Trudeau tests positive for COVID-19, condemns 'hateful' rhetoric

·8 min read
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a media availability held at a secure location, Monday, January 31, 2022, in National Capital Region.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a media availability held at a secure location, Monday, January 31, 2022, in National Capital Region. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the anti-vaccine-mandate protests that have gripped the nation's capital for the last four days, saying he won't meet with people who promote hate and espouse anti-science views.

Speaking to reporters Monday from a quarantine site where he's staying while the protests continue in the parliamentary precinct, Trudeau said he watched in horror this weekend as some of the protesters carried flags with Nazi insignia and climbed the National War Memorial.

He said the protesters who have congregated in Ottawa — many of them along Wellington Street, which runs just in front of the Prime Minister's Office — are not representative of most Canadians.

Trudeau repeated his pro-vaccine message, saying the best way to fight the pandemic is to push ahead with vaccination and the mandate rule that requires all cross-border travellers — including essential workers like truckers — to get their shots.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, said Trudeau was maligning a largely peaceful group of people who are fed up with COVID-19-related restrictions and just want to be heard by those in power.

WATCH: Trudeau speaks out on anti-vaccine mandate convoy in Ottawa

Trudeau also announced Monday he has tested positive for COVID-19. He said he doesn't have any symptoms and he's feeling "fine."

Trudeau has been in isolation since one of his children tested positive for the virus late last week. A second Trudeau child has now come down with a case of COVID-19. Trudeau said he'll stay in quarantine and work remotely while he recovers.

"It's a big challenge that my family and I are facing but there's nothing unusual or special about it. It's a challenge too many Canadians and people around the world know all too well," Trudeau told a press conference.

Trudeau got his first two COVID-19 shots last year and received a booster dose at an Ottawa pharmacy earlier this month.

PM, family moved from Rideau Cottage

Trudeau urged all Canadians to get vaccinated and boosted as cases of the Omicron variant hit high levels in many parts of the country. The prime minister's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, contracted COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic in March 2020.

The prime minister and his family were moved over the weekend from their residence at Rideau Cottage after a convoy of anti-vaccine-mandate protesters converged on Parliament Hill, which is just four kilometres from the family home.

The sound of loud honking and cheering filled the city over the weekend as thousands of protesters voiced their opposition to various COVID-19-related restrictions. Sporadic honking resumed in the early hours of Monday and vehicles continue to block streets in the downtown core.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The protest was focused initially on the federal government's vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. It has since expanded into a movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Swastikas spotted

Ottawa police described the protests as mainly peaceful but said Sunday they're investigating a number of incidents, citing reports of threatening behaviour, public mischief and dangerous operation of a vehicle.

Police said several incidents on Saturday that were roundly condemned — protesters jumping on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and adorning a statue of Terry Fox with anti-vaccine material and an upside-down Canadian flag — are under review.

Trudeau said Monday Canadians are "shocked" and "disgusted" with the actions of some of the protesters.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Pointing to the presence of swastikas and Confederate flags in the protest, the desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and acts of hooliganism at a local homeless shelter, Trudeau said his government "won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans."

While the crowds began to dissipate Sunday night, some — including the organizers behind a GoFundMe page that has amassed more than $9 million to support the convoy — said the goal is to create a logistical nightmare for the government and force it to repeal vaccine mandates.

Trudeau won't meet with protesters

One organizing group, Canada Unity, is demanding that government leaders either repeal the mandates or "RESIGN their lawful positions of authority immediately."

Asked if he would meet with some of the protesters now camped out in the parliamentary precinct — demonstrators who have vowed not to leave until all pandemic-related restrictions come to an end — Trudeau said he had no interest in going "anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric and violence towards their fellow citizens."

"So to those responsible for this behaviour — it needs to stop," Trudeau said. "Canadians at home are watching in disgust and disbelief at this behaviour, wondering how this could have happened in our nation's capital."

Trudeau said that while Canadians have the right to protest, no one has a right "to abuse, intimidate and harass ... fellow citizens." He promised to press ahead with pandemic measures despite "intimidation" from some members of the convoy.

WATCH | Convoy of protesters represents a range of grievances and demands:

Trudeau also accused some Conservative politicians of encouraging a movement composed of hateful elements with questionable motives.

He said some politicians have been "exploiting people's fears" in a way that could lead to "hard consequences" for the country.

While vocally rejecting bigotry and hate, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has said Canadians frustrated with two years of COVID-19 restrictions should be heard by elected officials.

O'Toole met with some of the truckers in the convoy away from Parliament Hill on Friday. Over the weekend, O'Toole condemned the actions directed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Terry Fox statue.

WATCH: Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole questions PM Trudeau on protest convoy

A number of Conservative MPs have said they stand with truckers and other groups opposed to the federal vaccine mandates.

Trudeau said Monday that Canadians have not seen "responsible" leadership from O'Toole or People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier — who has made opposition to COVID-19 restrictions the cornerstone of his political movement since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

"We have seen over the past many, many months Conservative politicians sharing disinformation about vaccines, encouraging conspiracy theories online," he said. "And I think Erin O'Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he's walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers, let alone the vast majority of Canadians."

Speaking in question period, O'Toole said it's wrong for the prime minister to focus on "on the voices of a few" bad actors in the convoy while dismissing the concerns of "millions of Canadians who are worried."

'When is life getting back to normal?'

O'Toole said people's lives have been upended by years of restrictions, children are grappling with mental health issues, businesses are failing and the nation's social fabric has been "stretched."

"When is life getting back to normal?" O'Toole asked.

In response, Trudeau said the best way through this pandemic is more vaccinations. "Canadians have never been so united in stepping up," he said.

Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen accused Trudeau of unfairly dismissing "passionate, patriotic and peaceful Canadians" who gathered on Parliament Hill to fight back against restrictions that, in some cases, have cost them their livelihoods.

Bergen said that Trudeau has "wore blackface more times then he can remember" and shouldn't brand the anti-mandate movement as racist.

Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis, a politician who has opposed COVID-19 vaccines for children, said the Liberal government is to blame for some of the deep divisions that have emerged during this health crisis.

Lewis said people are rallying in Ottawa and across the country to put an end to "discriminatory mandates" that have been put in place by Trudeau and the premiers. She said the prime minister and other politicians met with Black Lives Matters protesters but are now hiding "from 100,000 truckers and citizens who are rallying for democracy."

Ottawa police have said about 10,000 were on hand for Saturday's protest.

"Our house in Canada is not just divided, it is becoming fractured," Lewis said in a speech in the Commons. "Wedge political issues have resulted in pitting Canadians against each other."

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Speaking to reporters after the weekend's events, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh dismissed the convoy as a "divisive group of people on the right."

"I don't think these people speak for Canadians," Singh said. "Their actions are unacceptable. I want the convoy to leave so life can return to normal because it's been very hard on the people of Ottawa."

Singh said the Ottawa Police Service has been quick to disband previous protests organized by racialized Canadians but has stood by as trucks clog the city's streets and protesters harass locals. He said police have shown "restraint" and are using "de-escalation" tactics in this instance but not in other cases.

"Police should not be allowing a situation where people don't feel safe," he said.

The police have urged people to avoid travelling to the city's downtown core while law enforcement deals with the ongoing disruptions.

"For those who choose to remain, we'll make that assessment once we understand who is still here, what purposes and what public safety risks are associated to that," said Chief Peter Sloly.

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