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Thousands opposed to COVID-19 rules converge on Parliament HillA convoy of thousands of truckers and other protesters have descended on Parliament Hill to call for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions — a raucous demonstration that has police on high alert for possible violence even as organizers urge the growing crowd to be peaceful.

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A convoy of thousands of truckers and other protesters converged on Parliament Hill Saturday to call for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions — a raucous demonstration that has police on high alert for possible violence even as organizers urge the crowd to be peaceful.

Hundreds of protesters on foot flooded into the parliamentary precinct on Saturday in the midst of an extreme cold warning, joining a lineup of truckers that started to arrive on the scene late Friday night.

They were later joined by other drivers and demonstrators from all regions of the country that, in some cases, travelled thousands of kilometres to take their message to the streets outside of the Prime Minister's Office in the downtown core.

Police said as many as 10,000 people were expected to be on hand by day's end, but by Saturday evening the force did not have an official estimate of the crowd's size. Also that evening, the group organizing the convoy sent out a schedule for Sunday events, including a prayer and press conference.

The convoy has snarled traffic throughout the region, clogging arteries that lead in and out of the city centre. Law enforcement urged everyone to avoid travel to the downtown as it deals with the surge of people. The Rideau Centre, a major shopping centre only steps from the main protest site, was closed early after it was overrun with maskless patrons defying provincial rules for indoor spaces.

WATCH | An on-the-ground look at the Parliament Hill protests: 

An on-the-ground look at the Parliament Hill protests

1 day agoDuration 1:26CBC's David Common provides an update on the state of protests in Ottawa on Saturday as thousands called for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions.(Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"I support the right to peacefully protest but that should not be confused with blatant disrespect for the men and women who have served, inspired, and protected our country," he said in a statement, saying the individuals in question should be "ashamed."

In another instance, a can of beer was thrown at a journalist covering the event. Protesters also set off fireworks as the evening began, which Ottawa police said Saturday should not be used downtown.

Standoff over science

The many flags flown in the crowd reflected the divergent groups that are calling for an end to mandates.

Some of the protesters carried Canadian flags, while others held placards that urged people to "Think for Yourself," a slogan used in anti-vaccine circles. Some demonstrators were seen flying the Patriotes flag, a nod to the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38, when French-speaking settlers from present-day Quebec fought against British colonial rule.

At least one Confederate flag was spotted in the crowd, a holdover from the U.S. Civil War that is often associated with racist and far-right elements. Indigenous demonstrators flew the Mohawk warrior flag and waved the flag of the Métis Nation.

WATCH | Timelapse shows protesters gathering on Parliament Hill: 

Timelapse shows protesters gathering on Parliament Hill

1 day agoDuration 0:37Thousands of protesters gathered in Ottawa on Saturday to call for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions. This timelapse video shows the growth of the crowd on Parliament Hill as of early Saturday afternoon.Police on guard against 'lone wolf individuals' as protest convoy arrives in Ottawa

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