How Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ spirit traversed oceans to plunge New Zealand into anti-COVID protests

New Zealand Police clashed with protesters who have been camping outside Parliament for the past three days agitating against coronavirus vaccine mandates imposed by Jacinda Ardern

FP Staff February 10, 2022 12:46:03 IST
How Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ spirit traversed oceans to plunge New Zealand into anti-COVID protests

A woman is arrested and carried away as protesters refuse to leave parliament grounds during the third day of demonstrations against COVID restrictions in Wellington. AFP

The protests that have gripped Ottawa and disrupted two US-Canada border crossings, has found resonance far, far away in New Zealand.

Police and anti-vaccine protesters clashed on the grounds of New Zealand's parliament on Thursday, with dozens arrested after demonstrators laid siege to the legislature for three days were ordered to move on.

We try to explain what has caused the protests in New Zealand and the resulting violence.

Protests in Wellington

New Zealand’s capital witnessed protests from Tuesday as a copycat of a ‘Freedom Convoy’ action by Canadian truckers, with hundreds of semi-trailers and campervans jamming streets in central Wellington.

According to an AFP report, most of the vehicles left after 24 hours but a hardcore of activists remained, vowing to stay “as long as it takes”.

How Canadas Freedom Convoy spirit traversed oceans to plunge New Zealand into antiCOVID protests

Protesters walk with flags and signs on the grounds around the parliament building (behind) in Wellington against COVID restrictions, inspired by a similar demonstration in Canada. AFP

The protesters' vehicles remained parked in the middle of streets around Parliament, forcing some street closures. The National Library and many cafes and bars in the area closed their doors while the protest played out.

The protesters’ grievances is the requirement in New Zealand that certain workers get vaccinated against COVID-19, including teachers, doctors, nurses, police and military personnel. Many protesters also oppose mask mandates — such as those in stores and among children over about age 8 in classrooms — and champion the ideal of more “freedom.”

How Canadas Freedom Convoy spirit traversed oceans to plunge New Zealand into antiCOVID protests

Vehicles block the streets around the parliament building in Wellington. AFP

New Zealand was spared the worst of the pandemic after it closed its borders and implemented strict lockdowns, limiting the spread of the virus. The nation has reported just 53 virus deaths among its population of 5 million.
But some have grown weary of the restrictions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had no intention of entering discussions with convoy participants, arguing that the majority of New Zealanders had shown their support for the government's vaccination programme.

"Ninety-six percent of New Zealanders have gone out and got a vaccination, which has enabled us to live now with fewer restrictions because of the extra protection that has provided," she told Radio New Zealand.

Violence breaks out

On Thursday morning, New Zealand Police began arresting dozens of protesters, who chanted the Maori haka and yelled "hold the line" as they scuffled with the cops.

How Canadas Freedom Convoy spirit traversed oceans to plunge New Zealand into antiCOVID protests

Police arrest people protesting against coronavirus mandates at Parliament in Wellington. AP

AFP reported that police moved in early Thursday after taking a hands-off approach to the first two days of days of protests, using loudhailers to warn a crowd of about 150 they faced arrest unless they left.

Officers were punched and kicked amid cries of "this is not democracy", "shame on you" and "drop the mandate".

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said patience had worn thin among Wellington residents at the disruption caused by the protests and called for police to act.

"Roads are blocked in the city, businesses have had to shut, people felt threatened and intimidated by some of the protesters," he told Radio New Zealand prior to the police operation.

Inspired by Canada

The Convoy 2022 New Zealand protest was inspired by Canada's horn-blaring demonstrations demanding an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers.

They have caused gridlock in the Canadian capital of Ottawa since late January and prompted city authorities to declare a state of emergency.

The protests began as a response to the country's vaccine mandates but have broadened to oppose restrictions more generally against unvaccinated people. Although provincial governments control these measures, not the federal government.

With inputs from agencies

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