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Rob Gillies
The Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — A former U.S. ambassador to Canada said groups in the U.S. need to cease interfering in what many call an occupation in Canada's capital as protesters opposed to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions held rallies in cities across the country in a show of solidarity with a week-long demonstration in Ottawa.

“Under no circumstances should any group in the USA fund disruptive activities in Canada. Period. Full stop,” Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador under President Barack Obama, tweeted late Saturday.

After crowdfunding site GoFundMe said it would refund or redirect to charities the vast majority of millions raised by demonstrators protesting COVID-19 measures in the Canadian capital, prominent U.S. Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis complained.

“It is a fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing,” DeSantis tweeted.

DeSantis said he would investigate the decision, but GoFundMe had already changed its policy and said it would be issuing refunds to all. GoFundMe said it cut off funding for the organizers because it had determined the effort violated the site’s terms of service due to unlawful activity.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling the so-called "Freedom Convoy" an occupation, and several First Nations leaders spoke out against the protests last week. 

Related story:
— First Nations speak out against trucker convoy

In Canada's largest city, Toronto, police set up road blocks throughout downtown, preventing any protesters in trucks or cars from getting near the provincial legislature, which is near where five major hospitals are located. And police later moved in to clear a key intersection in the city. 

But thousands descended in Ottawa again on the weekend. Participants roasted hotdogs and doled out baked goods under tarps, while two men on horseback traipsed through the town, one carrying a flag in support of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Residents of Ottawa are furious at the nonstop blaring of horns, traffic disruption and harassment and fear no end is in sight. Ottawa's embattled police chief is calling it a “siege” that he can't manage.

The “freedom truck convoy” has attracted support from Trump and many Republicans. “The Freedom Convoy is peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates,” Trump said in a statement released Friday.

In Toronto, a couple hundred health-care workers and supporters marched in counter-protest from the University of Toronto to Hospital Row just south of the legislature. They held placards reading, “free-dumb” and “N95 masks for all.”

Demonstrators also gathered in Quebec City, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, but they dispersed and police in those cities said they have learned lessons from Ottawa’s predicament.

Many Canadians have been outraged over the crude behavior. Some protesters set fireworks on the grounds of the National War Memorial late Friday. A number have carried signs and flags with swastikas last weekend and compared vaccine mandates to fascism.

Protesters have said they won’t leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are gone. They are also calling for the removal of Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

First Nations leaders stepped up Friday, speaking out against the ongoing occupation and blockades, the protesters’ anti-vaccination stance and their use of Indigenous ceremonies and cultural items on traditional lands.

“The actions that are taking place on our traditional Ottawa, Ontario, territory is unacceptable for those who are participating in these actions,” according to a statement issued by the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.

“The Algonquin nation does not support the setup of a teepee, the pipe ceremony and a sacred fire in Confederation Park in support of the Freedom Convoy,” the statement said. “The Algonquin Nation does not give consent for these ceremonial practices (which) could cause more harm to who we are as First Nations/Algonquin people.”

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