Premier Doug Ford is declaring a state of emergency in Ontario, which he says will give authorities more tools to help stop the “illegal occupation of Ottawa.”
“We are now two weeks into the siege of the city of Ottawa,” Ford said during the announcement on Friday morning. “I call it a siege because that is what it is. It’s an illegal occupation.”
Ford said he’s instituting stiffer penalties to protect infrastructure ranging from international border crossings and 400-series highways to municipal and provincial roadways and pedestrian walkways.
Non-compliance will now be punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail, Ford said.
Late Friday morning there were signs of increased enforcement at one of the protest’s focal points, the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive.
Bylaw officers moved in and started threatening fines for blasting loud music. They levied a $1,500 fine against at least one person.
Ford urged the trucker convoy protesters that have been causing gridlock in downtown Ottawa streets and taken over sections of the core to leave.
“Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the rights of one million people in Ottawa to live peacefully, free of harassment and chaos in their own homes,” he said. “There will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe.”
Ford made the declaration as the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests in Ottawa enter their third weekend and a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit stalls border traffic.
Along with the severe fines and possible jail time for truckers blocking roadways, Ford said the province is also providing new authority to take away the personal and commercial licences of anyone who doesn’t comply.
“To the people of Ottawa under siege, I say: we will ensure you are able to resume life and business as soon as possible.”
PM: ‘EVERYTHING IS ON THE TABLE’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Ford’s announcement “responsible and necessary,” adding that the RCMP is working with provincial and local police departments to enforce the law.
“Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end, and it will end,” he said, adding that he “can’t say too much more now” because authorities are concerned about possible violence.
“We’re taking every precaution to keep people safe. But the absolute safest way for this to end is for everyone to return to your communities now.”
Trudeau also warned protesters in Ottawa and Windsor that they could face consequences such as a criminal record, which could impact their employment or ability to travel to the U.S.
“If you joined the protests because you’re tired of COVID, you need to understand: you’re breaking laws,” he said. “We’ve heard your frustration with COVID, with the measures that are there to keep people safe. We’ve heard you. Its’ time to go home now.”
Trudeau said he spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday and discussed, among other things, the U.S.-based flooding of 911 phone lines in Ottawa, the presence of U.S. citizens in the blockades and the impact of foreign money on the protests.
He also rejected the premise of a question about local authorities exhausting their resources.
“I don’t accept the contention that the city of Ottawa has exhausted its tools and its resources,” he said. “The Ottawa Police Force has been given resources from both the OPP and the RCMP.”
Ottawa’s police chief has requested 1,800 additional police personnel to bring the protests to an end.
POLICE SERVICES BOARD TO MEET
Ottawa’s police chief said Friday he needs more officers to enforce the new provincial powers under the state of emergency.
“We cannot go beyond our current ability unless we get new resources,” Chief Peter Sloly said during a special Ottawa Police Services Board meeting on Friday.
“Without new resources we can’t expand and use those powers in the way they were designed.”
On Thursday, Ottawa’s police chief issued a warning to people thinking of coming to the capital for a third weekend 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.”
About 400 trucks remain parked on Wellington Street and roads throughout the Parliamentary Precinct. Several roads, businesses and a COVID-19 vaccine clinic remain closed.
On 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.”
ANTI-MANDATE PROTESTS TARGETING SCHOOLS
School boards in Ottawa and eastern Ontario that were preparing for possible demonstrations outside of schools on Friday reported at least one incident.
Parents and guardians of students at Devonshire Community Public School were notified of an incident outside the school on Breezehill Avenue. The Ottawa Carleton District School Board didn’t disclose the name of the school, but confirmed an incident took place.
“This morning, after dropping their children at school, two parents were approached by a pick-up truck and verbally harassed by the driver who videotaped the incident. The drivers were asked to leave children alone. The incident was reported to both the police and the school,” an OCDSB spokesperson said.
The board says staff are monitoring for “unusual or suspicious behaviour” around the schools.
People calling for an end to mask mandates and other public health measures gathered outside St. Michael Catholic High School in Kemptville on Friday. OPP officers were on the scene to monitor the demonstrators, who held signs saying “Unmask our Children.”
Protesters in support of ending mask mandates and COVID-19 restrictions in schools hold signs outside of St. Michael Catholic High School in the Eastern Ontario community of Kemptville, Ont. on Friday, February 11, 2022. (Nick Iwanyshyn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Coun. Catherine McKenney said on Twitter Friday morning that some parents were reporting that “the occupiers are harassing kids & parents around schools.”
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.”
A man sits in a hammock outside West Block on Parliament Hill on the 15th day of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has grown into a broader anti-government protest, in Ottawa, on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
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.”
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.
There will be lane closures on the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge this weekend due to the ongoing demonstration.
Public Services and Procurement Canada says “out of an abundance of caution and safety”, there will be lane closures on the interprovincial bridge between 8 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday.
The Alexandra Bridge will be closed to all vehicles from 7 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday.
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.
– with files from Graham Richardson, CTV News Ottawa