Ottawa police investigate desecration of monuments by truck driver convoy protesters

Ottawa police investigate desecration of monuments by truck driver convoy protesters

Trucks are parked on the sidewalk and Wellington Street outside the office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on January 30, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Police in Ottawa say they have launched several criminal investigations – including desecration of national monuments – after thousands of protesters in the city this weekend protested against pandemic restrictions.

The protests, which locked down much of the city on Saturday and Sunday, are expected to continue on Monday as parliament reopens. This prompted a warning from police, which urged residents to avoid the city on Monday and for those living in the city, if possible, work from home.

“The police have refrained from ticketing and towing vehicles so as not to provoke a confrontation with the protesters. Nevertheless, the need for confrontation and de-escalation is routinely required,” the police said in a statement issued late Sunday.

Thousands of convoy protesters descend on Parliament Hill to demand an end to COVID-19 measures

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The nation’s capital was in turmoil over the weekend, as truckers across the country took part in protests and damaged many roads with their rigs. Bus routes had to be redirected and the downtown Rideau Center shopping mall was closed. Several local businesses complained of harassment from rowdy protesters who refused to wear masks or follow COVID-19 guidelines.

Protesters were criticized for parking their vehicles at the National War Memorial and dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Canadians were also shocked on social media after a statue of Terry Fox near Parliament Hill was draped with anti-vaccine mandate signs and a Canadian flag pasted upside down.

Ottawa police investigate desecration of monuments by truck driver convoy protesters

A statue of Terry Fox is draped with anti-vaccine mandate signs and affixed to an upside-down Canadian flag in Ottawa, January 29, 2022.Adrian Wilde/The Canadian Press

The protest was originally meant to include a convoy of truck drivers protesting the federal government’s decision to impose a vaccine mandate on drivers from across the border. But it has since been expanded to demand an end to all pandemic measures. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has condemned the protest.

Canada Unity, the main group behind the truck convoy, said speeches would take place at Confederation Park south of Parliament Hill on Monday.

Ottawa police said the force is working with organizers to facilitate the “safe departure” of people and vehicles. This estimates the cost of policing at over $800,000 per day. The force said it has seen several cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behavior of protesters.

Truck convoy has become more dangerous

Some of the signs branded on the weekend contained obscenities. A handful of protesters carried Confederate flags and Gadsden flags – depicting a rattlesnake with the words “don’t walk on me” – both branded by rioters at the US Capitol last year.

Ottawa police investigate desecration of monuments by truck driver convoy protesters

Trucks stand on O’Connor Street in Ottawa for a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on January 30, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The shepherds of Good Hope, a downtown Ottawa shelter, said its staff and volunteers were verbally harassed when several protesters showed up at the soup kitchen on Saturday demanding that they be served. Some protesters were given food to defuse the situation, but going forward only those who need them will be given food, said the shelter’s president, Deirdre Freiheit.

“We felt compelled to correct misinformation on protest communication channels that we are ‘happy to feed the Patriots’. It was not so,” she said in a statement.

Liberals and the NDP raised concerns about the protest, while some conservative lawmakers participated.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who joined the protests on Saturday, said in a statement later that day that he was not aware that a person “with whom I am not associated” was flying the Canadian flag with a swastika on it. was written. Some distance behind my back” as he did in a television interview.

He said he denounced Nazism and said that anyone who raised the flag with the emblem “should be forever ashamed”, adding that the man did not represent those who acted responsibly, Which was endorsed by Mr. Cooper.

The chief executive of the Israel and Jewish Affairs Center, Shimon Koffler Fogel, condemned the incident. “Twenty-four hours after International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on National Remembrance Day of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, in Canada, on Parliament Hill, Nazi flags are being waved in public. This is terrifying for all Canadians. should,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

On Saturday, a prominent Ottawa-area lawmaker, Pierre Poilievre, posted a video of protesters standing alongside a highway overpass. He said on Twitter that the truck drivers he met were “peaceful, kind and patriotic. I haven’t seen anyone in blackface or other racist costumes.”

Ottawa police investigate desecration of monuments by truck driver convoy protesters

Protesters stand atop a trailer carrying logs in Ottawa on January 29, 2022.Patrick Doyle/Reuters

The disruption was felt in businesses across Ottawa. Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said some hotels were overwhelmed, with fewer than 10 guests a night going by, in some cases, hundreds of people who were ignoring public-health guidelines.

Mr Ball said hotels decided to only request that visitors wear masks and accept if guests refused to comply. “It was impossible for hotel staff to enforce a mask rule,” he said, adding that police were too busy responding to anything other than the most aggressive guests.

A trade union, the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area, said the unruly behavior of masked customers was the main reason business owners decided to close over the weekend. BIA executive director Kevin McHale said some that remained open were packed to capacity. “It was easy for businesses not to implement guidelines on masking and capacity,” he said.

There were some demonstrations in support of the convoy across the country. In BC, several demonstrations took place on Saturday, including gatherings in the legislatures in Vancouver and Victoria.

As of Sunday afternoon, a group of truck drivers with their rigs were blocking traffic in both directions near Coutts, Alta., crossing the border into the U.S. The gathering began on Saturday, when the Alberta RCMP warned of traffic delays.

RCMP spokesman Corporal Curtis Peters said lanes on the north and south sides of Highway 4 were blocked and police on both sides of the border were moving passengers to other routes. Police are concerned about public safety, saying that a volunteer fire department in Couts serves rural properties and communities on both sides of the border and relies on highway access to those locations.

No arrests have been made to date, but police are “exploring all avenues” to resolve the situation, Cpl. Peters said. “Just because charges haven’t been made now doesn’t mean they can’t be made in the future.”

Marsh Duncanson, an Alberta-based commercial truck driver, spoke to The Globe and Mail from near Los Angeles, where he was about to deliver a load of frozen french fries before heading back to Canada with a truck full of fresh produce. He regularly travels through the Couts border crossing.

“I will come from across that border in a few days and want to go home with the produce I am bringing back and see my family,” he said. Mr Duncanson said he was vaccinated and does not support those who oppose the vaccine mandate.

Coutus Mayor Jim Willett said the blockade was affecting commercial traffic between Canada and the United States. “So what they are doing is that they are going to create some more of those shortcomings that everyone was talking about,” Mr Willett said.

With reports from Wendy Steak in Vancouver and The Canadian Press

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