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Trucks, crowds at Canada anti-vaccination protests exaggerated

Police say reports of crowd size have been misstated
Supporters gather near the legislature to protest during a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Despite claims that law enforcement officials in Canada have reported over 100,000 trucks and millions of people showing up last weekend in Ottawa for a vaccine mandate protest, no such estimates have actually been provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police, representatives said.

As thousands of protesters gathered in Ottawa over the weekend to rally against vaccine mandates, numerous false claims about the event spread on social media. Some cited exaggerated crowd numbers, wrongly attributed to Canadian law enforcement, while others shared miscaptioned photos to erroneously suggest they showed the trucker demonstrations.

Posts circulating Saturday and Sunday stated: “The OPP have reported over 100,000 trucks in Ottawa, an estimated 2.3 million on foot and an ‘abudance’ of trucks parked in fields just outside of the city. RCMP reports over 130,000 trucks in the city and more than 20,000 parked in fields outside of the city.”

But the claims are false, spokespersons for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police told The Associated Press. “We are able to confirm that the RCMP did not issue any numbers publicly in relation to this,” Stéphanie Dumoulin, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email to the AP. “These numbers did not come from the Ontario Provincial Police,” Bill Dickson, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed in a separate email to the AP.

“We have not released any numbers.” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly estimated there were about 8,000 people at the protest in the city on Saturday, according to Amy Gagnon, a spokesperson for the agency. Some protesters parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Others carried signs and flags with swastikas and some used the statue of Canadian hero Terry Fox to display an anti-vaccine statement, the AP reported.

Some of the demonstrators were protesting a new rule that went into effect on Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The U.S. has mandated the same requirement on truckers entering the country.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a large number of the protesters had no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. Other social media users this week shared a video of truckers taking part in the annual Feast of San Michele event in Turin, Italy, in 2021, but falsely claimed it showed Italian truckers mobilizing in support of the anti-vaccine protests in Canada on Jan. 28. Similarly, a 2019 photo of an unrelated protest in the Netherlands was misrepresented to incorrectly suggest it showed farmers blocking a freeway in solidarity with the Canadian protests.

READ MORE: 5 arrested at Vancouver trucker convoy, counter-protests as eggs thrown, vehicles kicked

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report with additional reporting from Beatrice Dupuy in New York and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta.

The Associated Press

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