Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ottawa mayor wants more help ‘to take back the streets’ from convoy protest

Ottawa mayor wants more help 'to take back the streets' from convoy protest

Police officers walk past parked tractors, as truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, on Feb. 6.LARS HAGBERG/Reuters

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is appealing to the federal and provincial governments to send nearly 2,000 additional police officers to combat what he describes as widespread lawlessness that local police have not managed to curb, as a street protest against pandemic restrictions continues to occupy the city’s centre.

Also on Monday, an Ontario Superior Court justice granted a 10-day injunction against loud honking from the many large vehicles protesters have brought into the city.

Mr. Watson, who declared a state of emergency on Sunday, wrote to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday requesting more resources “on an urgent basis” to deal with the protest.

The mayor added that 1,800 additional police personnel are required to “quell the insurrection that the Ottawa Police Service is not able to contain,” including 1,000 regular officers, 600 public order officers, 100 investigative officers and 100 civilian staff. He also requested supporting resources, such as cyber investigative capacity, digital and social-media forensics and financial forensics.

“We must do everything in our power to take back the streets of Ottawa, and our parliamentary precinct, from the criminal activity and hooliganism that has transpired over the last nine days,” he wrote.

The protest began last month with a convoy of truckers who oppose vaccine mandates, but has evolved into a broader demonstration against pandemic restrictions. Protesters descended on downtown Ottawa on Jan. 29 and quickly snarled traffic with parked vehicles, some of which have remained in place ever since, fortified by fuel deliveries and other logistical support from participants.

In his letter, Mr. Watson said what was initially described as a peaceful protest has turned into a siege, and that there are currently between 400 and 500 trucks downtown. He said that Ottawa residents are living in fear, and that they have been subjected to non-stop truck horn blasts for days, which he said is “tantamount to psychological warfare.”

Ontario Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean said on Monday that his injunction against use of the horns would be temporary, because he needs to hear more evidence. Lawyer Paul Champ, who has been representing central-Ottawa residents in a proposed multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against the protest’s organizers, argued the honking was causing irreparable harm.

Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, said the office had received the request from Mr. Watson for additional operational resources. Mr. Warner said the request had been shared with the Commissioner of the OPP, who will continue to work with Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly.

Mr. Trudeau said Monday evening during an emergency debate in the House of Commons that the federal government will be there with whatever resources the province and the city need to deal with the protest.

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At a news conference on Monday, several federal cabinet ministers pledged to offer “any appropriate assistance” and suggested a trilateral forum for the city, the province and the federal government to co-ordinate plans. But the ministers also played down the role of the federal government in resolving the situation.

“Our government is confident that the City of Ottawa and the province of Ontario have the tools and the jurisdiction to best respond to this crisis,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc said. “We will continue to liaise with our provincial and municipal partners to put an end to this unacceptable situation.”

Chief Sloo, who is facing mounting criticism from residents amid the continuing protest, told reporters on Monday that his service is turning up the heat on protesters in every way it can. He added that Ottawa police need more resources to respond to the demonstrations.

He said the protest has been devastating for businesses and nearby residents, and that officers are making progress in bringing it to an end. Members of the service, he said, have been working non-stop, with some officers on their 14th day of consecutive 12-hour shifts, during which they have been outside in extreme cold.

On Sunday, Ottawa police announced that they would begin arresting anyone who attempted to bring material aid, such as fuel, to the protesters. In the evening, officers stepped up their attempt to choke off the protest’s supplies by removing fuel tankers from a support center set up by demonstrators in a baseball-stadium parking lot in Ottawa’s east end.

When asked Monday why it took 10 days to confiscate fuel from protesters, Chief Sloly said he wasn’t sure that was an “accurate statement.” He said police have been addressing this issue to the extent that they can. He added that as the service gets access to more resources, it can do more.

“We need to maintain and increase these resources so that we can not just get on the fuel, we can get to the trucks themselves,” he said.

After images of carrying jerry cans past officers near Parliament Hill circulated on social media on Monday, NDP House Leader Peter Julian said it was essential for Ottawa police to act. He said stockpiles of propane tanks and gas canisters have been used meters from where there has been “irresponsible use” of fireworks.

Chief Sloly told local radio station CFRA Monday that next steps for his service could include impounding protestors’ trucks, some of which are parked on the streets near Parliament Hill. When asked about the challenges of enacting that idea, Chief Sloly acknowledged that it would be difficult to find tow trucks capable of removing the vehicles, as well as tow truck operators willing to do the job.

The Ottawa Police Service Arson Unit is investigating an incident that took place in the early hours of Sunday. Police said they could not provide any further details while the investigation is continuing. A downtown Ottawa resident alleged on Twitter that two protesters tried to light his condo building on fire and taped its doors shut.

“Thankfully, no one was hurt,” Mr. Watson told an emergency city council meeting on Monday. “But this story could have ended very, very differently. It is extremely disturbing and points to a desire to harm our residents.”

Regina Bateson, an assistant professor at the graduate school of public and international affairs at Ottawa University, said that the longer the group of protesters are in Ottawa together, the more organized they will become.

“The longer this goes on, the more the folks who are left are quite determined and quite committed,” she said.

Prof. Bateson said that while the public has been surprised to see protesting doing things such as lighting fireworks and bringing in bouncy castles, it is normal for people to celebrate after they succeed at something. “These people have succeeded in taking over downtown Ottawa,” she said.

“I saw the dancing in the street as very similar to people goofing around and taking pictures and sitting in the speaker’s chair after they took over the US capitol,” she said in reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection. “It’s a similar type of behaviour.”

Demonstrators have now solidified relationships with each other, Prof. Bateson added.

“I think that only gives them more resolve going forward.”

With reports from Bill Curry, Robert Fife, Ian Bailey and The Canadian Press

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