More Canadian cities brace for truck convoy protests

OTTAWA — A protest in Ottawa last week led by truckers against pandemic measures in Canada that has paralyzed the nation’s capital since...


OTTAWA — A protest in Ottawa last week led by truckers against pandemic measures in Canada that has paralyzed the nation’s capital since then was set to expand on Saturday with the arrival of hundreds more trucks. Police and officials in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, and Quebec City, the capital of that province, have prepared for similar protests.

What started as a convoy of trucks and cars that left the province of British Columbia to protest a vaccination mandate for cross-border truckers has turned into a general protest against pandemic restrictions and a series of protests. other political causes, including opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Police expected 1,000 to 2,000 protesters to gather in Ottawa on Saturday, along with 300 to 400 trucks.

While a number of people had arrived on foot by midday, the crowd size remained well below the police estimate of 8,000 a week earlier. At noon, there were no obvious signs of heavy trucks pouring into downtown, although a number of pickup trucks displaying full-size Canadian flags were driving through downtown.

Workers were blocking some major downtown roads with concrete barriers on Friday as part of a new “surge and containment strategy” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly announced. “The wave will deliver a clear message to protesters: lawlessness must end,” he said. “Our goal is to end the protests.”

While there were no serious injuries or uncontrolled violence associated with the protests, they nonetheless paralyzed downtown Ottawa with traffic, noise and complaints of harassment.

“I get hundreds – and I’m not exaggerating – hundreds of emails saying, ‘I went out shopping, I was yelled at, I was harassed. I was followed in the street, I’m so scared that I won’t be able to get out,” said Catherine McKenney, city councilor for the area, Thursday afternoon.

Across the region, scores of businesses were shut down in the past week, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost sales. Those that stayed open struggled to enforce provincial mask rules.

About 200 to 250 trucks have remained downtown since last Saturday’s protest, their drivers honking their horns frequently. Supporters delivered diesel fuel to truckers, who piled firewood in parks and built a small wooden canteen next to a canal that serves as a popular skating rink in winter.

Despite freezing temperatures on Saturday morning, a band performed on the street outside Parliament Hill under a Canadian flag hanging from a large construction crane. Many people marching towards the protest greeted each other with raised fists and cries of “freedom”.

Many downtown Ottawa residents have expressed frustration over the city’s police for not aggressively putting down the protests. Chief Sloly, who initially declared his force’s work a “success”, on Friday acknowledged growing frustration with his department’s approach.

“I understand that there is a wide range of opinions on the effectiveness of our efforts to date, but we have done our best to keep this city safe,” he said during an interview. press conference. “We must do better, we are committed to doing better.”

Chief Sloly said heavy machinery would be used to close streets and freeway exits to downtown, and the five bridges crossing the Ottawa River to Quebec could be closed.

In Toronto, protesters plan to congregate in malls before converging on the Ontario Legislature, which is in a downtown area that’s also home to several major hospitals. On Friday morning, Toronto police blocked off parts of the area with buses and barricades.

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer told a news conference that police would not allow protest vehicles to park around the legislature and warned that anyone trying to interfere with access to hospitals or emergency services “will be strictly enforced”.

Farm tractors that had parked near the Legislative Assembly on Friday as part of the protest had been removed on Saturday. Late in the morning, there were only small groups of protesters, many carrying Canadian flags around their shoulders, gathered in front of the Legislature and in an adjacent park. A handful of counter-protesters carried signs supporting healthcare workers.

On Friday, the first protest trucks began arriving in Quebec from other parts of the province. Protesters found that several streets were already closed for the city winter carnival, a major tourist event which also kicked off on Friday.

There were only five heavy trucks parked near the provincial legislation Friday afternoon, as several pickup trucks bearing Canadian and Quebec flags drove around.

In a nearby parking lot, the police were in discussion with protesters in a dozen vans. Protesters said they had already been kicked out of four other parking lots by police officers and that police were making it difficult for them to open their large canteen trailer so they could get warm and eat.

Bruno Marchand, the city’s mayor, said he was confident in the police’s ability to maintain order, noting that the city faces 100 protests a year.

“If they have a cause, they should do it with respect. It’s the only way to be listened to and understood,” he told reporters. “Otherwise the police will have to do their job.”

Officials in several other cities said they expected truck protests over the weekend, including in Vancouver. Kennedy Stewart, the city’s mayor, told would-be protesters they were not welcome in the city.

“As the mayor of a city with over 95% vaccination, my message to the convoy is this: Vancouver doesn’t want you here,” he wrote on Twitter. “Make your point, then go home.

Through GoFundMe, some of the organizers raised C$10 million, or about $7.8 million, but the online service only handed out about $1 million. On Friday evening, he said in a statement that after speaking with policehe wouldn’t make any more money.

“We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful protest has turned into an occupation, with police reports of violence and other illegal activity,” GoFundMe said.

Ian Austen reported from Ottawa, and Vjosa Isai of Toronto. Peter Black contributed reporting from Quebec City.



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