Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau and his family have been shifted from their official residence to a secret location following large-scale protests converging on Parliament Hill, including obscenities hurled at the PM and his family.
The protests dubbed as the "Freedom Convoy" followed Canada's decision to introduce a vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers which has been criticised as potentially affecting major supply lines. Truckers and conservative groups have been organising road shows of truckers protesting quarantine measures for the unvaccinated amongst them.
Thousands of truckers and other protesters converged in the capital city on Saturday to call for an end to Covid-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Some of the protesters were seen dancing on the prominent war memorial, prompting condemnation from Canada's top soldier General Wayne Eyre and Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand.
"I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame," General Eyre tweeted.
Police said nearly 10,000 people were expected to be on hand by day's end. Media reports say that by Saturday evening the force did not have an official estimate of the crowd's size.
Many of those participating are frustrated by the pandemic restrictions imposed by the Canadian government as well as a host of other issues plaguing PM Trudeau, leading to an overflow of public resentment. Trudeau however has dismissed the protests as not representative of the general Canadian population.
"We want to be free, we want to have our choice again, and we want hope - and the government has taken that away," Harold Jonker, a truck driver and trucking company owner, told the BBC as he drove through the town of Brockville, about 115km (72 miles) from Ottawa on Friday.
Prices are on the rise, including for food and petrol. It's been getting harder to find some products on grocery store shelves - and Canada's economy is heavily dependent on the men and women who drive the vast majority of food and goods consumed in in the country across the border.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that 85% to 90% of the 120,000 Canadian truckers who work cross-border routes are vaccinated and said on Saturday that it appeared many of the protesters in Ottawa have no connection to the industry. While the alliance does not support the convoy and has said the industry must adapt to the mandate, it is said the measure could remove as many as 16,000 drivers from those routes.