Military response to Ottawa protest ‘not in the cards’, says Trudeau

Police patrol a barricade as vehicles block downtown streets as truckers and supporters continue to protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates in Ottawa on February 3, 2022.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says sending the military to the streets of Ottawa to help resolve protests against pandemic restrictions is ‘not in the cards’ as police grapple with how to end the protests insoluble manifestations.

Trudeau said there have been no formal requests for military aid so far, but the federal government will consider appeals from the city or province. Protests have caused major disruption in Ottawa over the past week, and now cities across the country are bracing for protesters to arrive on their streets.

“You have to be very, very careful before deploying the military in situations involving Canadians. This is not something anyone should enter lightly, but so far there have been no requests and it is not planned at this time,” Trudeau told reporters during of a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday evening that the RCMP has approved additional officers requested by the City of Ottawa who will assist local police. He did not specify the number of officers requested.

Thousands of protesters descended on Parliament Hill and surrounding streets over the past weekend, with trucks and cars honking and protesters shouting “freedom”.

Large trucks blocked major intersections and protests forced many downtown businesses to close. Police estimate between 8,000 and 15,000 protesters were downtown on Saturday. That number has been drastically reduced to hundreds, but police expect more people to arrive this weekend.

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Trudeau also made it clear Thursday that there would be no changes to federal vaccine requirements and that he would not negotiate with protesters. He said in the last election that Canadians voted for parties “that supported those mandates.”

“So having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different route and put in place an alternative government is a no-start in an accountable democracy.” He said protesters harassed people who wore masks and displayed hateful symbols of genocide and racism, calling it “absolutely unacceptable”.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is not considering a request for military assistance to deal with the Ottawa protests, spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said. She pointed to Defense Minister Anita Anand’s statement on Thursday on Twitter that the military is “not a police force” and that the prime minister has no intention of getting involved.

In Toronto, a convoy of transport trucks is expected to arrive at Queen’s Park this weekend. Mayor John Tory said in a statement that he cannot direct police enforcement, but has “made it clear to Chief James Ramer that we must do everything we can to avoid the type of situation that Ottawa residents and businesses are currently facing.

Mount Sinai Hospital in the city’s downtown area emailed patients on Thursday to tell them that in an effort to keep patients safe, it is moving all online appointments from Friday until to Monday at the end of the day. City hospital workers have reportedly been warned against wearing clothing identifying them as working in the health sector.

In Quebec, the authorities reinforced security measures around the Legislative Assembly in anticipation of the arrival of vehicles and demonstrators.

In Alberta, the state of protest in Coutts is changing. Dozens of vehicles remained Thursday on Highway 4, just north of Alberta’s most important border crossing with the United States. A secondary protest erupted Wednesday evening at the police barricade, 14 kilometers north of the original protest site. Thursday afternoon, about 200 vehicles had gathered there. According to the RCMP, protesters are letting commercial vehicles pass through both protest sites, allowing people access to the border.

Meanwhile, other convoys in Alberta were on the move. A southbound parade of tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles stretched for miles on Highway 2 Thursday afternoon. A small group of vehicles and tractors were traveling on Highway 3 between Lethbridge and Fort Macleod. It was run by tractors with banners declaring the mainstream media the “enemy”. By mid-afternoon, a small convoy—again led by tractors—went down the south end of Deerfoot Trail, one of Calgary’s main thoroughfares.

In Ottawa, protests have entered their seventh day with protesters demanding an end to pandemic restrictions and refusing to leave until those demands are met. Trucks line the streets, honk and block intersections. Residents say they feel like they have been held hostage in their own town.

Protesters began building a wooden structure in Confederation Park and were storing fuel there Thursday afternoon. The park is across from City Hall and along the Rideau Canal.

A spokesperson for the National Capital Commission, which manages federal lands, said the NCC is aware of the situation and is working with Ottawa Police and the Ottawa Fire Department “to request help to secure the site”. Valérie Dufour later said that after “we worked to ensure the removal of the propane and diesel canisters earlier in the day, more canisters were brought to the site later this afternoon”.

She said they had notified the Ottawa police and were asking for their help in removing the cartridges again.

Tamara Lich, who created the GoFundMe fundraising campaign that has raised more than $10 million, told a news conference on Thursday that the COVID-19 mandates have been divisive. The GoFundMe account is currently on hiatus and under review by the company.

Ms. Lich, from Alberta, is one of the founding board members of the Maverick Party. The party focuses on the independence of Western Canada. She said she intended to stay in Ottawa, like many other protesters, until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“Our movement has grown in Canada and around the world because ordinary people are fed up with mandates and restrictions in their own lives,” said Ms. Lich.

She said protesters were calling on all levels of government to lift mandates and restrictions and protests would continue until they see a detailed plan for their elimination. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has shown leadership in his province in this regard, she said.

Ms Lich said no member of the federal, provincial or municipal governments spoke to them directly and instead portrayed the protesters as “racists, misogynists and even terrorists”.

Over the weekend, some protesters held up signs with swastikas, Confederate flags and other symbols of hate. Protesters danced on the National War Memorial, harassed staff and volunteers at a homeless shelter and walked without masks in the few businesses that remained open.

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On Wednesday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said his department is aware of a significant element of the United States who has been involved in funding, organizing and protesting at the center. -town.

Phil Green, the owner of a gymnasium in downtown Ottawa, said he opened his doors this week like other businesses after the lifting of the province-mandated closures due to COVID-19. He said he had no option to stay closed as he had bills to pay.

Some businesses have decided not to open, he said. He noted that in a retail store, anyone can enter, creating the potential for crowds and harassment related to mask-wearing.

“Fortunately, we don’t really have to deal with it,” Mr Green said. “We can pretty much keep our doors locked at all times.”

He said his main concern was the safety of his staff and gym members. Some were comfortable going in and some weren’t, he said.

With reporting by Jeff Gray and The Canadian Press

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