Ottawa’s police chief is issuing a warning to people thinking of coming to the capital for a third weekend of ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests: don’t come.
“We expect that many demonstrators are considering coming to the city this weekend; please do not come,” Chief Peter Sloly says.
“For those of you that are planning to come here and commit offences, don’t! There will be accountability for any unlawful criminal activities that occur in this city in relation to this demonstration.”
As the 15th day of protests begins against the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures in downtown Ottawa, 400 trucks remain parked on Wellington Street and roads throughout the Parliamentary Precinct, and several roads, businesses, and a COVID-19 vaccine clinic remain closed.
Thursday night, a convoy of vehicles drove along the Queensway slowing traffic and occasionally honking horns. Dozens of vehicles also drove slowly through the Ottawa Airport in the morning.
As of Thursday, Ottawa police reported 25 arrests in connection to the demonstrations, while more than 1,700 tickets have been issued for Highway Traffic Act and Bylaw offences, including excessive noise, use of fireworks and suspended licences.
There are 126 active investigations ongoing in connection to the demonstration.
Sloly says negotiations continue to have the remaining vehicles in the so-called ‘red zone’ leave the area.
“The negotiations have been ongoing, literally ongoing from before the first convoys arrived in Ottawa,” Sloly said, adding officers negotiated the removal of 12 trucks from the Ottawa Baseball Stadium and ten trucks from the downtown core on Thursday.
“In every one of the negotiations, we’ve tried to find a peaceful and lawful way for individuals and groups of individuals, including the vehicles and conveyances that they’ve brought here, to leave peacefully, lawfully. We have also been clear that unlawful behaviour will be met with consequences.”
The chief says a team of Ottawa police liaison officers and negotiators from across the province are in town to speak with the demonstrators.
“To convince people who feel they came here, have made their points, are now suffering, potentially in jeopardy for any unlawful activity to return to their homes and bring their vehicles with them,” Sloly said.
“It will continue until the very last day when the very last truck and demonstrator leaves here, either through negotiation or through enforcement.”
PROTESTERS PREPARED TO STAY
As residents and politicians call for an end to the demonstration in downtown Ottawa, the protesters say they will stay until their demands are met.
“Until the mandates are gone and everybody can go back to a normal life, this won’t end,” said Mike Card of Sarnia, Ont. in the ByWard Market.
“Just want to get our freedoms back and make this country something to be proud of again,” said Jay Sugruv in his truck.
Joe owns a small business in Brandon, Man., and travelled to Ottawa to call for an end to the mandates.
“We’re here for freedom of choice, it’s the only reason,” said Joe on Thursday.
“I’m here for a lot of different reasons; mainly for my friend’s children, they can’t go see their kid play hockey. ‘Mommy, come watch me dance class.’ We don’t get to do this anymore. It shouldn’t be the government’s choice, it should be your choice.”
Joe said he hasn’t been in Ottawa for a long time, adding “I’m not going nowhere until this is over.”
Bruce from Ottawa visits the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration every day.
“I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m not an anti-masker – I do believe we need freedom. I don’t agree with the mandates, the lockdowns and all that other stuff,” said Bruce, adding the demonstrators are prepared to stay until the mandates are lifted. “Everyone here is fighting for freedom.”
On Thursday, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said it’s time for the blockades around Parliament Hill and at border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario to come to an end.
“I believe the time has come for you to take down the barricades, stop the disruptive action, and come together,” Bergen said in the House of Commons.
“The economy that you want to see reopened, is hurting.”
ANTI-MANDATE PROTESTS TARGETING SCHOOLS
School boards in Ottawa and eastern Ontario are preparing for possible demonstrations outside schools today.
“We have seen tweets circulating about protestors having the convoy drive past schools. This idea is unacceptable. Schools are places for learning, and the safety of students and staff should not be threatened,” the Ottawa Carleton District School Board said on Twitter.
“We have reached out to the Ottawa Police Service and know that they are monitoring the situation. While we have no reports of concerning activity from schools, our staff are aware and will continue to make safety our first priority.”
The Renfrew County District School Board has warned parents of information circulating online inviting students, parents and others to protest at schools across Ontario, including at Fellowes High School in Pembroke.
The Rideau Centre, Ottawa City Hall and the Rink of Dreams and several business remain closed in downtown Ottawa.
The Ottawa Public Library Main and Rideau Branches remain closed.
Ottawa Public Health says the vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa Minto Sports Complex will remain closed until Tuesday.
OC Transpo says all bus routes with service downtown are expected to remain on detour, until service can be reliably returned to downtown streets.
Residents who need to travel in and out of the downtown core should use O-Train Line 1. Currently, Rideau Station can only be accessed through the William Street entrance.