After tying up traffic briefly at a checkpoint on the Lincoln Road outside Fredericton on Saturday, at least 100 vehicles drove in a procession into the downtown, where about 300 people were already protesting at the New Brunswick legislature.
After a quiet night and morning, the second day of protest in the capital against COVID-19 mandates escalated in mid-afternoon.
A convoy of protest vehicles, including three tractor-trailer cabs, started for the downtown from the Lincoln Big Stop truck stop but was stopped by police at a checkpoint near Nevers Road.
The trucks were unable to turn around, which caused a blockage holding up the convoy and other traffic.
But just before 3 pm, things opened up and traffic flowed freely past the checkpoint. The three truck cabs were not allowed to pass, however, and police escorted them to a nearby football field.
Drivers of the convoy vehicles delivered a burst of honking as they arrived in the city along the St. John River.
Outside the legislature, at least 20 officers and cruisers were stationed along the perimeter of what they called the “safe zone,” set up to control the demonstration.
Protesters carrying signs and Canadian flags shouted “Raise those flags” over top of blaring music from loudspeakers.
A few cars draped in Canadian flags circled the block, their drivers honking constantly.
Some protesters also began walking down to the other end of Queen Street, which had, since the beginning of the protest Friday, been practically untouched by the demonstrations.
At least one person in the crowd was protesting against the demonstration, with signs that called anti-vaxers “disrespectful” and asked them to go home.
Supporting the Freedom Convoy 2022 that has been making its way across Canada the last couple of weeks, about 300 protesters turned up outside the legislature on Friday with hopes to “gridlock” the downtown core all weekend long. Many were gone by evening.
Overnight, police issued only one ticket — for improper use of a horn — and described the night as unventful.
But about 10 vehicles decorated with flags and signs were already parked outside the legislature by about 7 am, waiting for what they expected would be a large crowd in the afternoon.
Deputy Chief Martin Gaudet has said police set up 15 checkpoints around the city to block trucks from entering the downtown core.
Fredericton police also have help from officers from across the province, brought in to manage the impact of the protest. Saint John police were seen guarding the north side of the Westmorland Bridge on Saturday.
No crimes during night
Fredericton police officers have talked to protest organizers, who agreed to keep the demonstration peaceful and within the “safe zone,” force spokesperson Alycia Bartlett said in an emailed statement.
While some cars were present in the early morning, Bartlett said, the protest area was unventful during the night. The Motor Vehicle Act ticket was issued at about 5:30 am, and there were no criminal offenses.
Queen Street from the Cenotaph to St. John Street remains closed to traffic.
Businesses continue to operate
The Boyce Farmers Market, not far from the protest site, opened as usual, and it plans to stay open until its usual closing at 1 pm
Kristen Gallant, the market’s manager, said there was more traffic in the morning than usual for this time of year.
“It’s actually one of the warmer days and no snow storm today, so lots of people coming in,” she said, comparing the day to two recent weekends when the city was hit by snowstorms.
“It’s been a fantastic day.”
Gallant said the market worked closely with the Fredericton police to mitigate any impact of the protest.
Businesses in the downtown core also opened as usual.
Some customers might think twice
Eric Hill, the manager of Backstreet Records on Queen Street, said his business, across from city hall, hasn’t been that aware of the protest so far.
“There really hasn’t been much activity on this side of Queen Street, outside of trucks driving by honking,” said Hill.
“Had they achieved what their plan was given what notifications we’ve seen online, it could have had a much more negative impact on the downtown and businesses here.”
But while the protest hasn’t been problematic for business so far, previous protests against COVID mandates, which took place in front of city hall, created challenges at that end of Queen Street.
Hill said he suspects customers are less likely to come to the downtown out of fear that they will be greeted by protesters or that parking will be limited.