact that over 90 per cent of eligible Toronto residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and 60 per cent are triple vaccinated.

“What great demonstrations of the unity of the people of this city, of teamwork, of concern for each other,” he said.

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With some concern that hospital access for workers might be blocked during the protests, one person wore a sign offering help in getting them to their workplace if needed.
With some concern that hospital access for workers might be blocked during the protests, one person wore a sign offering help in getting them to their workplace if needed. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

The Toronto event was partly organized by an anti-lockdown / anti-mask group called The Line Canada, whose leader Lamont Daigle appeared on the radar of an anti-extremist watchdog last year.

In a post on his Facebook page supporting the cause of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Daigle propagated anti-Semitic tropes about a conspiracy of Jews that control world banks and the media, wrote the Canada Anti-Hate Network .

“The Israelis who are oppressing the Palestinians are (Z)-ionist Rawthchildrens who own 75 per cent of Israel, the World banks and the World Health Organization,” the network quoted Daigle as writing in a 1,400-word essay. “The Globalist Elites are the ones responsible for the Palestinian occupation ‘testing ground’ for how they propose to ‘Occupy’ and ‘lockdown’ the rest of the World.”

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