The City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency Sunday afternoon in response to ongoing protests in the downtown core, while Mayor Jim Watson described the situation in the nation’s capital as the “the most serious emergency our city has ever faced.”
Watson said the declaration will help Ottawa Police get the supplies and equipment they need faster.
“The state of emergency gives our staff and our city a few extra tools to speed up things like procurement,” he said in an interview with CBC News Network on Sunday evening.
“We’re in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced, and we need to cut the red tape to get these supplies available to our police officers and to our public works staff.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Ottawa police announced they would ramp 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.
Ottawa Police issued a statement late Sunday saying that seven people had been arrested and more than 100 tickets had been issued. The force said 60 criminal investigations were underway, mostly for mischief, theft, hate crimes and property damage.
Shortly after announcing that Ottawa Police would be cracking down on the protesters’ fuel supply, one of the protest organizers said they would find a way around the police action.
On Sunday evening, dozens of heavily armed police officers descended on the baseball stadium parking lot on Coventry Road in east Ottawa that’s been serving as the staging for the protesters operating in the downtown core.
Protesters said police removed the fuel that was being stored there to supply trucks parked in the city centre.
Snipers stood guard on the roof of the stadium and hotel, on either side of the parking lot, as police moved and protesters yelled, “shame, shame.”
The Ottawa Police Service issued a statement shortly after the action saying that two people were arrested at the Coventry Road site for mischief and that “multiple vehicles” were seized.
City solicitor David White told city councillors on Saturday that the declaration of a state of emergency “does little” in terms of legal authority and does not give more power to Ottawa police.
A local state of emergency will, however, allow Ottawa to work more efficiently to manage essential services and make procurement more flexible, the city said.
Provincial legislation grants mayors powers during an emergency to make orders “not contrary to law to implement the emergency plan of the municipality and to protect property and the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the emergency area.”
City yet to ask for military aid
The state of emergency and increased police action represent significant changes in the response to the chaotic situation in Ottawa — where demonstrators have become entrenched in the city’s downtown core.
Amid increasing resident anger, police said on Saturday that they lack the resources to end the protest, now in its 10th day.
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.”
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 and the park was fenced off.
Government response in question
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.
Organizers for the protest maintain 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 it has developed into a larger demonstration against public health measures related to the pandemic.
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 a Christian fundraising site. As of Sunday morning, organizers had received more than $2.5 million US in donations on that site.