Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday that he would impose a “state of emergency” in response to the two-week-old “Freedom Convoy” protests that would, he hoped, end blockades in major cities and on international border crossings.
Ford also reportedly told journalists that he would soon entirely do away with the vaccine mandate system, a core demand of the protesters, and “all restrictions on businesses.”
Ford’s announcement followed a report by Canada’s Rebel News on Thursday claiming that Ford was preparing to abandon the province’s vaccine mandate, which had initially prompted the trucker-led protest. In addition to the large, flagship protest in Ottawa, truckers had moved to blockade Ambassador Bridge, the largest crossing between Canada and America, this week.
Ford announced that truckers who did not comply and open the bridge would face prison time and fines of up to $100,000, according to the Canadian Press.
Canada’s Rebel News, which has extensively and sympathetically covered the Freedom Convoy trucker protests, on Thursday claimed that it obtained a recording of a phone call from Ontario Premier Doug Ford to his supporters informing them he would abandon the province’s vaccine passport.
?TRUCKER TRIUMPH: Embattled Ontario Premier deluged by phone calls, caves in to demands to drop vaccine passports.
— Ezra Levant ?? (@ezralevant) February 11, 2022
Rebel News said the recording of Ford’s phone call was supplied by one of the supporters who received it. In the call, the voice alleged to be Ford’s says he decided to rescind the vaccine passport mandate after receiving “about 250” messages on Thursday morning asking him to cave in.
“We’re pulling these passports. We’re going to get back to normal. I can’t get you the exact date, but it’s going to be very soon. I’ll be speaking over the next few days. Friday I’m going to put out a statement. Monday I’ll be giving some dates. And we’re going to move forward,” Ford said in the call, assuming it is authentic.
Most Canadian media coverage of Ontario on Wednesday indicated the vaccine mandate would not be lifted any time soon. Health Minister Christine Elliott said as much at a news conference on Wednesday in which she announced free rapid coronavirus testing for Ontario residents at grocery stores and pharmacies.
Ontario health minister Christine Elliott says the province has no plans to drop its vaccine passport system or mask mandate. pic.twitter.com/ughnFsHOOZ
— True North (@TrueNorthCentre) February 9, 2022
“We have no plans currently to drop the passport vaccination situation or masking. We believe that masking is going to be important for some time to come,” Elliott stated.
“We still need to be very careful,” she said. “We are not telling the people of Ontario that this is going to remain in place forever. No. But we are not in the clear, just yet, and so we need to continue to protect Ontarians, protect each other with the passports and with the masks at this point.”
The Toronto Sun reported on Wednesday that Ford’s administration was stubbornly “digging in their heels” and refusing to follow advice from local medical experts that it was time to begin easing up:
Dr. Matt Strauss, medical officer for Ontario’s Haldimand-Norfolk region, took to social media on Tuesday to announce that “it’s time to end vaccine mandates.”
On the same day, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician who treats COVID patients in the GTA, appeared on CBC to say it’s time Ontario followed the lead of other provinces and places around the world. This perspective adds more adherents by the day,
So what’s the hold-up? You’ve got to wonder what Ford and his advisors are thinking right now.
The Globe and Mail on Thursday quoted Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore taking a more conciliatory tone and saying “a review of all timelines is absolutely appropriate in the face of the improving data in Ontario, in removal of all public-health measures.”
“We want to be transparent to businesses, transparent to Ontarians, on what can be expected in terms of the timelines,” Moore said.
Moore said no final decisions about revised timelines had been made yet, but he expected the review process to begin next week. He warned Ontario would take a more “cautious” approach than other provinces that have begun lifting restrictions.
AP reports: “On Friday, amid signs that authorities might be prepared to get tough, police in Windsor and Ottawa awaited reinforcements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force. Ottawa’s mayor has asked for 1,800 additional police officers, nearly doubling the manpower available to the the city’s police force, which has 2,100 officers and civilian members.”