By Barnini Chakraborty, Senior Investigations Reporter
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the nationwide truckers’ protest against vaccine mandates prompted a lawmaker from his own party to resign late Tuesday after accusing Trudeau of deliberately dividing people.
Liberal Quebec MP Joel Lightbound, widely considered a calm and credible third-term Liberal, said he was speaking for many in his party who believe it’s time to end the bad blood between Trudeau and the truckers. The prime minister, who was in quarantine last week after contracting COVID-19, has said he won’t budge or meet with the truckers. The truckers say they aren’t going anywhere until their demands are met.
Lightbound said he had heard from constituents “wondering why just a year ago, we were all united in this together, and now that we have the most vaccinated population in the world, we’ve never been so divided.”
Lightbound, who represents a district in Quebec City, said he was disturbed over “both the tone and the policies” of his government and how they’ve changed “drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign.”
“From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide, and to stigmatize,” he said. “I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly.”
Lightbound resigned as chairman of the Quebec Liberal caucus a few hours later.
He isn’t alone in his frustration.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday evening that the province’s vaccine passport program would end and that most of the province’s health rules would be scrapped within three weeks.
The move comes despite a crackdown by Trudeau and the Ottawa Police in the nation’s capital.
Trudeau has attempted to discredit the truckers in recent days. He’s repeatedly chastised them, suggesting they are terrorists, racists, or homophobes bent on creating havoc. While some bad actors have attached themselves to the protests — nearly 80 criminal investigations have been opened and about two dozen arrests made — the demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
Trucker Andy Wing called Trudeau’s rhetoric “disgusting.”
“I think it’s disgusting for any leader of a country to vilify people for exercising their democratic rights, their right to protest, the right to demonstrate peacefully,” he said.
Protester Junior Dagenais echoed the sentiment and told the Washington Examiner that Trudeau should pick on someone his own size.
“There are a bunch of 5-year-olds out here, so they’re domestic terrorists now?” Dagenais said. “Would terrorists bring bouncy castles, cook pizza, hand out free food, play hockey, help clean the streets, shovel the streets, and help wash the war memorial? But they’re terrorists, right Justin Trudeau?”
Dagenais’s daughter, Camille, a tenth grader who has been protesting alongside her parents in the extreme cold, said she’s mortified by how Trudeau has been trying to change the narrative.
“The truckers aren’t here to argue or burn anything,” she told the Washington Examiner. “They’re here to talk and say, ‘Enough is enough.'”
The latest pushback from Trudeau has only strengthened the resolve in Ottawa, with protesters vowing to remain in place until vaccine mandates and other coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted.
“A lot of people back the truckers,” Russ, a hotel employee in downtown Ottawa, told the Washington Examiner.
The protests began in Ottawa after a group of Canadian truckers and their supporters drove from Western Canada to Ottawa to challenge a regulation that requires truckers returning from the United States to show proof of vaccination. If the truckers are not fully vaccinated, they will be subjected to COVID-19 testing, quarantine requirements, and possible fines. There are similar requirements on the U.S. side of the border.
While the Ottawa protest began with the truckers, it has shifted to a wider focus that demands all COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures be lifted.
Over the past few days, the protests have grown dramatically in size and support, with most of the frustration aimed directly at Trudeau, who initially tried to downplay the demonstrations, arguing they did not represent the majority. However, as more and more people joined the cause, his tone became combative. He claimed protesters desecrated war memorials, stole food from the homeless, flew racist flags, and spread disinformation. The truckers pushed back on the allegations and accused Trudeau of stretching the truth to discredit them.
Over the weekend, the demonstrations spread beyond Canada’s borders. Now, the truckers have support in several countries, including the U.S. and Australia, where solidarity protests have been staged.