Emergency in Ottawa over ‘out of control’ truckers’ protest
Truck drivers have paralysed the city centre in a protest that began over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency to help deal with an unprecedented 10-day occupation by protesting truckers that has blocked much of the centre of the Canadian capital.
“[This] reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” Watson said in a statement on Sunday.
Watson, who complained earlier in the day that the demonstrators outnumbered police and were in control of the situation, did not give details of what measures he might impose.
The protesters, who first reached the capital on January 29, have parked their trucks on city streets and put up tents and temporary shacks, paralysing the capital.
The self-styled “freedom truck convoy” began as protests by truck drivers angry with vaccine requirements for crossing the US-Canada border, but have evolved into broader protests against COVID-19 health restrictions and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Some protesters were seen waving Confederate or Nazi flags and insist the action will continue until COVID-related restrictions are lifted.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Sunday that the government would not back down on the issue.
“We put the question of vaccines and vaccine mandates on the ballot … in the  election and we’re simply carrying out the promise that we made with the support of the vast majority of Canadians,” he said on CBC television.
Amid residents’ fury at the lack of an official response, Ottawa police relocated some protesters and put up fresh barricades on Sunday, saying they are “collecting financial, digital, vehicle registration … and other evidence that will be used in criminal prosecutions”.
They also announced they would clamp down on people attempting to bring in canisters to refuel the hundreds of large trucks blocking most roads in the city centre.
In an emergency meeting on Saturday with Ottawa officials, Police Chief Peter Sloly complained that he lacked the resources to end what he called a “siege”, and asked for reinforcements.
Some 250 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal force, are due to arrive in the city soon.
“This group is a threat to our democracy,” City Council Member Diane Deans said of the protesters on Saturday. “What we’re seeing is bigger than just a City of Ottawa problem, this is a nationwide insurrection. This is madness.”
The truckers’ protest has attracted support from many Republicans south of the border, including former President Donald Trump, and found financial support through GoFundMe.
“Canada-US relations used to be mainly about solving technical issues. Today Canada is, unfortunately, experiencing radical US politicians involving themselves in Canadian domestic issues. Trump and his followers are a threat not just to the US but to all democracies,” Bruce Heyman, a former ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama, tweeted.
Heyman said: “Under no circumstances should any group in the USA fund disruptive activities in Canada. Period. Full stop.”
There have been similar demonstrations in the cities of Toronto, Quebec City and Winnipeg.
A group of about 30 big trucks blocking a major road in Quebec City left the area over the weekend after being warned they would face fines.
The protest organisers promised to return in two weeks, once the ongoing Quebec Winter Carnival was over.