'All options are on the table' to end truckers' protest: Ottawa police chief

Published Jan. 31, 2022 4:00 a.m. ET
Updated Jan. 31, 2022 5:38 p.m. ET

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Ottawa’s police chief says “all options are on the table” to bring the ongoing truckers’ protest in downtown Ottawa to an end.

Chief Peter Sloly said Monday that police have seen a significant decrease in the number of truckers and protesters downtown, but the protests have been “fluid, ever-changing and increasingly more difficult to manage.”

The ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests against COVID-19 vaccination mandates and other public health measures have caused gridlock downtown and major headaches for area residents and business owners.

But Sloly said Monday that things could be much worse.

“It could have led to significant and severe injuries, and it could have led to the loss of life,” he said. “None of that has occurred over the last four days.

“No riots, no injuries, no deaths. That is a measure of success for any jurisdiction in Canada, and quite frankly anywhere in the world.”

Police are continuing to negotiate with organizers in an effort to end the demonstrations, he said.

“All options are on the table, from negotiation through to enforcement,” he said.

Sloly said the estimates for the number of people downtown for the demonstrations range from 5,000 to as many as 18,000 people. By Monday afternoon, several hundred vehicles had departed the downtown core, police said.

Criminal investigations underway

Police said they have 12 investigations underway into various allegations, including bribery, threats, assault and dangerous driving.

Sloly said police are creating a hotline for hate incidents in the next 24 hours, and vowed to prosecute anyone who committed crimes while they were here.

“No matter where you live, no matter where your vehicle’s registered, if you’ve come here and committed a crime, if you have committed a hate crime, you will be investigated,” Sloly said. “We will look for you, we will charge you, if necessary we will arrest you, and we will pursue prosecutions against you.

Watson: ‘You’ve had your moment’

Mayor Jim Watson said the city is “doing everything possible to bring this to an end peacefully,” and said the protesters had worn out their welcome.

“You’ve had moment, your 15 minutes,” he said. “Time to move on, give back our city to our residents and you go on your way to your community.”

However, he stopped short of saying police should take enforcement measures to remove the demonstrators.

“I get a lot of emails and tweets, why don’t you just end in the tow trucks, send in the parking control people?” he said. “We’re not interested in inflaming the situation.”

“The last thing we need is to have some behaviour that creates a mini-riot. We don’t want that to happen. We don’t want to see bloodshed.”

A chorus of other politicians, including the prime minister, are also strongly condemning the behaviour of some protesters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he and the government will not be intimidated, indicating no plans to engage with the demonstrators.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and frankly, disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capital,” Trudeau said during a national address from the National Capital Region.

“I want to be very clear, we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers, and steal food from the homeless. We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. We won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”

Speaking earlier on CTV News at Noon, Watson said had strong words about some of the behaviour witnessed over the weekend.

"You see the despicable behaviour of some of these thugs that go down to the Shepherds of Good Hope and demand free meals, taking meals away from the homeless," he said. "So, their credibility is shot."

The mayor also pointed out that thousands of residents live in downtown Ottawa, and called out the disruption to people's everyday lives caused by the remaining protesters.

"All of these areas have been impacted because some idiots decided to park their big diesel trucks, spewing diesel all night, honking their horns, their kids can't get to bed—how would you, as a trucker, like this to happen in your neighbourhood? You'd be outraged."

Watson said there are plans in place to ensure the protest does not drag on, but he noted that he could not direct police, nor share operational information.

"In all my briefings, it's been very clear that there are contingency plans, that this thing is not going to go on for weeks. My hope is that we start to see significant return of these vehicles to their hometowns in a couple of days," Watson said.

"It should have ended a long time ago. They've made their point. They had their rally. They embarrassed themselves with some of the actions of some of the people in the crowd, but it's now time for them to go home and allow our community to regroup and rebuild, particularly given the fact that we're still in the midst of a pandemic."

Premier Doug Ford said he was "extremely disturbed" to see people "desecrate our most sacred monuments and wave swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance this weekend."

"That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever," he said.

Ford did not urge the protesters to go home, but his top Ottawa cabinet minister did. Lisa MacLeod tweeted that "the residents and families of Ottawa need to return to work and school."

"To the protestors remaining - you’ve been heard - please go home."

Many of the measures demonstrators are rallying against, such as mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements, lie under provincial jurisdiction.

Protests force ongoing closures

The protest and traffic disruptions have forced the closure of the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa, the Centretown Community Health Clinic and the Ottawa Public Library Main and Rideau branches for the day. Centennial Public School on Gloucester Street is also closed for in-person learning.

Canada Post warned of a "yellow mail delivery service alert" for Ottawa on Monday, saying, "we are going to do our best to deliver, but there may be delays ... due to road closures in the downtown core and related traffic issues."

The Rideau Centre remains closed on Monday.

The "Freedom Convoy" began arriving in Ottawa on Friday as part of a cross-country campaign to protest new vaccination rules at the Canada-U.S. border and other public health restrictions. On Saturday, thousands of trucks, vehicles and people packed Parliament Hill and downtown streets, forcing the city to declare the entire area was full of vehicles.

Throughout the weekend, people have carried Canadian flags and signs around downtown Ottawa saying "Make Canada Free Again!", "No More Vax Pass", "We Support Truckers", "Freedom to Choose", "Freedom Not Fear", and "Freedom for All."

A few protesters were seen carrying flags and signs with hateful imagery such as a swastika. Several people carried large flags with "F*** Trudeau" or wore or carried signs that featured a yellow star.

"We have seen multiple cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour from demonstrators," police said Sunday evening.

Police say investigations are underway into the desecration of the National War Memorial, the Terry Fox statue on Wellington Street and "threatening/intimidating behaviour to police/city workers and other individuals."

"We're looking at a number of issues that have taken place over the last 72 hours. We're prepared to do investigations, gather intelligence, do investigations and pursue charges against individuals who commit crimes in the city, instigate violence," said Chief Sloly Sunday evening.

"We've had very, very minimal actual events of violence and criminality, given the circumstances that we were facing coming into Friday, Saturday and so far today. The likelihood of large-scale violence and criminality was extremely high, given where we are right now there's been a measure of success but there's a lot more work to be done."

Ottawa police estimate the price-tag for policing the demonstration is more than $800,000 a day.

Watson stopped short of saying police should issue tickets or begin towing the trucks.

“I think what we have to do is allow police to do their jobs so it doesn’t turn into a bigger issue with greater violence.”

But he said he has asked city staff to look into whether the city can tap into the protesters' GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $8 million, to cover those costs, though he admitted it "may be a longshot."

“It shouldn’t be up to Ottawa taxpayers to pay for the kind of disruptions we’re facing right now,” he said.

Rocks, racial slurs hurled at Ottawa paramedic

Protesters threw rocks at an Ottawa ambulance and yelled racial slurs at a paramedic, an operations commander with the paramedic service said.

The incident happened on Saturday when the paramedic was en route to his post. He had exited on Highway 417 when rocks were thrown at the vehicle from the direction of a large truck with a banner on it.

When the paramedic got out to check the damage, the protesters were screaming racial slurs at him.

The paramedic was shaken, but uninjured.

Two other ambulances had rocks thrown at them on St. Laurent Boulevard by protesters who were trying to make their way downtown Saturday, but were blocked off by emergency crews.

The operations commander also debunked an online rumour that someone in Ottawa had died over the weekend because of delayed ambulance response times due to the gridlock downtown and associated road closures.

“We investigated it and it did not happen. We did not have a delay that generated a death. That’s not true,” she said.

- with files from Josh Pringle, CTV News Ottawa


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