Under persistent snowfall on Saturday morning, protesters convened on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill — part of the weekend tide of out-of-towners, sympathizers and gawkers who have come to support the truckers camping downtown now for more than 15 days.
By afternoon the snow had let up, but all morning thick flakes covered the Canadian flags that protesters wore as capes, and bled the ink on handmade signs that were pinned to the iron railings of the Gothic-style parliamentary buildings. Undaunted by the weather, the posters rallied against vaccines, mask mandates and the prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
In discussions, many demonstrators have emphasized that their cause is not tied to the nationalistic beliefs associated with similar protests elsewhere, particularly in the United States. But the American Confederate flag, the Gadsden flag (yellow with a snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me”) and the Canadian Red Ensign, which experts say are symbols of white nationalism, have been spotted in Ottawa in recent weeks.
On Saturday, one of the few Black protesters in the crowd, a woman who gave only her first name, Sharon, because she said she mistrusted journalists, wore a sandwich board that read: “Do I look like a white supremacist?”
Sharon, a clinical social worker, has made the three-hour drive from her hometown to Ottawa to join the protesters over the past three weeks. “Do you know how hurtful it is to have your prime minister say we are a fringe minority with unacceptable beliefs?” she said, referring to Mr. Trudeau’s characterization of the protesters this month.
“That is saying there are acceptable views to have, and unacceptable ones,” she said, adding that she believed such thoughts were the purview of communist systems, not democracies. “It is implying that what should be considered as Canadian is what he is thinking.”
As she stood on an esplanade in front of Parliament, people led the protesters in Christian prayers — “with a maple leaf in one hand and a cross in the other,” one prayer leader said — and called on Canadian saints to support their cause. Beside her two people animatedly discussed how the government might track people with social media, and a woman wore a T-shirt with a QR code (a symbol for the Canadian government’s vaccine pass) crossed out in red.
On Wellington Street, as pop music played, a man knocked on the door of a truck and asked the driver to autograph his Canadian flag, which was covered in signatures.
Karl Braeker, 93, sat on an orange wool blanket at the Centennial Fountain under a dusting of snow. Originally from Germany, Mr. Braeker said he had served in the German military as a teenager under the Nazis, and emigrated to Canada in 1951.
“It is very deep what brings me here: I grew up under Hitler in Germany,” he said. He had come in person concerned over reports that the protesters shared white nationalistic or Nazi sentiments. From his vantage point on the fountain, he said, he felt they did not.
Watching the protests, he said, had “brought back all of my P.T.S.D.” from serving in Hitler’s army. He said that he had not slept for days when the protest first began — particularly after hearing that swastikas had been seen on flags. He asked his son to drive him here to see for himself. “I’ve always loved Canada for the freedom,” Mr. Braeker said. “I had to come here to see.”
Mr. Braeker is not vaccinated but is not against others getting vaccinated. He said he opposed mandating that people receive the shot. He found he sympathized with the protesters’ demands. In fact, he said, he felt like the mandates had echoes of the totalitarian regime under which he had grown up.
“My member of Parliament told me that these are just a bunch neo-Nazis and malcontents that are trying to disturb things — but it’s the other way around,” he said. “These are Canadians that I have known since the day I landed in Halifax in 1951, and I love this country.”