Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lashed out on Monday at protesters occupying Ottawa, accusing them of interfering with the country’s ability to function and reminding them that the pandemic has “sucked” for everyone, not just them.
During an emergency debate in the House of Commons, Mr. Trudeau urged the protesters to go home and said their demonstrations have crossed a line. He said he would offer the province and the city all the resources necessary to deal with the situation, but proposed no specific ways of ending the protest, already in its 11th day.
“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The people of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighbourhoods. They don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask.”
He called for patience through the latest wave of COVID-19 and said “pandemic restrictions are not forever.”
“This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” he added, “but Canadians know the way to get through it is to continue listening to science, continuing to lean on each other, continuing to be there for each other.”
The late Monday comments were the Prime Minister’s first on the protest since Thursday. Throughout Monday, opposition parties had accused him of hiding and failing to lead.
Over the weekend, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency, saying the country’s capital was “out of control.” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has said the city is “under siege.”
The demonstrators’ demands vary from person to person. Their calls include the removal of the elected government and an end to all pandemic restrictions. The protest has halted traffic in downtown Ottawa, forced businesses to close and led to at least 20 arrests and dozens of criminal investigations.
Following Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen told the Prime Minister that as a result of his leadership Canada is “more divided than ever.”
The Conservatives are the only major federal party to closely ally themselves with the protests, which began as a challenge to vaccine mandates for truckers. Interim Leader Candice Bergen has called them “passionate, patriotic and peaceful.”
However, a handful of caucus members have started to break with the party position. On Monday, Conservative MP Michael Chong became the latest to do so.
People in Canada enjoy the fundamental freedom to protest, he said, but not to blockade.
“Canadians do not have the right to harm other people or to interfere with the freedoms of their fellow citizens. And while freedoms are fundamental, they are not unlimited,” he said.
Just before Mr. Chong spoke in the House, Ms. Bergen rose to question the Prime Minister on his remarks. She told him that as a result of his leadership, Canada is “more divided than ever,” and she asked Mr. Trudeau to meet with other party leaders and the protest’s organizers to chart a solution to the country’s divisions.
“Does he regret calling people names who didn’t take the vaccine? Does he regret calling people misogynist and racist and just escalating and poking sticks at them and being so divisive to individual Canadians?” she asked.
Mr. Trudeau didn’t directly answer her, but said that he did not see the same divisions.
“This is a story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united, and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” he said.
The federal government has imposed a series of vaccine mandates on air travel, border crossings and other federally regulated sectors, but many of the rules limiting people’s participation in society are set by premiers.
Manitoba Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said the government needs to explain when restrictions will be lifted.
“Those people don’t want to be here. They want to be working, but that right was taken away from them,” she said, referring to the protesters.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh triggered Monday’s emergency debate and led off discussions in the House of Commons. He reminded MPs that the world’s eyes are on the Group of 7 capital as it grapples with an occupation that is “not a peaceful protest.”
Mr. Singh slammed the overall government response to the protest.
“Effectively, all three levels of government have essentially told Canadians, and the people in Ottawa particularly, that you’re on your own.”
The NDP Leader said Mr. Trudeau should meet with officials from municipalities affected by protests, start an investigation into the foreign funding of the Ottawa protest, lay out a plan to get out of the pandemic, and address cost-of-living concerns that have been amplified by the health crisis.
“The federal government has claimed that they’re outraged, but ultimately their answer to this problem, like so many others, is to say it’s not their job,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Singh joined some Liberals on Monday in rejecting a call from Mr. Watson for the Prime Minister to appoint a mediator to negotiate with the protesters.
“Meeting with folks that want to overthrow a democratically elected government – I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Singh said.
On Twitter on Monday, Ontario Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith flatly rejected the mayor’s proposal, with a solitary “no.”
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