Le Pays De France - Ottawa protesters against Covid restrictions dig in for long haul

Paris -
Ottawa protesters against Covid restrictions dig in for long haul
Ottawa protesters against Covid restrictions dig in for long haul

Ottawa protesters against Covid restrictions dig in for long haul

Seated around a campfire flanked by big rigs, with a view of parliament, bleary-eyed protesters on their 12th day of occupying Canada's capital say they are more determined than ever to stay put -- and defend their "freedom."

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"I am here to get my life back and so everyone else can too," said protester Sebastien Beaudoin.

Warming himself by the fire, the 39-year-old carpenter with a long beard said he's struggled during the past two years.

"It feels good to live again, to dance in the evening, to hug each other," he told AFP.

Hundreds of trucks draped with anti-government slogans have clogged the streets of downtown Ottawa, bringing it to a standstill.

The convoy arrived from westernmost Canada in late January demanding an end to vaccine requirements when crossing the US-Canadian border. But their protest has morphed into a broader movement against all Covid health restrictions.

Next to Beaudoin, Sophie Leblanc said she came from Quebec province to join the protest on Sunday and stayed.

"I'm not vaccinated, I don't want a QR code (for vaccine passports) and I want to be able to go shopping," says the 38-year-old woman who stands out in a bright orange coat, with a piercing above her lip.

She said she lost her waitressing job amid the various lockdowns imposed on restaurants and other businesses over the past two years, but found new work in the forestry sector.

"For two years, everyone has been dead, we are not allowed to see our families, our friends, we are not allowed to see anyone," she laments.

Here in Ottawa, she added, she has found comfort and solidarity with the truckers. "We found our humanity," she says.

- Government went too far -

Several Canadian provinces introduced severe restrictions last year to slow the spread of Covid-19. Quebec province in particular imposed what is believed to be the among longest lockdowns in the world, as well as a nighttime curfew.

The truckers have shown their dislike of the measures with loud honking day and night -- until a court ordered them on Monday to stop. Since then, they've taken to revving their engines instead.

A strong smell of diesel fuel now permeates the air.

The government "can't come in and control our lives right down to what we put in our body, or where we can't go," trucker Jay VanderWier of Smithville, Ontario, told AFP.

He parked his truck in front of parliament, right outside the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He said Canadians had been told that it "was gonna take two weeks to flatten the curve (of Covid infections), but how many months are we at now?"

He pointed to the crowd of protesters around him, saying they're "ready to do anything it takes for freedom," short of violence.

Sporting a Maple Leafs hockey team jersey and cap, he mused about whether Trudeau is able to sleep at night amid "the job numbers, the suicides" and other tales of hardships brought on by pandemic restrictions.

This has all happened, he said, because of a "callous decision made from the top."