Ottawa police have ramped up enforcement on protesters in the city’s downtown core, handing out tickets and announcing that anyone looking to bring “material aid,” such as fuel, to protesters could be arrested.
“Enforcement is underway,” the Ottawa Police Service tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
It represents a significant change in the police response to the chaotic situation in Ottawa — where demonstrators have become entrenched in the city’s downtown core, setting up structures and securing supplies of food and gas.
Amid increasing resident anger, police said on Saturday that they lack the resources to end the protest, which began about eight days ago.
Politicians have also increasingly denounced the protest over COVID-19 public health restrictions, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and others calling it an “occupation” and the head of the Ottawa Police Services Board referring to it as an “insurrection.”
While we cannot direct the police, we have provided the city of Ottawa everything they have asked for and will continue to provide whatever support they request.
Ford said on Sunday that his government was supporting Ottawa in whatever way it could. His office told CBC News the city had not asked the province to request military aid from the federal government.
In a statement, Ontario’s solicitor general, Sylvia Jones, emphasized that politicians cannot direct the police but that discussions were ongoing “to ensure [Ottawa police] have every necessary resource they need to keep their community safe.”
Local, provincial and federal politicians have condemned the protesters’ actions and called for a solution. But what that solution might be remains unclear.
“This group is emboldened by the lack of enforcement by every level of government,” Diane Deans, a city councillor and chair of the police services board, said Saturday.
“We’re giving a signal to everyone coming into town that it’s a free-for-all,” Coun. Carol Anne Meehan said.
More than 650 calls have been made to Ottawa police since the start of the protest, resulting in 97 criminal investigations, police said Sunday. The force said earlier in the week it had opened 11 investigations related to hate crimes and four people have been charged.
Structures in place in Ottawa’s Confederation Park, including a plywood shack and tents, were removed on Sunday after protesters co-operated with police.
Some protest organizers have indicated that they are willing to make some concessions on the noise level. In a discussion over an injunction relating to horn use on Saturday, Keith Wilson, a lawyer representing organizers, said the convoy might be willing to stop the blaring of horns from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
On Sunday morning, the Freedom Convoy group, which organized the core protest, released a statement saying protesters would refrain from honking horns until 1 p.m., “as a gesture of goodwill.” But at least some protesters continued to honk in the morning, and the noise increased in the afternoon.
The group is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit spearheaded by Ottawa human rights lawyer Paul Champ, who on Saturday posted a video statement saying truckers could be excluded from the lawsuit if they leave the city by Monday morning.
Government response in question
Organizers for the protest have said they intend to stay in the city until the federal government lifts all restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though most of those measures were introduced by the provinces.
The convoy began as a protest against a federal vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but has developed into a larger demonstration against public health measures related to the pandemic.
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen called this week for the government to find a solution to the issue. On Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also pushed the government to seek a solution, but he did not provide a clear plan.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview that aired Sunday that he had heard people questioning whether the federal government would meet with protesters.
“We’ve been engaging Canadians throughout the pandemic. We put the question of vaccines and vaccine mandates on the ballot, and Canadians had a right to exercise their vote freely in the last election,” he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Rosemary Barton Live.
“We do need to see that the laws are enforced at the end of the day. We’re a country that is based on the rule of law,” Mendicino said. He also hinted that support may be coming from the federal government for the city or for local businesses that have had to close their doors for the past week due to security concerns.
“I think we are working closely with the city to look at providing some support for those who have been impacted. I know that shops and businesses have been closed, and I know that those discussions are ongoing,” he said.
The protests have also received significant rhetorical endorsements from politicians south of the border, including former U.S. president Donald Trump. Ottawa police say they are aware of American funding for the protests as well.
“This is no place for Americans to involve themselves in these kinds of activities,” Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, told CBC News on Sunday.
The Ottawa police force also noted on Sunday that it is “actively working with Canadian, U.S. and international security agencies … to investigate email-based threats to public officials.”
Finances in flux
On Friday, crowdfunding platform GoFundMe announced it would be stopping payments through the main convoy fundraising page, which by then had received more than $10 million in donations.
The company deleted the fundraising page from its website, saying the protest violates a rule in its terms of service that prohibits the promotion of violence and harassment.
Along with the disruption caused by blockages and noise, protesters have displayed symbols of hate, including the Confederate flag and swastikas.
Convoy organizers have instead pointed potential donors toward the Christian fundraising side GiveSendGo. As of Sunday morning, organizers had received more than $2.5 million US in donations on that site.