Toronto braces for Freedom Convoy demonstrations

Toronto is preparing for the arrival of its own ‘Freedom Convoy’ against pandemic-related restrictions as protesters announce plans to head to the downtown core on Saturday.

Convoys such as the ones that traveled through the GTA and surrounding areas last week are scheduled to converge on Queen’s Park this Saturday. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Posts on social media suggest the Convoy for Freedom Toronto will meet up in one of seven locations, mostly shopping malls, before driving to Queen’s Park at noon.

“I want to be absolutely clear that I support Toronto Police taking necessary action to prepare for this protest with a focus on doing everything they can to protect the safety of Toronto residents and businesses and to minimize any disruptions to Toronto residents and businesses as much as possible,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement.

Any protests around Queen’s Park can’t be allowed to block access to nearby hospitals, he added, referring to surrounding streets widely known as Hospital Row.

Toronto Police Service says it is speaking with organizers to limit such disruptions.

“The safety of the public is vital and emergency access routes to hospitals will be protected,” it said in a related statement. “Patients and healthcare workers must be able to get to hospitals, and this remains a priority for police. Anyone who attempts to disrupt hospital or emergency operations will be subject to enforcement.”

Ottawa charges

Tory is looking to avoid disruptions seen in Ottawa, where trucks and protesters have been blocking city streets and blasting horns since last weekend.

Ottawa police issued 30 traffic tickets on Wednesday, including one criminal charge for driving while criminally prohibited. Cruisers there are using automatic license plate readers to identify infractions such as stolen plates and suspended drivers.

The Toronto convoys are also planned on the first weekend when many Ontario businesses will be allowed to re-open following pandemic-related lockdowns linked to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

“The notion that any protest would keep these businesses – hit hard by the pandemic – from being open or drive customers away is unacceptable,” Tory said.

GoFundMe suspends convoy campaign

GoFundMe has also officially suspended a fundraising campaign for Freedom Convoy 2022, which has raised more than $10 million for the Ottawa protests and convoys.

“This fundraiser is currently paused and under review to ensure it complies with our terms of service and applicable laws and regulations. Our team is working 24/7 and doing all we can to protect both organizers and donors,” it said in an online notice.

That campaign has promised to help cover the cost of food, fuel and shelter for protesting truckers.

While the timing of the convoys coincided with Canada’s decision to impose a vaccine mandate on border-crossing truck drivers, protesters have been fighting every manner of pandemic-related health restrictions and the federal government.