Gridlock in downtown Ottawa as trucker protest now ‘scaled down’

Gridlock in downtown Ottawa as trucker protest now ‘scaled down’

Parliament resumed Monday in the nation’s capital still beset by protesters, vehicles and trucks during the third day of the trucker convoy, though police say the gathering is significantly “scaled down” compared to the weekend.

Transport trucks and other personal vehicles gridlocked parts of Ottawa surrounding Parliament Hill, with protester’s speeches, music and honking reverberating throughout the city.

“This is an event like no other event we have witnessed in our city’s history before,” Diane Deans, an Ottawa city councillor and chair of the board for the Ottawa Police Service, told reporters on Monday.

“It is a national event. It is an event that is changed by virtue of having heavy trucks that can be used as weapons in this city and the choices that are being made are being made to ensure that we keep everyone safe as possible.”

Many protesters remained in the streets since the weekend, wandering around the area in the downtown core, with barbeques set up and drones flying over Parliament for livestreams.

Some protesters were seen attaching a traffic cone to a horn in an attempt to amplify the sound, while others blocked major intersections near Parliament Hill. One protester was seen selling sweatshirts that depicted a noose, with “Trudeau” inscribed on it.

During a news conference earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the actions of some protesters.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and frankly, disgusted by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau said during the national address.

“I want to be very clear, we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers, and steal food from the homeless. We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans.”

READ MORE: ‘We are not intimidated,’ PM says as MPs return to the Hill despite ongoing trucker protest

The crowd gathered at Parliament Hill Monday was smaller than those seen on the weekend, but Ottawa Police have maintained a heavy presence in the area.

Several local businesses, including the nearby Rideau Shopping Centre, closed their doors on Monday out of fear, even as restaurants were allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity for the first time in weeks.

“It is so disappointing to see,” Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

In a news conference on Monday afternoon, Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly said that the demonstration resulted in no reported injuries, deaths or riots, and that the situation downtown has “scaled down over the past 12 hours.”

“This is a demonstration unique in nature, massive in scale, polarizing in context, dangerous in literally every other aspect of the event itself,” he said. “This started on the west coast of Canada and spread across the country, it has been fluid, ever changing and increasingly more difficult to manage.”

Sloly said that police in Ottawa are in negotiations with the organizers to bring the protest to an end and that “all options are on the table” to end the demonstration, including using force.

Beginning tomorrow, Sloly said police who had been sent to the Parliament Hill area over the weekend will be sent back to their respective communities to help out those in need.

Meanwhile, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson told reporters that the protesters have “worn out their welcome” and urged those clogging up the downtown core to return home and bring up their gripes with their local politicians.

“As the capital of Canada, we’re used to demonstrations, but it’s time for this one to move on,” Watson said. “Businesses and organizations have been subjected to harassment and threats, and these disruptions have been financially debilitating to owners and staff. People who disagree with provincial and federal policies and legislation have the right to demonstrate, but they don’t have the right to take their frustration out on people living in our community.”

Video circulating on social media showing a City of Ottawa transportation driver giving protesters a “thumbs up” raised questions about whether city staff were maintaining their neutrality during the convoy’s events.

Read more: Recap of the trucker protest day two

In a statement emailed to CTV News Monday, Director of Transit Operations for Ottawa James Greer said “OC Transpo is aware of the reported video.”

“As outlined in various City of Ottawa policies, employees must remain impartial when carrying out their duties and any personal use of City vehicles is strictly prohibited,” the statement read, adding that an internal investigation has been launched.

Photos have also been circulating online of police officers posing with the protesters and smiling. Sloly said on Monday that officers are allowed to use certain gestures — such a smile or high five — to deescalate a situation, but cannot express an opinion that is counter to the police force.

“If an officer has to be able to smile, shake a hand, raise a thumb, in order to get people to calm down, to not drive over a barricade … they have the full right and responsibility to use that,” he said. “I will not tolerate any officers or any members of my organization expressing public opinions that don’t match with the priorities and their Oath of Office.”

The Ottawa Paramedic Service confirmed to CTV News Monday that a rock was thrown at one of their trucks Sunday and that a racial slur was yelled targeting the paramedic in that vehicle.

There were at least two other incidents of projectiles thrown at paramedic vehicles, and the service had issues responding to calls in the downtown core where protesters were either slowing them down or intimidating paramedics, mostly on Saturday, a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the police will now be responding “at all times” with the paramedics for safety.

In an update on Monday, deputy police chief Steve Bell said there are currently 12 open investigations regarding incidents with emergency personnel in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Sloly said that earlier reports of people in downtown core being denied emergency services due to the protest are not true.

It is unclear when the protest will end, but several protesters have said they had planned to stay “for months,” and “freedom convoy” organizer Tamara Lich said on Sunday to a gathering on Parliament Hill that the protest would not leave until “all of you and all of your kids are free.”

Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said some protesters have been extending their bookings, while some others are asking to rebook for next weekend.

“The majority of people have been very respectful but there are individuals who are taking it to another place,” he told The Canadian Press.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford broke his silence on the protests in a brief statement issued Monday that said the “right to a peaceful protest is core to our Canadian identity,” but that he was “extremely disturbed” by the desecration of monuments and the waving of “swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance.”

“That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever,” the statement reads.

Ottawa police had announced earlier Sunday that there were “several” criminal investigations underway in relation to acts described by police as “desecration” to several monuments. The Ottawa Police Service is in the process of setting up a hotline for hate crimes and any other criminal activity directly related to the demonstrations.

“If you have committed a hate crime, you will be investigated, we will look for you, we will charge you, if necessary we will arrest you and we will pursue prosecutions against you,” Sloly said. “We have several active criminal investigations ongoing, from bribery and threats to assaults to the dangerous operation of vehicles, they will continue. Please report any other matters that we are not aware of.”

On CTV News Channel Monday, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said the people of Ottawa have been “more than patient” with the protesters, adding that they hurt their own cause with some of their actions over the weekend.

“Going and taking free meals from the Shepherds of Good Hope, the soup kitchen for the homeless, urinating on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dancing on it, desecrating the Terry Fox monument with placards and so on, and really keeping people up 24 hours a day, honking their horns and keeping their diesel engines running and parking in residential areas,” he said.

Speaking on CTV’s Question Period Sunday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the hateful images could not be ignored.

“Some of the images and the voices that we heard come out of that protest were alarming. Canadians saw for themselves. We had swastika flags, we had the Confederate flag, we had voices that called for the overthrow of the government. Canadians saw for themselves that some voices are really disturbing and unacceptable,” he said

“I understand that there are some people who are sympathetic to the protests for other reasons but we cannot look the other way.”

With files from The Canadian Press