Date: Tuesday, February 8, 2022
Source: The Wall Street Journal
OTTAWA—Police in the Canadian capital are trying to prevent protesters who have parked an estimated 500 heavy-duty trucks in the downtown core from obtaining fuel, food and other supplies in a stepped-up effort to end the 11-day demonstration against Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
Ottawa police were more aggressive in tactics over the weekend, as local politicians demanded an immediate end to the protest, organized by a group named Freedom Convoy 2022. The protest has clogged up traffic in the city and upended residents’ day-to-day lives. Protesters have vowed to stay in the capital until all governments in Canada drop mandates related to Covid-19 vaccination, as well as other economic and social restrictions.
Among the new measures is the arrest of protesters and their supporters who attempt to ferry fuel and food into the main demonstration zone.
Police said officers on Sunday night seized thousands of liters of fuel from a camp where truckers have assembled outside the downtown core. Video emerged on social media that showed protesters yelling at the officers, with at least two of them carrying rifles.
“We are going after the fuel,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said Monday at a press conference. “We are turning up the heat every way we possibly can.”
A representative for protest organizers, in a video broadcast on Facebook, said the removal of fuel “was an unnecessary, misguided, and aggressive show of force” designed to intimidate protesters. “This protest can only be resolved through political dialogue, not police action.”
Canada’s public safety minister, Marco Mendicino, ruled out dialogue on Monday. “We cannot allow an angry crowd to reverse the [policy] course that continues to save lives…. This should never be a precedent for how to make policy in Canada.”
Police said that over the weekend they issued more than 500 tickets to protesters, for excessive honking, use of fireworks and consumption of alcohol in public spaces, among other things. A judge with Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice issued an order on Monday, valid for 10 days, that prohibits protesters from blaring air horns on their trucks.
Among the Group of Seven economies, Canada has the highest share of its population, at over 85%, either fully or partially vaccinated for Covid-19, according to University of Oxford’s Our World in Data. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who won re-election this past fall in part on a mandate to implement vaccine mandates, has referred to the protesters as a “small fringe minority of people” who hold “unacceptable views that do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other” during the pandemic.
Chief Sloly said the city plans to request from the federal and provincial governments 1,800 law-enforcement officers to help bring an end to the protest. The Ottawa police force employs roughly 1,200 officers.
Previously, Chief Sloly and other officials said their approach was to avoid escalating tensions with the protesters and ensure a peaceful demonstration. That approach changed late last week given an unwillingness among protesters to leave and sharp criticism from politicians and citizens.
“We’re just fed up with what we’ve been seeing in our city,” said Chris Ducas, an Ottawa resident who last week organized a small protest with friends in front of the city’s police station, demanding more action from officers. “I wanted to let the police know that they have lost all credibility with the people of Ottawa. I do not trust them.”
The protest against vaccine mandates, led by truckers and their supporters, has forced businesses to close, frayed residents’ nerves and strangled swaths of the city’s core. Representatives for the Freedom Convoy said Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal government crossed a line by imposing last month a vaccine mandate on Canadian truckers who ferry goods across the U.S.-Canada border. The U.S. has also banned unvaccinated Canadian truck drivers from entering the country.
Late Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the city. The declaration doesn’t give the mayor or police any special powers, such as imposing a curfew. Rather, the move is an administrative step, which allows the city to enter into formal talks with the federal and provincial government for additional help, and allows city officials to forgo the regular procurement process to purchase materials required, such as equipment for the police.
“We will do everything in our power to take back the streets of Ottawa,” Mr. Watson told a city council meeting Monday.
“Part of the mayor’s strategy is to starve us out,” Tom Quiggin, a former military intelligence officer who is helping protest organizers, told an invite-only press briefing Sunday that was broadcast on social media. The Wall Street Journal didn’t receive an advisory for the event, and other local media weren’t allowed to attend.
“The mayor is going to subject protesters who are here to demand freedom to collective punishment, because he doesn’t like it…I think he’s gonna find himself in legal trouble and political trouble in the next little while,” Mr. Quiggin said.
Protest organizers had raised more than $10 million through donations on the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe, which they said would be distributed to truckers in Ottawa. Late last week, GoFundMe said it shut down the organizer’s money-raising drive, citing evidence that the peaceful protest had become an occupation, and would distribute refunds to donors.