Truck driver Jacobo Peters says he plans to lock himself in the cab of his semi and lay on the horn whenever police move to clear downtown Ottawa of the protest organizers call the Freedom Convoy.
Peters, 35, from Leamington, Ont., says he won’t fight arrest, but police will have to smash the cab window and pull him out to remove him from the line he’s pledged to hold during the protest that has gridlocked downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks.
By Thursday evening, police had arrested Chris Barber and Tamara Lich, key organizers of the convoy that has been protesting vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions. Police also set up a hardened perimeter around the downtown core, with nearly 100 checkpoints. Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell warned that “action is imminent.”
“Who knows, I might go home with some broken bones or go to jail with some broken bones depending on how much force they use,” said Peters earlier that day.
He has four children between the ages of nine and 18.
“We just want our freedoms back, and we’ve been peaceful,” said Peters.
Peters’s rig is one of three arranged in line next to an intersection near Ottawa’s Memorial Arch and the Canadian Phalanx monument. There are about seven semis parked in this area just beyond the edge of the parliamentary precinct, straight north from Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Street, the centre of the protest.
A cross-border trucker who would only identify himself as G.W. stands inside a refrigerated trailer full of donated products. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)
The trucks are parked two intersections now populated with barbecues and a large grill, where they cook egg burritos in the morning and burgers in the afternoon to give away to anyone who comes by. The food comes from a 53 foot refrigerated trailer packed with donated goods, like frozen lasagnas, ribs, toilet paper and yogurt.
Many of the cross-border truckers in this area come from Leamington, Ont., about 732 kilometres southwest of Ottawa.
‘A lot of stress comes in’
Police began tightening control of downtown Ottawa Thursday in preparation for an expected final push to clear the demonstrators and the hundreds of trucks and vehicles from city streets around Parliament Hill.
The parliamentary precinct is one of the areas designated as a protected zone by the Emergencies Act invoked by the federal Liberal government to end protests that also spawned now-cleared border blockades in Windsor, Ont., Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.
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Peters, an owner-operator who regularly hauled freight over Canada and the U.S., said he’s slept little over the past 24 hours, waiting, listening for police to make their move.
“That’s where a lot of stress comes in. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never committed a crime where I needed to be arrested,” he said.
“If protesting is a crime, if cleaning garbage and feeding the homeless is a crime, then so be it, come and arrest me.”
Peters is unvaccinated and the cross-border vaccine mandate, imposed by Canada and the U.S., directly impacted his livelihood.
“You are not going to force something into someone’s body that someone doesn’t want,” he said.
‘Our intent is to be peaceful’
Peter Letkeman, 39, has spent the last three weeks helping to keep the small encampment running, pulling food from the trailer, cleaning up and organizing the donations that flowed from the public.
An unvaccinated, cross-border trucker, who hauls produce as far away as Texas, Letkeman wears a People’s Party of Canada pin on his jacket.
On Thursday he distributed documents from convoy organizers that included the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms and steps on dealing with police enforcement.
Peter Letkeman, another truck driver from Leamington, distributed information to truckers parked in this intersection on how to handle police enforcement. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)
“This gives me an extra leg to stand on,” said Letkeman, also from Leamington. “Our intent is to be peaceful, to smile, to read the script.”
Letkeman couldn’t bring his rig to Ottawa because it needs repairs. So he stays with a local couple four kilometres from Parliament Hill and drives in every morning in a car with the words, “Pray for Canada,” on the side.
“If they do arrest me, I’ve made arrangements,” he said.
‘I put my faith in God’
Another man who would only identify himself as G.W. says he plans to kneel on the ground with arms outstretched if police come to arrest him. He’s 41 and an owner-operator trucker who hauls steel across the border.
“We’re all peaceful. If it comes down to it, we are going to go down peacefully. There will be no hand-raising,” said G.W., who is from Leamington and says he doesn’t trust the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I put my faith in God, and I am just not worried … I am here for my freedom.”
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G.W., who has six children between the ages of five months and 17, says he also doesn’t fear for the loss of his truck.
“Is my truck worth more than my family and my freedom? No,” he said.
“It’s just a truck.”
He says he’s had conversations with his wife and children about the potential he could be arrested, or possibly worse.
“They know I am here for them, for everybody, for our freedom, if I have to lose my life over that, that’s okay,” says G.W., who spends his days here behind the grill.
“If I just sit home and do nothing, then who am I to speak up?”
Peter Unger says he misses his family and missed his 17-year anniversary to fight against vaccine mandates. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)
Peter Unger, 38, says it’s been hard to be away from his family the last three weeks spending days on this strip of pavement.
The Leamington resident missed his 17-year anniversary and spent his birthday away from his three children, ages 15, 10 and three. They sent him a happy birthday video message over WhatsApp, he said.
“I couldn’t help it, I had to walk away just crying,” said Unger, who is unvaccinated and, as an owner-operator, hauls produce across the border as far away as California and Florida.
“I’m here, I am trying to hold the line, I am trying to get our freedom back.”
Unger said once the police arrive, he’d be willing to drive away with his truck.
“I’m not here to fight. As long as they don’t force me to, I’ll stay and I hope we win,” he said.
“We have to do this. Otherwise, we lose all our rights.”