REGINA — Traffic in the core of Regina fell almost to a standstill on Saturday afternoon, as a convoy of anti-COVID-mandate supporters gathered to begin what organizers indicated will be a prolonged barricade of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly and its surrounding grounds.
Three convoys of semi trucks and other various vehicles converged on the Queen City on Feb. 5, meeting at least 120 supporting protesters outside the provincial government’s seat of power.
The gathering is in support of the removal of COVID-19 related public health mandates, including proof of vaccination policies, mandatory masks and isolation requirements.
In social media posts leading up to Saturday, organizer Tamara Lavoie said the convoy’s purpose is to surround the Legislative building until COVID-19 mandates are removed in Saskatchewan. This includes all emergency health orders issued, said Lavoie.
“There will be no permits, this is not a parade, we do not ask for permission to protest for our rights and freedom!” said Lavoie, in a Facebook post on Feb. 2.
Lavoie, who is associated with the Saskatchewan portion of the Freedom Convoy, declined to speak to media during the event, but described the group’s presence as an occupation. Lavoie said the sit-in will be similar to the Freedom Convoy currently gathered in downtown Ottawa, but on a smaller scale.
Public access to the Legislative building was suspended temporarily on Friday at noon, prior to the event, and concrete barriers restricting vehicles from entering Legislative Drive were put in place on Thursday.
The Provincial Capital Commission said the barriers were put in for pedestrian safety in Wascana Centre during the city’s Frost Festival, which began this weekend.
Those who took part in the convoy met at multiple locations outside the city, including Saskatoon, Weyburn and Yorkton, before travelling to Regina for a promised 1 p.m. arrival.
But individuals bearing Canadian flags and waving signs began gathering outside of the Legislature as early as 11 a.m., lining the sidewalks on either side of Albert Street.
Ramsay and Mae Moore, both of whom stayed for the majority of the afternoon waving signage, said they decided to join the crowd because for the feel strongly that the continued presence of mandates is violating the freedom of personal choice.
“We’re not anti-vaccine, but it’s the way they went about it, with the mandates,” said Ramsay.
"We're not trying to get rid of vaccines, we just think you should be able to choose to get a vaccine and not have someone force you to get it," said Mae.
The two drove in from Yorkton to join the gathering, which they said was the first event of this nature they’ve attended. They said they felt it was important to show support for the cause, as they feel in some ways, the message isn’t being heard properly.
“We really do represent a huge part of Canadians and when we’re constantly dismissed, it’s frustrating,” said Mae.
Many other attendees present had stronger messages for government figures including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, printed on signage. Others simply waved Canadian or Saskatchewan flags.
The convoy itself arrived at approximately 2:30 p.m., where more than two dozen semi trucks began parking in the northbound and southbound outside lanes of Albert Street. Traffic came to a standstill, with one lane remaining open in each direction, and was jammed for several blocks either direction.
Near 4 p.m., traffic gridlock was stretching over 2.5 kilometres on Albert Street, and gathered protesters showed no signs of dispersing. More than a dozen semi trucks were parked on the street at this time, alongside several other vehicles.
Lavoie stated previously on social media that the trucks intend to stay parked outside the Legislature “until all mandates in the province are lifted,” including the proof of vaccination policy.
In a recorded video shared yesterday, Lavoie said the road barricades wouldn’t deter the convoy from staying as planned, and it would be up to the city on "how long [they] are willing to let everybody gridlock the area.”
“People aren't going home because we can’t get into the grounds,” said Lavoie, in a video shared on Friday.
Protesters from the opposing view were also present for a portion of the afternoon, with signage advocating for the retention of all public health mandates, but most dispersed before trucks arrived.
Organizer Jeff Walters said on Twitter that the pro-health-order gathering was arranged to protest comments made earlier in the week by Premier Scott Moe regarding the effectiveness of vaccination, and that he did obtain a protest permit for the gathering.
Regina police were on scene to maintain peace, and issued a notice to the public once traffic concerns began to arise. Motorists are being told to expect prolonged traffic delays in the area.
The convoy is the latest in a series of events calling for an end to public health mandates across Canada, stemming from the Freedom Convoy’s arrival in Ottawa last week. Similar protests are also occurring this weekend in Toronto and Vancouver.