Reports on social media that 2.3 million people and 130,000 trucks took part in Canada’s so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ have been misattributed to Ottawa Police. The department has not yet released an official estimate of crowd numbers. Three independent experts told Reuters it was “highly unlikely” the figures cited online are accurate.
The convoy, which began at the end of January, saw trucks and vehicles block an area of downtown Ottawa while crowds gathered on a snow-covered lawn to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
However, neither the RCMP nor Ottawa Police gave that estimate.
When contacted by Reuters, an RCMP spokesperson said the force did not have information on crowd numbers. Ottawa Police, meanwhile, directed Reuters to a Jan. 29 statement which said an estimate would be published after the protests concluded (here).
Ottawa police chief Pete Sloly later said the demonstration was “massive in scale” and suggested the number of convoy vehicles and protesters was in the thousands (here).
“Tens of thousands of individuals from a wide variety of causes gathered to actively demonstrate 24 hours a day for the last four days,” he told a press conference on Jan. 31.
“All of that, coupled with thousands of heavy trucks, SUVs and cars driving into the city and congregating in the core of this city, 24 hours a day for four days a week.”
Reuters also spoke to three experts in crowd safety who all agreed it would be difficult to estimate an exact crowd size due to the content available. But all three said that, based on information they had seen, claims of 2.3 million people were “highly unlikely” to be accurate.
Bert Bruyninckx, of 360 Solutions Risk & Safety in Belgium, Marc Tubee, the owner of a Dutch company called Crowd Master, and Eric Kant, an independent crowd management consultant and former event specialist for the Dutch National Police, said: “We have done some image searches and it has proven to be difficult to find suitable images to make estimations on the attendance number.
“However, a gathering of 2.3 million people in Ottawa would be similar to the attendance of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia in 2019 (2.5m people). According to the General Authority for statistics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 33,000 vehicles were used to get to Makkah.
“If we assume there are 2.3m people in this crowd, they would fill the greenfield area of the Ottawa Redblacks’ TD Place Stadium 105 times at 2 p/m² (people per square metre), or the grass area in front of Canadian Parliament almost 75 times. The images we found show densities of about 2 p/m².”
False. Neither Ottawa Police or RCMP said 2.3 million people attended the demonstration. While it is difficult to ascertain exact crowd figures, experts told Reuters that it was unlikely to be as high as the figure cited on social media.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.
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