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Canada’s anti-government protests have spread across the world

A man stands with a French flag in front of the Arc de Triomphe at an anti-government protest.
Reuters/Benoit Tessier
“Non” to vaccine mandates.
By Courtney Vinopal
Published Last updated

Police cleared protesters from the Ambassador Bridge last night (Feb. 13) after six days of disruption, reopening a major trade route between the US and Canada.

But the “Freedom Convoy” movement, which started in response to a vaccine mandate affecting Canadian truckers and grew into a larger fight against government-imposed coronavirus restrictions, is still affecting other parts of the country. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced today (Feb. 14) he would invoke emergency powers to respond to demonstrations in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, which have been going on for 18 days.

The Canadian protests have also inspired similar “freedom convoys” in other parts of the world that have imposed strict covid restrictions, from New Zealand to France. Barry Manilow even finds himself indirectly involved.

Paris protesters were met with tear gas

French protesters formed their own “Convoi de la Liberté” against the government’s vaccine mandate, which now applies to nearly every public venue. The convoy converged on the Champs-Elysées Saturday (Feb. 12), where protesters were met by 7,000 police members and tear gas.

Unlike Canada, where the government failed to stop a blockade at the US border, French authorities got ahead of this protest by stopping at least 500 vehicles before they even got to Paris. Only a few dozen cars made it to the Champs-Elysées, and the police ticketed 300 protesters who were present at the demonstration.

The protests come as France seeks to recover from coronavirus lockdowns that decimated the country’s tourism sector, which accounted for more than 8% of the economy prior to the pandemic. Paris alone lost more than €15 billion in tourism revenue in 2020. Anti-government protests have put a dampener on French tourism before: In 2018 hotel bookings in Paris dropped by 10% as the country dealt with the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vest, movement.

Should protests against France’s restrictions continue, they could prove a headache for president Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in April.

Anti-government protests in Europe and New Zealand grow

Protests against government coronavirus restrictions have caught on in Europe and other parts of the world in recent days, but they’ve remained more subdued than the Canadian demonstrations. A convoy of about 500 vehicles—mostly from France—were barred from entering Brussels today, leaving several hundred protesters to gather on foot at a city square instead.

Another convoy of several hundred vehicles blocked access to the seat of the Netherlands government in The Hague on Feb. 12, while authorities in New Zealand sought to disperse protesters outside of its parliament building on Feb. 13 by playing the music of Barry Manilow and James Blunt.

While these protests are driven in part by opposition to vaccine mandates, most citizens in these countries have nonetheless complied with such requirements. More than 80% of Canada’s population is fully vaccinated, with the rates in France and New Zealand just below 80%.

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