Convoys converge for noisy protest against COVID-19 measures in Quebec City
Police issue more than 20 tickets Saturday
Crowds of protesters opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures converged in front of and around the National Assembly in Quebec City for a noisy protest Saturday, which peaked in the afternoon.
As of Feb. 5, Quebec City police (SPVQ) issued 11 tickets to protesters for disturbing the peace and 10 for violating the Highway Safety Code.
Around 8 p.m., officers arrested a 31-year-old man for blocking traffic with his vehicle. The vehicle was then towed to clear the lane.
Earlier Saturday, trucks and smaller vehicles poured into the city from across the province to take part in the protest, joining others that had been rolling in since Thursday evening. Convoys of drivers arrived from different parts of the province including the North Shore, Lower St-Lawrence, Saguenay and Beauce regions.
The protesters, including some families with children, cheered and waved signs calling for the end of public health restrictions.
As of 7 p.m. Saturday, the crowd had thinned significantly, although a large number of protesters remained in front of the National Assembly, dancing to music and carrying signs. Numerous parked vehicles continued to line two lanes on René-Lévesque Boulevard. As of 8:30 p.m., the SPVQ said the situation was under control. By 9 p.m. pedestrians dispersed, prompting police to reopen René-Lévesque Boulevard and Honoré-Mercier Avenue.
Tommy Massé arrived this morning with a convoy from Portneuf, west of Quebec City, along with three of his five children. He said he's protesting for their future.
"I want them to experience the childhood I had when I was young," said Massé. "With all the mandates we have with the [pandemic], I fear they will not be able to have the same childhood."
Another protester, Vincent Bélanger, travelled a long way from his home in Port Cartier on Quebec's North Shore to denounce the province's vaccination passport, calling it "discriminatory."
Jerome Bergeron arrived Saturday from Beaumont near Lévis to speak out against what he says are exaggerated public health measures.
"We are fed up with the sanitary measures, there is some incoherence in what the government tells us," he said.
A small group of counter protesters also gathered in the area around the National Assembly, with some of them encouraging drivers to honk if they have been vaccinated.
Quebec officials have said while protesters have a right to demonstrate, they will not tolerate vehicles blocking roads.
Earlier in the afternoon, rows of vehicles were driving by the National Assembly honking their horns, many of them flying Canadian and Quebec flags and "freedom" signs from their vehicles.
But as the protest swelled, around 3 p.m., police expanded the area around the National Assembly that is off limits to cars. Honoré-Mercier Avenue was closed between Grande Allée and Côte d'Abraham boulevards, as was Grande Allée between de Claire-Fontaine Street and Honoré-Mercier Avenue.
Demonstrators filled René-Lévesque, forcing police to also block off a one-kilometre stretch of the boulevard, between Honoré-Mercier and de Salaberry Avenue.
Traffic was congested throughout much of the downtown, from the Montcalm area, to the Saint-Roch neighbourhood in the Lower Town.
(1/2) MANIFESTATION | Compte tenu de l'affluence importante de piétons dans le secteur de l'<a href="https://twitter.com/AssnatQc?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Assnatqc</a>, une partie de la circulation sera déviée. Le tout afin d'assurer la sécurité de tous. <a href="https://t.co/fvZj0x48sU">pic.twitter.com/fvZj0x48sU</a>—@SPVQ_police
The SPVQ handed out more than 50 tickets during smaller demonstrations on Thursday and Friday evening, mostly for road safety violations.
It has emphasized that nobody is allowed to camp or take shelter — including staying in campers or trailers — near the National Assembly or other public places.
Bernard Gauthier, one of the protest organizers, criticized police Friday for being too strict about where vehicles are allowed to go, adding that a food truck intended to serve protesters was prevented from parking near the demonstration.
Mayor Bruno Marchand said Friday that police were allowing a few large trucks to park on René-Lévesque Boulevard as a "compromise" because the trucks were an "important symbol" to the protesters. As of midday, vehicles, including semi-trucks and cars, were parked in two lanes for a long stretch of the boulevard.
Premier François Legault said Friday that authorities were ready for any eventuality, and that tow trucks were on hand to remove trucks, if necessary.
Protest and carnival overlap
Not far from the protest, the annual Carnaval de Québec was also underway, with sites near the National Assembly and Old Quebec City.
Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand visited the carnival Saturday afternoon, just metres away from the demonstrators. He said protesters have been acting respectfully and was happy carnival-goers were able to co-exist with them.
"For now, it's going peacefully. People are here sending their message to the government," he said. "There [are] a lot of [families] right there. Everything is all right."
Local resident Anne-Marie Besset said the demonstration was "a bit inconvenient for everyone," but said it seemed to be going smoothly.
Coming around and impinging on the enjoyment of other people like that, blocking traffic and blowing horns ... it's too disruptive.- Carnival-goer Fred Stacey
But Fred Stacey, who travelled from Carlton Place, N.L. to enjoy the carnival, said the blaring horns and traffic jams were upsetting.
"If people want to stand up and have their say then that's fine, but coming around and impinging on the enjoyment of other people like that, blocking traffic and blowing horns ... it's too disruptive," he said.
Hotel and restaurant owners have reported that guests have been cancelling reservations, citing concerns about the protests.
Legault had said it is important to support businesses that have been badly hit by the pandemic.
"Go with your families to the Carnaval de Québec," said Legault at a press conference Friday. "Go to the restaurants of Quebec. Go to the hotels in Quebec."
With files from Radio-Canada, Émilie Warren, Sarah Leavitt, Fenn Mayes and Justin Hayward