Ottawa mayor declares state of emergency amid anti-government protests

A day after the chief of police in Canada’s capital said his city was “besieged” by thousands of truckers and other protesters angry at ...


A day after the chief of police in Canada’s capital said his city was “besieged” by thousands of truckers and other protesters angry at government policies, the mayor on Sunday said the state of emergency and called for outside help.

“We are in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement. television interview after declaring a state of emergency. “And we need to act much faster and much more proactively to bring order to the streets.”

“Someone is going to be killed or seriously injured because of the irresponsible behavior of some of these people,” warned the mayor.

Across Canada this weekend, thousands of protesters took to the streets for the second week in a row, snarling traffic and disrupting commercial and residential neighborhoods. Truckers, whose cross-country convoy sparked the protest, paralyzed downtown Ottawa and the area around the Parliament Buildings, parking their vehicles at intersections and on busy thoroughfares.

Demonstrations took place in Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec, while convoys of trucks of various sizes gathered near the provincial legislatures of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia.

The protests were first sparked by vaccination warrants for truckers crossing the border from the United States, but have since spread to attract thousands of other Canadian political right-wing protesters unhappy with a mix of issues , including the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The protests are also fueling tensions between the right to free speech and protest in Canada and the imperative of law enforcement to maintain public order.

Mr Trudeau, who is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 last week, called protesters a ‘small fringe minority’ and last week lambasted protesters in Ottawa for desecrating war memorials , brandished Nazi symbols, spread disinformation and steal food from the homeless.

He and his family moved out of their downtown home last weekend, and his location has not been revealed.

Trudeau has repeatedly said that 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, an assessment shared by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a trade group that opposes the protest. What’s more, opinion polls have consistently shown strong support in Canada for public health measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, protesters tapped into the pandemic-related exhaustion, frustration and anger in Canada after months of lockdown and truncated lives.

The atmosphere of the demonstrations this weekend was noisy and generally peaceful, even festive.

But in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, the authorities say they are overwhelmed. On Sunday, the mayor said the city had little choice. The protests have paralyzed downtown with traffic, noise and complaints of harassment, and some residents have said they are afraid to leave their homes.

“Declaring a state of emergency reflects the grave danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing protests,” Watson said in a statement.

Ottawa police have also launched several criminal investigations into the desecration of monuments and other acts that occurred over the weekend when the protests began.

Mr Trudeau has ruled out using the military to break up the protests. But police plan to try and choke off truckers’ diesel fuel supply to stop them constantly idling their engines and clogging the air.

“It’s an absolute disgrace when they bring in bouncy castles, hot tubs and saunas,” Mr Watson said in the TV interview. “Total insensitivity to people experiencing this terrible situation in residential areas.

A councilwoman, Catherine McKenney, spoke last week of being inundated with complaints.

“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 I can’t get out,” the councilor said.

In Ottawa, authorities have warned that loud and disruptive protests pose a real threat.

“It’s a siege – it’s something different in our democracy that I’ve never experienced in my life,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said Saturday. “We do not have enough resources to adequately and effectively deal with this situation” while maintaining routine policing, he said.

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

Other cities were also rocked by weekend protests. In Toronto, Canada’s largest city and financial capital, dozens of cars, vans and heavy trucks were parked along the upscale downtown shopping district on Saturday. Some of the protesters honked their horns and cries of “freedom” rang out.

And in Quebec, dozens of tractor-trailer taxis were parked two deep for three blocks along one of the main thoroughfares downtown, adjacent to the provincial Legislative Assembly. Thousands of people lined the sidewalks, cheering on truckers as they arrived or passed.

Emmet Lindner contributed report.

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