New Brunswick

Despite larger crowds, Fredericton mayor finds second day of protests peaceful

Mayor Kate Rogers says people were protesting in greater numbers in downtown Fredericton on Saturday, but the crowds opposed to COVID-19 rules and vaccine mandates remained peaceful.

3 tractor-trailer cabs escorted to football field outside city after trying to get through checkpoint

The crowd in front of the legislature cheered a parade of protest vehicles that wound around the block as it grew grew dark Saturday. (Mrinali Anchan)

Mayor Kate Rogers says people were protesting in greater numbers in downtown Fredericton on Saturday, but the crowds opposed to COVID-19 rules and vaccine mandates remained peaceful.

Shouting and speeches continued in front of the legislature late Saturday afternoon, and a long and honking line of cars winding around the block drew cheers into the evening. 

As it began getting dark, some protesters started to disperse, leaving about 200 people at 6 p.m., compared with the 700 the mayor's advisers said were there at the height of the protest in the afternoon.

"It's all still a very peaceful demonstration, which is good," said Rogers, who spent most of the afternoon downtown. "Businesses were open, there was more business activity today, which was great."

The crowds thinned out, but the second day of a protest against COVID-19 rules carried on into the night in Fredericton on Saturday. (Pierre A. Richard/Radio-Canada)

Two men were arrested for Criminal Code violations, police said in an evening news release. The alleged crimes weren't specified in the release, which also said three tickets were issued under New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Act, along with "multiple" traffic tickets.

A person who allegedly set off fireworks was ticketed under a civic bylaw.

"At this hour, there is ongoing dialogue with the organizers to ensure a peaceful and lawful event," the release said. "There will be a continued and highly visible law enforcement presence."

Non-protesters also downtown

Mild weather for this time of year in Fredericton may have helped swell the protest, but it also brought more pedestrians and others to the downtown.

Driving home, Rogers said, traffic was more congested, but she didn't experience any traffic jams.

There has been some honking, and Rogers said she wanted to remind people to be respectful of those who live in the area.

She's expects the protest will continue on Sunday, as organizers indicated earlier.

"The organizers are committing to a peaceful protest, and that is what we've witnessed so far, so we are hopeful that is what will continue to unfold."

The protest is part of Freedom Convoy 2022, which has been making its way across Canada the last couple of weeks, and the organizers had hoped to create  what they called gridlock in downtown Fredericton.

The size of the protest by the legislature swelled on Saturday afternoon. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC News)

Police turn back tractor-trailer cabs

Overnight between the first and second day of the protest, police issued only one ticket — for improper use of a horn — and described the night as uneventful.

After the quiet night and morning, the second day of protest escalated in mid-afternoon.

 A convoy of protest vehicles, including three tractor-trailer cabs, started for the downtown from the Lincoln Big Stop truck stop but was stopped by police at a checkpoint on the Lincoln Road outside Fredericton. The trucks were unable to turn around, blocking the convoy and other traffic. 

Traffic was tied up briefly at the checkpoint, near Nevers Road, before at least 100 vehicles were allowed to pass through in a procession to the protest. The three truck cabs were not allowed to pass, however, and police escorted them to a nearby football field. 

A convoy of at least 100 protest vehicles was stopped by police at a checkpoint in Lincoln, before it made its way to the city's downtown. (Mrinali Anchan )

Drivers of the convoy vehicles delivered a burst of honking as they arrived in the city along the St. John River. 

With protesters cheering them on, the cars and pickup trucks eventually circled the block in what was called a convoy, but without the transport trucks that had brought movement to a standstill in other parts of the country. 

At one point, some protesters also walked down to the other end of Queen Street, which had, since the beginning of the protest Friday, been practically untouched by the demonstrations. 

At least one person in the crowd was protesting against the demonstration, with signs that called anti-vaxers "disrespectful" and asked them to go home. 

A woman was spotted protesting against the demonstration over COVID-19 mandates. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC News)

Rogers said she will likely return downtown on Sunday, adding she feels comfortable doing so, despite the protest. 

"The police are really on it. The operational plan that was put in place is working and I have every confidence it will continue to.

Deputy Chief Martin Gaudet has said police set up 15 checkpoints around the city to block trucks from entering the downtown core.

Fredericton police also have help from officers from across the province, brought in to manage the impact of the protest.  Saint John police were seen guarding the north side of the Westmorland Bridge on Saturday.

Police spokesperson Alycia Bartlett said the lone Motor Vehicle Act ticket overnight was issued at about 5:30 a.m., and there were no criminal offences. 

Queen Street from the Cenotaph to St. John Street remains closed to traffic.

Businesses operate as usual

Protesters carried signs and flags outside the New Brunswick legislature on Saturday on the second day of the protest. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

The Boyce Farmers Market, not far from the protest site, opened as usual Saturday, and Kristen Gallant, the market  manager, said there was more traffic in the morning than usual for this time of year. 

"It's actually one of the warmer days and no snow storm today, so lots of people coming in," she said, comparing the day to two recent weekends when the city was hit by snowstorms. 

"It's been a fantastic day." 

Gallant said the market worked closely with the Fredericton police to mitigate any impact of the protest. 

Businesses in the downtown core also opened as usual.

Eric Hill, the manager of Backstreet Records on Queen Street, said his business, across from city hall, hasn't been that aware of the protest so far.

"There really hasn't been much activity on this side of Queen Street, outside of trucks driving by honking," said Hill. 

"Had they achieved what their plan was given what notifications we've seen online, it could have had a much more negative impact on the downtown and businesses here." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabelle Leger is a reporter based out of Fredericton. You can reach her at isabelle.leger@cbc.ca

With files from Raechel Huizinga

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