Ottawa mayor says ticketing, towing protesters could incite them

Ottawa mayor says ticketing, towing protesters could incite them-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Police officers on horseback ride on Sparks Street one block away from Wellington Street, where vehicles have been parked to protest COVID-19 rules, Jan. 31, 2022. (Daniel Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says the threat of violence has been too great to actively force convoy protesters, and their vehicles parked in and around downtown Ottawa, to leave.

Road closures and vehicle arrivals started Friday, swelling to an estimated crowd of 8,000 people Saturday, according to police. About 3,000 people rallied around Parliament Hill Sunday, according to the city’s emergency and protective services manager.

Attitudes range from the small percentage of truckers who don’t want to get the two COVID-19 vaccine doses now required to cross the Canada-U.S. border, to people who want all COVID-19 rules withdrawn and government leaders to resign, to people accused of violence, harassment, racism and homophobia.

The crowds and large vehicles have restricted access to downtown Ottawa, closing businesses, service centres, a COVID-19 vaccine clinic and an elementary school. Horns have honked in protest for parts of four days over neighbourhoods where tens of thousands of people live.

Some organizers say the goal is to create a logistics nightmare for the government and force it to act. They haven’t said when the protest will end.

On CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, Watson repeated his call Monday for protesters to stop disrupting the city and go home, but said the city is taking direction from police. Leadership has to weigh if stepping in will cause a “flare-up.”

“The [police] chief … has to assess almost on an hour-by-hour basis: by intervening in this particular street or this particular area, is it going to cause more harm than good, and is it going to throw gas on a fire?” Watson said.

“I know the public says, ‘Just get in there and ticket,’ but police officers are being swarmed … We have to use judgment and common sense.”

Ottawa police said Sunday they had made one arrest and were investigating a number of incidents, including threatening behaviour, public mischief and dangerous operation of a vehicle.

For protesters who want to leave the city, Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said officers want to help ensure they do it safely, and then see who lingers, and why.

Protest Ottawa-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A man who removed the tires from a pickup truck stands in front of West Block on Parliament Hill as a rally against COVID-19 restrictions continues in Ottawa for a fourth day. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Watson, who is not running for re-election this fall, said he wants to know why the National War Memorial didn’t have more protection and how trucks were allowed to park in residential areas.

“I asked … why you can’t start ticketing [on Queen Elizabeth Driveway], it’s far enough away. And they said they’d get on their CB [radio] and there would be another 20 truckers there smashing down the barricade.”

‘Colossal amount of disrespect’

The president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association told Ottawa Morning hotel staff were calling police “all the time” about problems like violence and vandalism during a “brutal” weekend.

“There’s a colossal amount of disrespect from this group,” said Steve Ball.

“There were some very good, compliant people — not so much on the [mask rules] — but those few that took it to the degree that they take it to caused some employees to go home, several hotels stopped selling reservations.”

Ottawa-Milenio Stadium-Canada
In this photo taken using a drone, vehicles from the protest convoy are seen parked on the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway leading to downtown Ottawa on Sunday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ball said verbal abuse of staff happened at most local hotels over the weekend and people who were not there for the protest complained about noise, parties and people being sick in the hallways.

Asked about people from the protest staying into the week, Ball said many protesters who checked out from hotels this past weekend had booked again for this coming weekend.

Premier’s 1st comment

Local politicians, including Conversative MPP Lisa MacLeod, are telling protesters to “please go home,” while the office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford released its first public comment on the convoy on Monday morning.

“The right to peaceful protest is core to our Canadian identity,” the statement said.

“I was extremely disturbed, however, to see some individuals desecrate our most sacred monuments and wave swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance this weekend. That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever.”


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