Cities across the country are bracing for protests against public-health measures this weekend as police began clearing the blockade in downtown Ottawa after weeks of disruption in the capital.
Smaller demonstrations were expected in Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, rural Saskatchewan, and Edmonton, part of a wave of unrest directed at vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions that has included blockades of international bridges and inspired similar protests globally.
Quebec City has given more powers to its police force in anticipation of a planned “festival” against health rules in front of the National Assembly this weekend.
Mayor Bruno Marchand said Wednesday that two new municipal regulations were adopted by the city’s executive committee, giving police the ability to control traffic, parking and street closings in the city, and reinstating a ban on outdoor cooking and consuming alcohol in parks and public spaces.
Quebec City police issued 170 tickets and made three arrests during protests in early February. Organizers have promised the second protest will include entertainment, musical performances and meditation sessions.
Mr. Marchand declined the organizers’ invitation to speak with them this weekend. He warned of police enforcement if protesters break the law.
“We can’t set up stages all over town,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday. “We cannot create a new festival without having the permits, without also having the necessary support. So the police department will have to judge what is acceptable based on the protest.”
Toronto police continued to deploy more uniformed officers in the city’s downtown and kept roads around the Queen’s Park area closed “out of an abundance of caution,” spokesperson Connie Osborne said.
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Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency last week in response to the convoy protests occupying downtown Ottawa and blockading the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. That crucial trade link was reopened early this week after a large-scale police operation, and on Friday the Premier promised it would remain open.
“We aren’t going to allow people to block $700-million of trade every single day, affecting almost every single company that does business within the U.S., the auto sector, the farming sector, every widget that goes back and forth,” he said on Friday. “There’s absolutely no way that people are going to go there and block a trading corridor like the Ambassador Bridge. It’s unacceptable.”
In an effort to end the largest protest of the so-called freedom convoy, hundreds of police officers arrested demonstrators at encampments and blockades in downtown Ottawa on Friday, while towing away trucks that have been blocking city streets for weeks. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government invoked the federal Emergencies Act on Monday for the first time in the law’s history in an effort to end weeks of gridlock in the capital and at border points.
Several convoy organizers were arrested on Thursday and Friday, while an Ontario judge froze millions of dollars raised for the protests, both signs that authorities were stepping up efforts to end what Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called an “illegal occupation of our capital.”
The protests have already prompted former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly to resign amidst criticism of how he handled the crisis. Related demonstrations have sprung up from Montreal to Coutts, Alta., where Mounties arrested 13 and seized a cache of firearms at a border blockade, leading to three charges of conspiracy to murder.
Police forces in Winnipeg and Edmonton expect demonstrations in their cities to flare up this weekend.
Amarjeet Sohi, Edmonton’s mayor, said in a statement Friday morning that he, like many other residents, is tired of the convoy protests that have disrupted the city on recent weekends. He said Edmontonians deserve to enjoy their weekend and should feel safe doing so.
He said he heard from local business owners who faced harassment when they asked people to put on a mask, from young families and seniors living downtown who are exhausted by constant honking, and from people who were harassed because they chose to wear a mask.
“While I respect the right to peaceful protests, it is clear that these convoys are not that,” reads the statement.
Last week, the city was granted an injunction for excessive noise, especially targeting the horn-honking. But Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee said at a press conference Wednesday that the injunction didn’t grant police any more power than they currently have through existing bylaws.
In Surrey, B.C., a protest has been taking place near the Pacific Highway border crossing for weeks. Surrey RCMP spokeswoman Vanessa Munn said enforcement actions were taken Monday night and 12 protesters were arrested; since then, a very small number of peaceful protesters have remained on the sidewalk.
– with files from The Canadian Press, Oliver Moore, Xiao Xu, Ntawnis Piapot and Globe staff
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