Protesters demanding an end to pandemic restrictions refused to dismantle their blockade of Alberta’s most important border crossing into the United States on Tuesday, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford told similar demonstrators in Ottawa to go home on their fifth day occupying the nation’s capital.
Mr. Ford appealed to the protesters who have taken over Ottawa’s downtown core, saying the province and the country have heard their voices, and now it is time to give the capital city back to its residents.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he received reports that people aligned with the border protesters assaulted Mounties. In one instance, someone tried to ram RCMP members, which led to a collision with a civilian vehicle, Mr. Kenney told reporters on Tuesday.
Corporal Curtis Peters later said he was not aware of any assaults against police officers, but rather there was an assault involving two civilians after a collision. He said at one point officers were forced to take “evasive action“ to avoid incoming vehicles, which he described as a dangerous situation.
The protesters near Coutts, about a three-hour drive southeast of Calgary, and in Ottawa want governments to cancel all COVID-19 restrictions, such as vaccination passports and mask mandates. Both groups are using tractor trailers and passenger vehicles to block traffic and impede businesses. The blockade at Coutts, which started on Saturday, has closed the crossing Alberta uses to export meat products, damaging a key part of the provincial economy.
“Without hesitation, I condemn those actions and I call for calm amongst anybody who feels sympathetic to those engaged in this blockade,” Mr. Kenney said.
RCMP told the protesters in Alberta that negotiations were over. Two Mounties met with the group inside the Smuggler’s Saloon, a bar and grill at the barricade.
A Facebook account associated with the convoy said in a brief message that the group wants “freedom,” but otherwise did not comment further. Their lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.
A small number of vehicles left, but most of the group stood firm. The protesters then walked as a group toward the RCMP line, and the Mounties retreated.
Some protesters breached a police barrier to join the blockade, Cpl. Peters said. Two were seen in tractors sporting Canadian flags, racing down a ditch along the highway to get to there.
About 250 people live in Coutts, which is now accessible by only a side road. Fewer than 60 people live in Sweet Grass, Montana. The crossing, however, is an important link with the United States. The U.S. Department of Transportation said 132,073 trucks with loaded containers went through Sweet Grass in 2021, the highest since at least 1996. The Canadian Meat Council noted that with Coutts closed, meat exports must be diverted to Emmerson, Man., or Aldergrove, B.C.
Feed for cattle also comes through the Coutts crossing.
Jacob Bueckert, who runs two feedlots near Warner, Alta. – just north of the border protest – with about 20,000 head of cattle, said after the 2021 prairie drought, farmers have been heavily relying on grain feeds from the United States.
Mr. Bueckert said he has seven to 10 days of feed on hand for his cattle. He said he sympathizes with the sentiment behind the blockade, and noted his brother is among the protesters who descended on Ottawa. “I want the mandates gone. I just don’t think we should starve ourselves and hurt ourselves to do it,” he said. “... I’m not going sit by and watch millions of dollars’ worth of cattle starve because they want to make a point.”
Mr. Bueckert added that given the volume of fresh produce shipped north through Coutts, it might only be a matter of days until western Canadian grocery store shelves are emptied of some products.
In Ontario, the demonstrations against the government and vaccination mandates that began with a truckers’ protest have brought Ottawa’s downtown core to a standstill. Over the weekend, some protesters carried signs with swastikas, Confederate flags and other hate symbols. Demonstrators also urinated on the National War Memorial and went into businesses unmasked.
Businesses that had hoped to resume operations on Monday with the loosening of provincial restrictions remained shuttered in the face of the protests.
While speaking in Ajax, Ont., Mr. Ford said it was time to let the people of Ottawa get back to their lives.
“These business that have been closed for a while now,” he said. “The restaurants want to reopen. So, I get it. I hear you. We have to let the people of Ottawa live their lives.”
Mr. Ford said he has “zero tolerance” for the desecration of memorials. He also called some of the flags being waved around “disgusting.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told The Globe and Mail there is no sense of when an end may be in sight. He said fewer demonstrators were around on Tuesday than on previous days, but many remained on Parliament Hill and the surrounding streets.
“This is not just an occupation of a federal precinct,” he said. “It is an occupation of several distinct neighbourhoods in our city and people are free to protest. But you can’t stay indefinitely.”
Mr. Watson also said public infrastructure has been damaged, people in residential neighbourhoods harassed and kept up all night due to honking of horns, and meals were taken from a homeless shelter.
While some provincial politicians, such as Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, have called for protesters to return home, demonstrators have found support in federal Conservative politicians such as MP Pierre Poilievre, who represents the Ottawa riding of Carleton. Mr. Poilievre said protesters are standing up for their livelihoods.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said several criminal investigations are under way. Two people have been charged with criminal offences connected to the protests, police said on Tuesday.
Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer who is now a crime and risk consultant, said the Ottawa Police are “waiting it out,” which is prudent.
“You don’t want a confrontation,” he said. “That’s the last thing you want.”
Brenda Knight, a board member of the Centretown Community Association in Ottawa and a downtown Ottawa resident, said between noise, diesel pollution from the trucks and firecrackers at all hours, the past few days have been “pure hell” for residents.
“You’re almost a little hostage in your home,” she said. “This is not a protest. In my opinion, this is anarchy.”
Ms. Knight, who is Black and heads the community association’s anti-racism working group, said the presence of Confederate flags and swastikas means people are reluctant to leave their residences.
“Do you know what it’s like for a Black woman to look out the window and see a Confederate flag go by?”
In a statement on Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said the federal government sets aside $15-million over five years – or $3-million per year - to help cover policing costs incurred by Ottawa as the capital city. It said the city has yet to make a formal request for support, as it is still assessing the total costs of the demonstrations.
Catherine McKenney, a city councillor for a ward heavily affected by the demonstrations, wants local police to be redirected back to residential areas of downtown and for the RCMP to take over law enforcement in the Parliamentary precinct.
They said a “handful” of police have been redeployed to the residential neighbourhoods, but more support is needed. The Parliamentary precinct includes the Parliament buildings on Wellington Street, where protesters have centered their efforts and parked trucks.
With reports from Jeff Gray in Toronto, and The Canadian Press
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Editor’s note: Premier Jason Kenney asserted at a news conference Tuesday that a police officer was assaulted by a protester at the Coutts border crossing. An RCMP spokesman confirmed Wednesday morning that the force is not aware of any such assaults. This article has been updated.