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Fact check: A fake Trudeau letter and other false claims about Canadian protests swirl on social media

<i>Justin Tang/The Canadian Press/AP</i><br/>People hold signs and wave flags along Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has gridlocked downtown Ottawa continues into its second week
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press/AP
People hold signs and wave flags along Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has gridlocked downtown Ottawa continues into its second week

By Daniel Dale, CNN

On Wednesday, we debunked a bunch of false claims about the ongoing Canadian protests against vaccine mandates, Covid-19 restrictions and the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But there are still a bunch more false claims swirling on this subject. Supporters of the protests — which involve a minority of Canadian truckers, plus far-right activists and a variety of other citizens — continue to promote inaccurate information, some of it complete fiction.

Here’s a breakdown of three of the falsehoods that were circulating on social media on Thursday.

A phony letter purporting to be from Trudeau

Some supporters of the protests have shared an image of a letter supposedly signed by Trudeau and his chief of staff, Katie Telford.

The letter includes a supposed offer from Trudeau to meet with protest participants for a specific amount of time that varies depending on whether they are truckers and when they got vaccinated. One example: “2 Minutes per Trucker that can show proof of vaccination received prior to February 8th.”

The letter was posted on a Reddit page supporting former President Donald Trump and by various users of Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.

Facts First: The letter is fake, Trudeau spokesperson Cameron Ahmad confirmed to CNN.

In addition to its bizarre substance, the letter has other obvious signs of phoniness: grammatical errors, inconsistent formatting and a title (“Ottawa Convoy Protesters”) oddly placed above the logo of the Prime Minister’s office. Some social media users suspected the document was intended as parody, but others took it as real.

Trudeau told reporters in late January that he had no intention of meeting with the protesters.

A false story about a nonexistent court order

Numerous social media users, and at least one right-wing website, have claimed that a judge or court ordered police in Ottawa to give back the fuel they had seized from protesters as part of an effort to end the demonstrations, which have involved large trucks and other vehicles noisily occupying downtown streets in the Canadian capital.

The claim about a court order was echoed by prominent protester Pat King, who was listed as a regional organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” that started the demonstrations in January. King repeated the claim during a Facebook livestream on Tuesday that received more than 347,000 views.

The claim about the supposed court order was followed by other related claims. When Ottawa officers continued seizing fuel, for example, some social media users claimed that the police were defying the court order.

Facts First: No judge or court has ordered Ottawa police to return seized fuel or to stop seizing fuel.

Patrick Champagne, press secretary to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, told CNN on Thursday that he had been informed by the Ottawa police legal team that the claim about a court order was “a fabrication.” Brian Gray, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, told CNN on Thursday that court staff had “conducted a search” for the court order but had been “unable to locate any such order.”

A video that made the rounds on YouTube and Twitter, which had been captioned as if it showed police returning fuel to protesters, simply showed fuel containers that demonstrators had refilled and brought in themselves. Nothing in the video suggested that police were returning fuel to demonstrators.

“The Ottawa Police are not returning seized items associated to the demonstration, such as fuel,” a police spokesperson said in a Thursday email to CNN.

King did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

A false claim about Ottawa police officers

Claims have circulated on social media that Ottawa police officers are not required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, unlike Canadian truckers who cross the US border. (In mid-January, Canada began requiring truckers who cross the border to be fully vaccinated or face two-week quarantines upon returning home; this requirement helped to spark the protests. More than 85% of Canadian truckers who regularly cross the border are fully vaccinated, the primary advocacy group for Canadian truckers said in January.)

The Post Millennial, a Canada-based right-wing website, published a Tuesday article headlined, “Ottawa police not subject to vaccine mandate but truckers they’re arresting are.” A Twitter account that calls itself “Canadian Patriots” generated more than 5,400 retweets by tweeting on Sunday, “A friendly reminder that the @OttawaPolice is exempt from the vax!” Facebook posts making similar claims appeared in groups supporting the protests. Conservative former Canadian opposition leader Stockwell Day tweeted on Wednesday that Trudeau “allows the Ottawa police to not be vaxxed but not truckers?!”

The Post Millennial, like others that promoted the claim about a police exemption, cited Canadian broadcaster CTV News as its source.

Facts First: It’s not true that Ottawa police officers are exempt from Covid-19 vaccine mandates; Ottawa officers are required to be fully vaccinated. While officers were initially exempted, Police Chief Peter Sloly eliminated this exemption more than three months ago, in late October, and set a January 31 deadline for officers to be fully vaccinated. There is indeed a CTV News clip that talks about Ottawa officers being exempt, but it is outdated; it aired in October, days before the exemption was abandoned.

About 84% of Ottawa officers were fully vaccinated even before Sloly ditched the exemption on October 29, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper has reported. CTV and CBC reported last week that fewer than 10 Ottawa officers were on unpaid leave because they hadn’t received even one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. There are about 1,480 officers on the force.

It’s possible that some of the people who spread this false claim were genuinely confused because the CTV News website did not put a date on the clip that was being widely shared on social media. In other words, it isn’t immediately obvious that the video is old.

Still, accurate information about Ottawa’s current vaccination policy for officers is easy to find on Google. In fact, Reuters published a fact check on the subject on Wednesday morning.

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