After nine days of noisy and chaotic disruption, Ottawa’s mayor declared a state of emergency as major cities across the country were hit over the weekend by protests opposed to vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions.
With no end in sight to the protests in the country’s capital, Ottawa police announced that they would begin arresting anyone who attempted to bring material aid, such as fuel, to the protesters, some of whom have set up camp in the city.
On Sunday evening, police stepped up their attempt to choke off the protest’s supplies by removing fuel tankers from a support centre set up by demonstrators in a baseball-stadium parking lot in Ottawa’s east end. Two people in that area were arrested for mischief, adding to the more than 60 criminal cases opened since protests began, most of which involve allegations of mischief, theft, property damage or hate crimes, the department said in a press release Sunday evening.
Mayor Jim Watson said the emergency declaration would allow greater flexibility for the city and businesses to provide essential services for residents and more easily purchase equipment required by front-line workers and first responders.
“Declaring a state of emergency reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” he said in a statement.
In Toronto, officers, police SUVs and municipal buses blocked all vehicular traffic into Queen’s Park Circle and nearby hospitals, forcing protesters to enter the grounds of the provincial legislature by foot and cluster in a park. The protests abated Saturday night, but police kept certain roads closed Sunday to try to minimize further disruptions.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, counter-protesting cyclists briefly stopped a convoy from entering the city’s downtown before it occupied an intersection in the main shopping district.
Police in Edmonton estimated that a protest around the Alberta legislature included as many as 2,000 vehicles. And RCMP in that province said Sunday that they continue to engage in traffic enforcement at a protest in Coutts, where demonstrators are partly blockading a critical border crossing, leaving one traffic lane open in each direction.
In Quebec City, dozens of trucks and thousands of protesters gathered at the provincial legislature, where “free hugs” were offered by some demonstrators who said they were unvaccinated. A smaller group returned Sunday, before police ordered them to disperse the fourth day of protests in the city by 5 p.m.
And in Winnipeg, a man is in custody after allegedly driving his vehicle into a group of protesters outside Manitoba’s provincial legislature Friday night. Winnipeg Police Constable Rob Carver said in a news conference that the man hit four people, and that it doesn’t appear that the accused was participating in the protest, or that he was motivated by it. The man is facing charges, including assault with a weapon and dangerous operation of a conveyance.
In Ottawa, there is increasing frustration among residents, and the mayor said the situation is out of control. The protests have seen trucks block streets and their occupants blow their horns through the day and into the night. There have been reports of confrontations, some physical, with members of the public.
Police said they were issuing tickets to hold protesters accountable, with citations for such offences as driving a motor vehicle on a sidewalk and stunt driving. Police also said they were working with Canadian, U.S. and international security agencies to investigate e-mail-based threats to public officials.
Heading into the weekend, police in the city announced a “surge and contain” strategy, sending 150 officers, some uniformed and others in plain clothes, to protect central Ottawa neighbourhoods.
“Demonstrators exhibited extremely disruptive and unlawful behaviour, which presented risks to public safety and unacceptable distress for Ottawa residents,” police said in a statement.
Since Saturday, police said they had issued more than 450 tickets for various offences.
On Sunday, shortly before the municipal state of emergency was declared, four main protest organizers described Ottawa’s approach to their demonstration to date as a lot of bluffing and posturing.
At a hotel-room news conference that barred reporters from large media outlets, the quartet did say that the enforcement had now escalated to the point where they must find workarounds to powering their encampment, because police are targeting people carrying even small jerry cans of fuel.
Tom Quiggin, a self-described “intelligence officer” for the demonstration, said protesters don’t want a physical confrontation with the authorities, but the organizers said they are willing to get arrested for their beliefs.
“What I could tell would happen if there was a physical attack? I’d suspect you’d see thousands of people come to Ottawa bringing trucks, farm equipment, whatever saying ‘no,’ ” Mr. Quiggin said, according to a livestream of the conference posted on social media.
Still, relations with police have been cordial throughout their time in the capital, he said, noting that “90 to 95 per cent” of interactions with officers have been “super positive.”
A day earlier, Police Chief Peter Sloly characterized his force as frazzled at a special meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board, noting that every available Ottawa police officer was currently working, either on the protests or other duties elsewhere in the city.
“This is an unprecedented situation, but we have learned from our experience and, yes, our mistakes and we’re committed to doing better,” he said. “However, the strains on our officers and the strains on our organization are showing,” he said.
Back at the east-end protester support centre, a main tent sheltered rows of tables and a fully equipped kitchen that was serving pizza for lunch on Sunday. Other tables were filled with food, toiletries and other supplies. Portable generators provided electricity.
Tents were fully stocked with food, toiletries and other necessities that organizers said had been donated by supporters. So much material arrived that organizers temporarily stopped accepting such donations.
There were portable toilets and three portable saunas sometimes used for meetings. The support centre offered refuelling services that appeared to consist of wagons filled with jerry cans. Both diesel and gasoline are available. There was also space for rigs to park.
Some truckers who formed the core of the protest slept in their cabs; others, including voluntary supporters, used hotels or home rentals. Some had been put up in the homes of people in the area. A shuttle service connected protesters to homes and business in the region, allowing access to showers, washrooms and laundry.
Chris Barber, one of the protest’s core organizers, preached non-violence on social media Sunday afternoon as he raised concerns about reports that a trailer full of rubble was sitting in downtown Ottawa. He asked supporters who come across it to hide the rocks with a tarp, intimating that “higher powers at play right now” may want these potential projectiles used to turn the occupation violent.
“Don’t play into the hands of this stuff, guys, this is exactly what they want,” he said Sunday on the TikTok video platform. “The only way out of this with the government right now is for us to turn it into a Jan. 6-style insurrection – we’ve made them look so stupid right now, so stupid – so please don’t play into that.
“We have gotten so far, we don’t want it tainted by anything silly right now.”
With reports from John Ibbitson in Ottawa and The Canadian Press
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