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Anti-vaccine mandate protesters out in force in downtown Victoria

Victoria police warned motorists Saturday afternoon that heavy traffic was causing delays around the legislature and up Douglas Street. Crowd size dwindled by late afternoon. One arrest was reported, for a driver blocking traffic.

Hundreds of protesters gathered on the sidewalks around the legislature and Inner Harbour on Saturday and vehicles of every description clogged the streets and blared their horns calling on governments to end vaccine mandates.

For the third weekend in a row, areas around the B.C. legislature swelled with protesters supporting the truckers’ convoy that continues to occupy downtown Ottawa as well as several border crossings.

“We want our freedom,” yelled one trucker as he laid on his horn.

Commercial trucks — some showing their affiliations, ­others not — poured into the area and kept circling the blocks as a platoon of Victoria police motorcycle officers stopped vehicles from pulling over.

Pickup trucks, cars, vans, motorcycles — even long motorhomes — all festooned in Canadian flags and plastered with signs and paint rolled by in long parades, their occupants blowing their vehicle horns or using hand-held air horns that could be heard for kilometres around.

The vehicles were also prominent on Douglas Street, with some pedestrians running out to shake hands. Other protesters were greeted with “get a brain” and “you’re idiots.”

Parking lots around the legislature were quickly filling by noon. Carloads of people unloaded and attached flags to hockey sticks.

It was a diverse crowd — from Birkenstocks to biker boots and everything in between — and the growing ranks on the legislature lawn showed middle-aged couples, parents with their children, burly bikers, young adults and teens.

No masks were being worn.

“We are the fringe,” said one young man, “and we want our freedoms back.”

Protesters were echoing their counterparts in Ottawa, saying they want an end-game plan from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on restrictions surrounding the pandemic.

Victoria police warned motorists early Saturday afternoon to avoid the area, saying heavy traffic was causing delays around the legislature and along Douglas Street. Police said no roads were closed by them or blocked by protesters.

A spokesman for Victoria police said protester and traffic numbers dwindled by late afternoon. “We have our VicPD traffic officers out, as they have been all week, ensuring that people are acting lawfully.”

There was one arrest for a driver blocking traffic, the spokesman said.

One bystander in a mask said: “I live here and I just wanted to come and see it myself … it’s like Canada Day down here.”

VicPD said in a statement that last weekend’s protest resulted in two arrests “so far,” including one man arrested for extensive vandalizing of vehicles.

“Remember that safe, peaceful and lawful protest are protected under the Charter,” the police statement said. “Dangerous and/or unlawful acts during protests will be met with ­de-escalation and enforcement.”

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