Vietnamese living in the Canadian capital Ottawa are fearful of the anti-vaccine truck protests and say the so-called Freedom Convoy has disrupted daily life and impacted their mental health.
Nguyen Van Tho, 43, who has been living in Canada for five years, has been unable to sleep for the past few days due to the constant honking at night outside his apartment.
The IT worker says the trucks-led demonstration has caused traffic, noise and safety issues, affecting many of his daily routines.
“The intimidating protesters have gridlocked and paralyzed the capital for weeks, creating a noisy nightmare for many residents.
“I am very concerned the protest could spark violence”.
Tho is among many Vietnamese who are fed up with the demonstrations. The protests stemmed from truckers opposing Canada’s new mandate requiring them to either be fully vaccinated when crossing the Canadian-US border or face a two-week quarantine. They first erupted on Jan. 28.
Their “Freedom Convoy” has since drawn supporters resisting other Covid-19 prevention measures, including mask mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings.
It later evolved into a movement against public health measures and denouncing Canada’s overall efforts to fight the pandemic.
Though the demonstrations have lost steam, a small number of protesters are still rumbling through streets, blaring horns in residential neighborhoods.
Hoang Yen, 18, a student from Vietnam, says during the first few days of the protests, when she and a group of friends were waiting to catch a bus home after school, they had to cover their ears against the “thunderous” horns of 10 trucks nearby.
“The protests forced all bus services in the downtown area to shut down a few days later, making it harder for students like us to commute to school”.
The noise from the protestors and honking has taken a mental toll on many people who say they are on edge and unable to sleep at night because of the prolonged and disruptive demonstration.
“The smell of diesel makes me feel sick,” Tho says. His children have experienced headaches and difficulty concentrating when studying.
The demonstrations have also hit people’s livelihoods since many businesses have had to shut down temporarily due to safety concerns.
Chi Nguyen, a part-time worker at a hotel in downtown Ottawa, says only a limited number of guests are accepted now and the restaurant has been closed due to the risk of being attacked and robbed.
Many stores in the neighborhood have also shut down, she says.
“[Many] retail employees have had to quit their jobs and lose their incomes.
“Businesses have faced too many difficulties as a result of the outbreak already, but they cannot fully reopen because of this disruptive protest”.
Tran Thu Thao, 29, says: “They [the protestors] use slogans to spread hatred and attack people, telling them to remove masks; that is violence”.
She is angry that the protest is not peaceful, saying it has turned “messy and nasty”.
In the last few days more than 60 criminal investigations have gotten underway in Ottawa, mostly into hate crimes, property damage, thefts, and mischief, according to the police.
The police have asked the mayor for a “significant increase” in resources to deal with the unrest, its chief, Peter Sloly, said earlier this week.
Many people say the demonstration does not represent the Canada they know.
Some protesters also wear Nazi symbols and have been desecrating monuments.
Hoang Yen, a student of Glebe Collegiate Institute in Canada. Photo courtesy of Yen
Yen says: “Canada and Ottawa are very diverse and open, but the protest has gone against these values.
She and many of her Vietnamese friends have been living in dread of being accosted by some of the thugs for wearing masks.
“Some of my friends are so worried that they headed straight back home after school and limit going out as much as they can.”
People are also disappointed that local authorities have not done enough to stop the violence, saying federal and local authorities have hesitated to forcibly remove the protesters.
“Everyone has a right to express their views and opinions, including by demonstrating, but it is unacceptable to make locals live in fear to oppose government’s Covid efforts,” Chi says.
A poll done earlier this month by multinational market research and consulting firm Ipsos found nearly 46 percent of Canadians saying they “may not agree with everything” the trucker convoy says or does, but the frustration of protesters is “legitimate and worthy” of sympathy.
Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a stern warning to protesters who had set up truck blockades to express their opposition to government mandates on Covid, saying: “We’ve heard you. It’s time to go home now”.
Mayor Jim Watson has declared a state of emergency in Ottawa, and the government has sent hundreds of Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the protests.
Over the weekend demonstrations were ramped up in cities across Canada, including the capital, where police said they were waiting for reinforcements before ending the “illegal occupation,” AP reported.
Meanwhile, the protests continue to intimidate, pose an unrelenting threat of violence and instill fear in residents of the Canadian capital.
“I just hope the protests end quickly because if there are no bus services, buying groceries and other necessities will be very difficult for students like me,” Yen says.
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