The organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” have indicated they plan to stay in Ottawa until pandemic-related mandates are repealed, despite more police officers being deployed downtown in anticipation of increased demonstrations over the weekend.
Over the past week, there has been mounting pressure from the city for policing efforts to be ramped up as some business owners say the protesters are doing more harm than good. Convoy organizers are now facing a potential $9.8 million class-action lawsuit from Ottawa residents angered over incessant horn noise. GoFundMe also announced that it’s removing an online “Freedom Convoy” fundraiser for breaking policies on “the promotion of violence and harassment” after it brought in that brought in more than $10 million.
Sarah Chown, managing partner of the downtown restaurant Metropolitain Brasserie and Ottawa chair of the Ontario Hotel and Motel Association, told CTV’s Your Morning that her restaurant has been closed since the protesters arrived last weekend.
“We’ve essentially been closed since they arrived,” Chown said Friday. “Unfortunately, our property was completely inaccessible for pickup drivers to come from Uber and DoorDash and other third party services so we weren’t even able to operate for takeout on the weekend.”
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Parts of the convoy arrived in Ottawa last Friday ahead of a big rally on Parliament Hill Saturday in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers and broader public health measures. Earlier Thursday, some of the main organizers for the “Freedom Convoy” decried that they had been painted as “racists, misogynists…and even terrorists,” and that no one from the federal or provincial government had met with them.
Tamara Lich, one of the leaders of the convoy, read a prepared statement “calling on all levels of government to lift all COVID-19 restrictions and mandates,” and vowed to stay on until there is a “solid plan” to see action on their demands.
Chown said she appreciates that the protesters are frustrated, but said their actions are hampering businesses and disrupting residents. She said her employees don’t feel safe and are now concerned about financially supporting their families without being able to work for a week.
“Unfortunately, your demonstrations currently are not hurting politicians. They’re just hurting us — our small businesses, our employees and the restaurants. It’s been a long two years for us, and we need to get back to business and you’re not helping us you’re hindering us at this point,” she said.
An online petition calling on Ottawa police to “evict” the Freedom Convoy from downtown had more than 38,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
CONCERNS OVER SAFETY, SECURITY
Ottawa Police Service announced Friday morning that 150 more officers will be deployed in downtown neighbourhoods in a “surge and contain strategy” and will increase enforcement of “all criminal acts related [to] hate, harassment, assaults, intimidation and mischief” through intelligence operations and investigations, including into those who are funding the protests.
“Every unlawful act, including traffic violations, will be fully pursued regardless of origin,” police said in a statement, adding that they are “absolutely committed” to bringing the protest to an end.
“The lawlessness must end,” Police Chief Peter Sloly said in a press conference.
Police will also utilize concrete and heavy equipment barricades to expand and “harden” the perimeter of the demonstration “red zone.”
Ottawa police say they are working with the city to “pull information” together to see whether a court injunction is the right way forward. In addition, police say they are working with the FBI and the United States Department of Homeland Security to investigate online threats from Americans directed at Ottawa.
CTV News has confirmed that Ottawa police have also hired Navigator, an elite and expensive crisis management firm, to help handle the ongoing protest.
In the statement, police warned there will be further disruptions to residents and the organization “continues to strongly urge” protesters to act “lawfully, peacefully and respectfully.”
Protesters build wooden structure in downtown Ottawa park
More serious reports of residents being harassed and threatened with rape and violence for wearing masks or being physically assaulted while walking in their neighbourhoods have caused uproar on social media and led to tense questions between city councillors, the police and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
Public safety analyst Chris Lewis told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday that it’s a “tough balance” for police in ensuring public safety and preventing the protests from escalating.
“Not having it escalate, not having it get violent and not having protesters and or police officers or members of the public hurt is the priority obviously… But there has to be a line there somewhere as to what’s allowed and what’s not,” Lewis said.
He added that the longer protests go on, more arrests will likely have to be made.
Ottawa’s police chief said Friday that officers have already arrested one person who brought a firearm to the protest.
When asked whether Friday’s measures should have been brought in sooner, Ottawa Deputy Chief Steve Bell said “this is an unprecedented protest” and police responded to the convoy like they would any other protest.
“If we knew it would seep into the neighbourhoods, we would have deployed more resources into those communities,” Bell admitted during the press conference.
RCMP TO PROVIDE AID IN OTTAWA
Watson told CTV News Channel on Friday that he welcomed the increase in policing, saying officers need to take a “more aggressive” approach in handling the demonstration by ensuring there are consequences to the protesters’ actions.
“These people are not respecting our communities, and they seem to have no respect for fellow human beings honking their horns all hours of the day and night, setting off fireworks, using racist language to people in our community. It’s just not accepted and the organizers should be ashamed,” Watson said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced late Thursday that the RCMP has approved all requests from the Ottawa Police Service to address the convoy that has taken over the city’s downtown core.
Trudeau previously told reporters that he has no plans to call in the military to help Ottawa police contain or disperse the protest.
Speaking with reporters Friday, Mendicino said Ottawa residents “have a right to expect that the law is enforced” and that the increased police presence is “reassuring.” Despite this, he says “the prospects for confrontation remain high” in the city.
“We’re hearing in Ottawa from people who live here, who work here, who are trying to raise their families, who are trying to get around, is that they can’t enjoy those freedoms,” he said.
Mendicino said that the federal government has been “very transparent” with Canadians about public health measures, including vaccinations.
“We believe that vaccination is the path out of the pandemic, to lift restrictions, to get back to life as normal. Now, as an individual who lives in a democracy, you’re entitled to hold a different view. But what you’re not entitled to do is to not follow the law,” he said.
Obscene slogans spotted at trucker convoy sold on Amazon, Facebook
In a statement, the Parliamentary Black Caucus is now calling for MPs and Senators to take a series of steps in response to the protests. This includes: moving to prohibit the public display of the Confederate flag and the swastika, and disclosing information to police and other financial authorities related to the donations the “Freedom Convoy” has received.
The caucus also wants to see a joint House and Senate study and review take place surrounding the convoy, including the role of police and intelligence services.
“We strongly support the right of Canadians to protest. Regrettably, we believe that this protest became a venue for extremist elements to intimidate Members of Parliament, Senators, and the residents of Ottawa and Gatineau,” said the group in the statement, calling for immediate federal action on their calls.
MORE PROTESTERS COMING
Police expect 300 to 400 more trucks to arrive in Ottawa this weekend, along with up to 2,000 people on foot and roughly 1,000 counter-protesters, based on intelligence information.
Police are asking the counter-protesters not to come downtown this weekend, saying they don’t want that to be another dynamic in the crowd.
A tractor convoy is being planned from Alexandria to Ottawa on Saturday in support of the truckers, according to a Facebook group with more than 1,900 followers.
Ottawa police say they are looking at closing bridges and highway off-ramps, while incoming protest trucks will be directed to designated parking zones outside the downtown core. Illegal parking by demonstrators could result in bylaw enforcement, removal and impound.
Similar convoys are allegedly being planned elsewhere this weekend, including in Toronto and Quebec City. Winnipeg police are also bracing for a demonstration at the Manitoba legislature Friday.
Some Toronto hospitals say they are tightening security around their sites and suggesting that workers wear plain clothes when coming into work this weekend, for fear they may be targeted by protesters.
In Quebec City, protesters are preparing to start demonstrations Friday afternoon in front of the National Assembly, which is being guarded by officers with the Sûreté du Québec.
In anticipation of the protest, heavy equipment barricades were strategically stationed on roads leading to the legislature to prevent trucks from parking in front of the building.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said the group has a right to protest as long as it’s peaceful, however, there will be zero tolerance for unlawful behaviour.
Speaking during a federal COVID-19 briefing Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos sought to remind protesters of recent amendments to the Criminal Code regarding intimidating or obstructing health-care workers and patients from giving or receiving health-care services.
“The House of Commons passed a law just earlier in 2021 putting severe criminal sanctions for those that are intimidating and threatening health care workers,” Duclos said when asked about the protests.
“Not only are they looking after thousands of Canadians being hospitalized because of COVID-19, but also looking after many other thousands of Canadians that, every day, require hospitals and other health care services. I would invite all health care workers to report any such incident to their police force.”
With files from The Canadian Press, CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello, Christy Somos, Ben Cousins and Daniel Otis