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Two North Thompson men holdouts in Ottawa protest

Both of the men say they will stay until COVID-19 mandates are lifted

Two North Thompson men — one a Barriere councillor — are among the holdouts in the trucker convoy rally in Ottawa.

Al Fortin, a District of Barriere councillor, said he will stay until all mandates are lifted.

“I think our freedoms were being held from us, you know, two years is a long time to go through what we’ve been going through,” he told the Times. “I think what’s been happening hasn’t been working.”

He and Ron Rotzetter, owner of Clearwater business On Call Services, travelled with the convoy in a pickup truck as it made its way across Canada to the country’s capital city. They say it took them about a week to get to Ottawa, and they’ve been there since Jan. 29.

They are among a group of people from across Canada who are occupying the city. Semi-trucks can be seen blocking several major roadways, said Rotzetter, who maintains the government has taken away the people’s choice with the mandates implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Clearwater last weekend, about 187 vehicles took part in a local rally to support those who headed to Ottawa. The Freedom Convoy was started in response to a federal government mandate that all truck drivers and other essential workers who cross the border into Canada show proof of vaccination so quarantine requirements could be avoided. The move is reciprocal with the American government enforcing requirements into the U.S.

“People need to have a say,” Rotzetter said. “Canadian people matter…We have a beautiful country and we’re letting it be destroyed and divided.”

Both men noted the experience has been somewhat of a spectacle, as thousands of people have swarmed the downtown area in support of the convoy. Various food trucks have also been set up in the area, and every day around noon, a shinny hockey game takes place.

Fortin added shovels were brought in from around town and people in the area started shovelling Wellington Street and along the sidewalks Thursday (Feb. 3) morning before the hockey game.

The group purchased a few nets and set them up on Wellington Street, which runs along Parliament Hill. Sticks poke up from a pile of snow on the side of the road. An East versus West score sheet is parked among the sticks, a battle for the “Unity Cup,” an upside-down tin garbage can, with a galvanized bucket on top and lid.

Rotzetter and Fortin claim thousands have signed it.

“Everybody wants to sign it,” said Rotzetter. “People are emotional. People come by and they cry with this trophy. I don’t even know how to describe it — I like it.”

Rotzetter said his two sons, Marc and Tyson, are handling business operations while he is away. As for Fortin, no one has taken his place while he’s gone, and he said he received a good luck and stay safe note from DOB Mayor Ward Stamer when he departed.

Stamer confirmed to the Times that he said “good luck and safe travels” when Fortin departed for Ottawa, but added it didn’t necessarily mean he was in support of all of the messaging taking place in the capital city.

The councillor’s absence is not a burden to the district, which has six councillors as well as a mayor, but Stamer did add Fortin is speaking on behalf of himself, not the DOB. Stamer noted the district staff as well as council is following mandates such as social distancing and wearing masks until provincial health officials suggest otherwise.

There was a notice of a protest at The Ridge building, where the District of Barriere is housed, but except for a few people, there “weren’t any sustained efforts.”

“People have a right to their opinions and they have a right to protest,” said Stamer. “But at the same time, we’re trying to do our very best to keep people as safe as we possibly can.”

He added as hospitalization numbers continue to fall, restrictions will be eased, but it’s not a decision for the district to make.

“We’ll wait until the provincial health officials give us that go ahead,” he said.

As B.C. municipalities go to the polls this fall, Fortin noted he’ll probably be in the race to retain his seat as councillor, as he feels a lot of people support him.

“There’s a lot of people that are happy that I’m out here standing up to be their voice,” he said.

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