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People surround the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians are appalled by the actions of some of the anti-vaccine-mandate and anti-government protesters who are occupying Ottawa and that the Conservatives’ support of the demonstrators shows a lack of responsible leadership from Erin O’Toole.

A cacophony of horns and fireworks spilled out across downtown Ottawa on Monday as demonstrators and their vehicles jammed the streets near Parliament Hill for a fourth day. The protests are increasingly drawing the ire of local businesses, politicians and residents, and made for a tense return to the House of Commons, as it resumed sitting.

Mr. Trudeau said Canadians were “shocked and frankly disgusted” by the actions of some of the protesters, including those who carried signs with swastikas, Confederate flags and other hate symbols. Demonstrators used the National War Memorial as a public toilet, harassed staff and volunteers at a homeless shelter, and traipsed unmasked through the few businesses that stayed open.

“I think Erin O’Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he’s walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers, let alone the vast majority of Canadians,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

“We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small-business workers. ... We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans.”

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The Conservatives have called on Mr. Trudeau to meet with the demonstrators, and continued their messages of support for the protesters, who police say are occupying downtown Ottawa.

Mr. O’Toole did not hold a press conference on Monday but in a video posted to Facebook he said: “Despite the fear mongering of the Prime Minister and others, we only saw a handful of unacceptable incidents this weekend.”

The Conservative Leader added: “And I unequivocally condemn them as a veteran and as a Canadian.”

Police say between 5,000 and 18,000 people descended on the capital on Saturday, marching in and around Parliament Hill and weaving through trucks and other vehicles parked bumper to bumper on the streets nearby. Since then, their numbers have thinned significantly but organizers say they won’t leave until pandemic restrictions are lifted. The majority of measures are decided by each province, not the federal government.

Despite scientific evidence in Canada and from around the world that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, some protesters in Ottawa expressed fear about getting vaccinated or repeated misinformation about the shots.

Mr. Trudeau dismissed the concerns at his press conference, saying the disinformation is a continuation of the conspiracy theories “about microchips, about god knows what else that go with the tinfoil hats.”

“There are some people who choose to reject science,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau said he won’t go “anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric, violence toward fellow citizens and a disrespect not just of science but of the front-line health workers.”

In his Facebook video, Mr. O’Toole said the Prime Minister was dividing Canadians with his comments and “mocked the idea that we should listen to people who are concerned, people who are afraid.”

You show leadership “by listening, not by ignoring,” he said.

Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said the protesters were “passionate, patriotic and peaceful.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Monday called the actions of some people in the convoy of protesters “heinous.”

Mr. Singh also said that Ottawa Police have shown some restraint and de-escalation in the face of the convoy, something that many racialized people wish was shown to them and their loved ones.

“A lot of questions are arising ‘Why now?’ and not in so many other circumstances,” he said. “At the end of the day, I know a lot of people in Ottawa are deeply frustrated.”

Lockdown measures were partially lifted across Ontario on Monday, with restaurants, bars and gyms allowed to welcome clients at reduced capacity. But the safety concerns from the protesters kept most businesses in downtown Ottawa shuttered. One school was also closed.

The protesters who remain say they are here for the long haul. On Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told them their time in the spotlight was up.

“Masks and vaccinations are some of the few tools we have to fight COVID-19,” he said. “But you’ve had your moment or your 15 minutes, time to move on. Give back our city to our residents.”

The police on Sunday estimated that the daily cost for policing the protest was $800,000. The force said it has seen multiple cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour from demonstrators. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said there are several criminal investigations under way, ranging from bribery to assaults and dangerous operation of vehicles. So far, there has been one arrest directly connected to the demonstration.

Police are coming under increasing pressure to explain their approach and next steps as residents and city councillors say illegal acts such as blowing through red lights are not enforced.

Mr. Watson said the police are navigating a difficult situation. “We’re not interested in enflaming the situation,” he said.

Mr. Sloly said the force wants the protest numbers to keep declining but offered no timeline for when that will happen. “Every effort at negotiation and co-ordination, de-escalation, has continued throughout the last four days and will continue until the complete end of the demonstration,” he said.

Complicating those talks is the fact that the organizers do not represent all protesters, Mr. Sloly said.

Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said policing mass protests is challenging and that if they crack down on the many groups organized in Ottawa now, they risk provoking a violent response, which he said is likely the objective for some there.

Prof. Kempa said he guesses police will wait for crowds of “other loosely attached protesters” to clear out before asking trucks to move “because they don’t want to incite any kind of violence or riots and so forth.”

At this point, he said, the police are still outnumbered.

“The police never move on a protest if they don’t have the number superiority to resolve it,” he said, adding that police will often hang back and allow most of the protests to fizzle out before engaging directly.

Mr. Sloly said by Tuesday the police will create a hotline for hate incidents and any offence related to the demonstrations, including threats, assaults and mischief.

Ottawa police say several hundred trucks have left since the end of day Sunday.

With reports from Kristy Kirkup and Ian Bailey.

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