Ottawa mayor declares state of emergency for Covid trucker protest

·5 min read

The mayor of Canada's capital declared a state of emergency Sunday to deal with an unprecedented protest that has seen truckers shut down Ottawa's core for more than a week over Covid-19 rules.

Dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” the demonstration has seen hundreds of truckers block city streets, blaring their horns and disrupting traffic. But the protest has also drawn backlash over alleged harassment as well as the presence of Confederate flags and flags bearing swastikas.

While the protest began in opposition to vaccination mandates for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, it quickly evolved into a rallying point for opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government and the coronavirus measures it has imposed. And it has drawn support from U.S. Republicans, too.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement Sunday that the demonstration posed a "serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents."

Watson said the city needed "support from other jurisdictions and levels of government" to help respond.

Image: Truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa (Lars Hagberg / Reuters)
Image: Truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa (Lars Hagberg / Reuters)

He did not provide details on what measures it might impose itself under its emergency declaration.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, a third-place faction nonetheless crucial for passing legislation, on Monday called for an emergency meeting of Parliament.

"The country is in crisis," Singh tweeted.

In a letter to Speaker of the House of Commons on Monday Singh said Ottawa has been "under siege."

"Not only have these convoys impacted people in their homes, they have also resulted in symbols of hate being promoted, sacred memorials being vandalized, local citizens being harassed, and healthcare workers being intimidated," Singh wrote.

At a morning news conference Monday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said officers were "close to their breaking point" responding to what he described as an occupation of the capital's downtown area.

"It has to stop," the chief said.

Since Ottawa police launched a strategy called "surge and contain" Friday, it has arrested 20 people, some for mischief, issued more than 500 tickets, including allegations of criminal code and conduct violations, and towed or seized an undisclosed number of vehicles, Sloly said.

More than 100 Highway Traffic Act and other Provincial Offence Notices had also been issued, including for excessive honking, driving the wrong way, having alcohol readily available, and having the improper class of driving license, police said.

Open investigations were also looking into alleged hate crimes, thefts and property damage, the Ottawa service said.

In an attempt to thwart truckers who block city intersections, authorities are seizing fuel. The police service warned anyone attempting to bring canisters to drivers downtown could be subject to arrest and charges.

Ottawa residents have shared accounts on social media of being afraid to leave their homes and facing sleepless nights as truckers blare their horns through the night.

“They and their children have not been able to sleep,” Sloly said Monday. “They and their children have not been able to go to school.”

Sloly pleaded for increased government funding so his service could continue its "offensive" on the demonstrations. The Ottawa City Council was scheduled to discuss the matter Monday afternoon.

At the same time, the chief said, enforcement has worked, correlating to a "significant decrease" from weekend to weekend of the number of trucks and protesters disrupting life in the capital.

He said last weekend's protest included an estimated 3,000 trucks and 10,000 to 15,000 protesters. At the latest weekend demonstration there were roughly 1,000 trucks and 5,000 protesters, the chief said.

Image: Truckers Protest Vaccine Mandates In Cities Across Canada (Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)
Image: Truckers Protest Vaccine Mandates In Cities Across Canada (Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

Organizers of the "Freedom Convoy" have said they will not leave Ottawa's core until vaccine mandates in Canada have ended.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials have said they too will not back down.

On Sunday, Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada had already "put the question of vaccines and vaccine mandates on the ballot" in the country's 2021 election.

"We’re simply carrying out the promise that we made with the support of the vast majority of Canadians,” he said, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mendicino said the federal government was also fulfilling a request from Ottawa's mayor for "more boots on the ground," with members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police assisting local and provincial authorities in responding to the demonstration.

"I'm very concerned about the various reports that we've heard from Ottawa residents," he added. "We've heard about threatening and intimidation and the spread of hate. We've seen Confederate flags and swastikas flying on (Parliament Hill.) That's absolutely unacceptable."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also condemned the scenes unfolding in Ottawa's core, branding demonstrators a "small fringe minority" of society.

Trudeau and other Canadian officials have repeatedly stressed that around 90 percent of truckers in the country have been vaccinated, in line with the nearly 90 percent of Canadians who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

In a recent nationwide poll conducted by Abacus Data, a polling and market research firm based in Ottawa, 68 percent of respondents said they felt they had “very little in common with how the protestors in Ottawa see thing."

While many Canadians have condemned the demonstration, it has gained some support within and outside of Canada's borders, with former President Donald Trump sharing praise for protesters at a rally last month.

Trump weighed in on the protest again on Friday, this time taking aim at Trudeau. He branded the Canadian prime minister a “far left lunatic" and said he supported efforts to bring the 'Freedom Convoy' to Washington, D.C.