Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is giving no sign he’s willing to negotiate with the protesters occupying Ottawa who are demanding either an end to all vaccine mandates or a change in government.
The protest, now almost a week old, started in opposition to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. It has since expanded into a movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including provincial vaccine mandates, masks and restrictions.
During a Thursday press conference, Tamara Lich — the woman behind the now paused GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $10 million to support the protest — insisted protesters plan to stay in the city until their demands are met.
“Let me assure the people of Ottawa that we have no intent to stay one day longer than necessary. Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right, ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms,” she said.
“We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination.”
One organizing group, Canada Unity, is demanding that government leaders either repeal the mandates or “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority immediately.”
On Wednesday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said policing alone might not be enough to end the protest.
“This is a national issue, not an Ottawa issue,” Sloly said. “I am increasingly concerned there is no policing solution to this.”
When asked if he’d ever consider negotiating directly with the protesters to get them to leave, Trudeau said that vaccine mandates were debated in detail during the September federal election.
“That is the decision Canadians took in the last election, by voting for parties that were supporting those mandates,” he told a virtual news conference Thursday.
“So having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a non-starter in a responsible democracy.”
On Wednesday, Sloly said the city is considering various options to end the disruption caused by the convoy protest — including requesting military aid from Ottawa, direct negotiation, a court injunction or the forced removal of protesters. All approaches on the table, he said, come with risks.
Daniel Minden, spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand, told CBC News Wednesday night that the Canadian Armed Forces are not currently involved in law enforcement in Ottawa and have no plans to get involved.
“One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military forces in situations engaging Canadians. It is not something that anyone should enter in lightly,” Trudeau said Thursday.
“But as of now, there have been no requests, and that is not in the cards right now.”
Sask. Conservatives call for dialogue
The protest has picked up international support but it’s also causing frayed nerves in the city, as protesters continue to sound their horns and disrupt traffic at all hours. Protesters’ vehicles are restricting access to downtown Ottawa, causing the closure of businesses and service centres, a COVID-19 vaccine clinic and an elementary school.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday residents are being held “hostage in their own homes.”
Watson called on a handful of Saskatchewan politicians — including former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer — to apologize for publicly praising the “illegal action” of protesters.
On Wednesday, Saskatoon-Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh posted a picture to Twitter showing himself, Scheer, Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Rosemarie Falk, Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan MP Fraser Tolmie and Sen. Denise Batters posing at the protest.
Waugh defended the visit, saying more politicians should meet with the protesters.
“We don’t need tow trucks out here moving these people out. We need dialogue. We need dialogue from (Ontario Premier Doug) Ford provincially, Watson and most importantly, the Trudeau government,” he said.