Ottawa police launch ‘surge and contain’ strategy to manage protesters

A trucker speaks with a police officer-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A trucker speaks with a police officer on Wednesday as protests against COVID-19 rules continue in Ottawa. Ottawa police have launched a ‘surge and contain’ strategy to manage protesters, leading into what’s expected to be another weekend of noisy protests. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Ottawa police say they’ll increase their presence and further restrict access to the city’s downtown to control what’s expected to be another weekend of noisy protests, but they warn the situation remains volatile and dangerous.

In a Friday morning news release, police said the new “surge and contain strategy” means there will immediately be about 150 more officers dedicated to patrolling central Ottawa neighbourhoods and enforcing laws — as they’re being broken or by getting evidence to act at a later, safer time.

It also means more heavy barricades to manage traffic and more intelligence work with provincial and national help to lay charges, including against those planning and funding illegal activity.

Details on the road closures are coming later Friday. Interprovincial bridges and highway ramps could again be closed, police say, and people coming into the city to protest are being sent to parking lots outside the core.

Police Chief Peter Sloly said in a Friday news conference police are moving to isolate and contain people inside the “red zone” on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill.

Ottawa police launch surge and contain strategy to manage protesters-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Truckers refuel in front of West Block on Parliament Hill as a rally against COVID-19 restrictions continues in Ottawa Feb. 1, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

“The demonstrators in the red zone area remain highly organized, well-funded [and] extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstration safely,” Sloly said.

“This remains, as it was from the beginning, an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration.”

He said he and other unnamed city officials have received death threats in the last two days that are under investigation.

Crowd size intelligence

Deputy chief Steve Bell said Friday their intelligence suggests 300 to 400 more trucks, 1,000 to 2,000 more protesters and up to 1,000 counter-protesters could come downtown for the weekend. He asked counter-protesters not to come.

Those numbers are likely to decline again starting Monday, Bell added.

On Tuesday, police said only 250 protesters remained downtown. Police did not offer a vehicle count then, but said Friday that “thousands” of trucks had come last weekend and that number had declined as the week went on.

Bell said in hindsight, they didn’t expect these numbers of trucks in residential areas and would have done more to steer them away had they known.

There is still no timeline for removing all trucks, Sloly said Friday.

He said the effects on vulnerable people in the city have been heartbreaking, citing an example of two people living at a YMCA near police headquarters that stopped to talk to him outside the station earlier this week.

“They expressed their frustration and their fear. They also expressed their understanding for the incredibly difficult job we are doing and the work we have done to support them thus far,” Sloly said.

“I understand there is a wide range of opinions around the efficacy of our efforts to date but we have done absolutely the best we can to keep this city safe, to keep residents like that safe.

“We need to do better, we’re committed to doing better and we now have more intelligence and allies to do better.”

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