Canada’s province of Saskatchewan announced on Tuesday it would stop requiring vaccine passes and masks. It comes as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted on the effectiveness of Covid-19 mandates amid trucker protests gripping capital Ottawa.
The prairie province, situated between Alberta and Manitoba, said it would stop requiring vaccine passports starting next week and allow the mask mandate to expire at the end of February. It is one of the first Canadian provinces to offer a roadmap to ending the virus restrictions.
Praising the soon-to-be-phased-out restrictions for helping to stem the spread of the virus, premier Scott Moe, however, noted that they created “two classes of citizens,” arguing that “the benefits of this policy no longer outweighs the costs.”
Urging Canadians not to “judge” their neighbors over their vaccination status, Moe said that people should be entitled to decide whether to get vaccinated or not.
“This government is going to respect that right,” he added.
Another province, Alberta, also moved to ditch the restrictions on Tuesday. Starting midnight Wednesday, residents will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination in public places, and from Monday next week children aged 12 and under would no longer be required to mask up. Compulsory masking will no longer apply to all students in schools.
“We’ll never be able to do a full accounting of the extent of the pain and hardship that restrictions have caused,” premier Jason Kenney said.
The announcements come amid increasing protests by truck drivers across Canada against vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions. A group of truckers blockaded the busiest bridge between Canada and the US on Monday, between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. Truckers and farmers have been blockading a crossing between Alberta and Montana for nearly two weeks. A massive “Freedom Convoy” that drove across the country and converged on Ottawa on January 29 has remained in the Canadian capital ever since.
PM Trudeau has refused to meet with the truckers or hear their demands, referring to them as a “small, fringe minority” engaged in violence and hateful conduct.
In a speech to the parliament on Monday, he accused the truckers of “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy, and our fellow citizens’ daily lives,” and demanded that their protest “has to stop” because the people of Ottawa and Canadians in general “deserve to get their lives back.”
On Tuesday the PM defended the mandates and restrictions his government put in place during the pandemic, saying that they worked and will not be removed any time soon.
“I can understand frustrations with mandates, but mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, a member of Trudeau’s own Liberal party has publicly disagreed with the PM. Joel Lightbound, a MP for Louis-Hébert in Quebec, urged the party to offer a “roadmap” out of the restrictions.
“We need to reevaluate all the measures,” Lightbound said on Tuesday. “That’s essentially my whole point, I think we need to have a clear roadmap for when restrictions will be lifted, and this roadmap must take into account what we’ve seen with the World Health Organization’s recommendation, what other countries are doing. It’s essential for Canadians to have that understanding of where we’re heading and under what conditions and circumstances measures will be lifted.”
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