Trucker convoy protests continue in cities across Canada

OTTAWA —
It was just before Christmas that the Christ Church Cathedral closed in-person services amid the rise in COVID-19 cases so congregants didn’t have to choose between going to church or seeing their families.

Beth Bretzlaff, the church rector, said the cathedral was supposed to open on Sunday for the first time since mid-December as provincial restrictions eased. Instead, the lines of trucks clogging the downtown core, and protesters occupying streets, cancelled reopening plans because, Bretzlaff said, it wasn’t safe to bring parishioners into the area.

The so-called Freedom Convoy rolled into the nation’s capital last weekend, and while some people went home over the course of the week, participation surged anew, with police estimating that thousands were part of the weekend crowd.

Similar scenes played out in other parts of the country on Sunday, though on a smaller scale than the day before when thousands of people opposed to pandemic-related restrictions congregated in cities from coast to coast.

Halifax police Const. John MacLeod said hundreds of trucks and cars made their way through the downtown core Sunday and caused quite a backlog, but officers were working to clear that out. He said the situation has been peaceful with no incidents to report.

Ontario Provincial Police closed part of Highway 402 running to the border crossing between Sarnia and Port Huron, Mich., as a safety precaution because of pedestrians on the highway near a convoy of trucks and tractors.

Ontario’s solicitor-general praised police’s handling of thousands of protesters in Toronto, but noted in a statement that Ottawa police “continue to express concerns about their ability to manage the ongoing occupation in their city.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also weighed in, saying the province has backed Ottawa during the nine-day protess that critics have branded an occupation.

“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 in a tweet.

A swell of 250 RCMP officers bolstered police presence in Ottawa on Sunday. Ottawa police said more than 450 tickets have been issued to demonstrators since Saturday morning for excessive noise, red light violations, driving a vehicle on a sidewalk and setting off fireworks, among others.

Almost 100 criminal investigations were underway, including cross-border investigations into what the Ottawa police said were “email-based threats to public officials.”

Police also said on Sunday that anyone trying to bring items like gasoline or supplies to protesters and the 500 vehicles downtown could be arrested.

Horns continued to echo through much of the city’s core on Sunday, mixed in with the rumbling of semis and shouts of freedom. Protesters lined up at tents on city streets where hot meals and drinks were being handed out.

Organizers had said they planned to keep the honking silent for Sunday prayers, but that faded early in the morning.

As trucks snaked through cramped intersections, the doors to several churches downtown were closed. Like the Anglican cathedral, nearby St. Patrick Basilica made the decision Friday to close over the risk of civil unrest.

Online services fed any spiritual needs for a city whose elected officials have voiced frustration at how things have played out amid warnings from the chief of police that the situation won’t end soon.

Sometimes what’s needed is a bit of faith in good governance, good policing and people being responsible, Bretzlaff said.

“Let’s let the people that need to deal with this deal with this, and support them and watch out for each other,” said Bretzlaff, whose title is the very reverend, but often goes by “Dean Beth.”

The church doors have stayed closed all week, and staff inside have politely declined to let protesters inside to use washrooms. Bretzlaff said the church even received a call from the United States with someone asking clergy to go out and pray with the truckers.

The encampment in Ottawa has been a hot topic among some Republicans in the United States, with more than a few members of congress supportive of former U.S. president Donald Trump making a point of expressing solidarity with the protesters, and in some cases, there pointed disdain for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday decried a decision by fundraising platform GoFundMe to cut off donations to the convoy organizers, which the company said it did because of police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.

Appearing on Fox News on Sunday morning, the Canadian-born Cruz said he wrote to American regulators to see whether GoFundMe had engaged in deceptive trade practices before praising those in Ottawa and elsewhere.

“They are patriots and they are marching for your freedom and for my freedom,” he said.

Despite the decision by GoFundMe to cancel the main fundraiser for the convoy, dozens of others are on the website and similar fundraising platforms aimed at helping either individuals, or the group overall.

– With files from Liam Casey, Allison Jones, Kevin Bissett, Mia Rabson, and James McCarten

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2022.

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