Canada

Ottawa making plans for trucker convoy arrival

As the trucker convoy continues its journey across the country towards Parliament Hill, Ottawa police say they are making plans in the event that the demonstration turns violent, or becomes a “multi-day event.”

“We are planning for a range of potential risks, including but not limited to counter-demonstrations, blocking of intersections, interfering with critical infrastructures, and unlawful and violent activity,” said Ottawa Police Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson.

The deputy chief made this comment during a special briefing of the Ottawa Police Services Board on Wednesday to discuss the police force’s plans related to the demonstration.

Ferguson said that all indications are that “this will be a significant and extremely fluid event that could go on for a prolonged period,” adding that the city is anticipating “significant traffic delays and disruptions.”

During the briefing Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said that plans are still evolving as the convoy of trucks and other vehicles draws closer, but cautioned that truckers could start arriving as early as Thursday and may stick around through the weekend.

“What started out as a single expression, or demonstration through what was called a ‘freedom convoy’ involving vehicles from across Canada over the last several days, and particularly in the last 24 hours, has changed substantially,” Sloly said.

“There are an increasing amount of other interested parties who are considering, if not actually articulating, coming to the nation’s capital and participating in a range of related demonstrations and, in some cases, counter demonstrations,” the chief said. “An event of this duration and nature will have significant operational demands.”

The so-called “freedom convoy” was sparked by outrage over a vaccine mandate recently imposed on cross-border truckers, though the convoy has garnered support from anti-vaccine mandate groups who feel requirements to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other public health restrictions curb their freedoms.

With the intention of taking its “fight to the doorsteps of our federal government,” to demand the mandates end, organizers have said that they are running a peaceful and law-abiding demonstration, and have made recent attempts to distance from some of the concerning messaging being amplified by some who are involved or have claimed to be affiliated with the event.

POLICE MONITORING THREATS

Ferguson told the board on Wednesday that Ottawa police have been in contact with the convoy’s organizers and so far those interactions have been “productive and co-operative.”

Still, some of the online messaging surrounding the event have raised concerns over the prospect of the scene on Parliament Hill becoming dangerous. Facing questions about these concerns, the Ottawa police said it is monitoring any threatening messaging and will be focused on de-escalation and “peaceful solutions” if incidents arise.

Sloly noted that the convoy has been peaceful and lawful as it has passed through cities across Canada, but, within the last 24 hours the Ottawa Police Service has received “a direct threat” to the safety of its officers from a counter-protest source.

Despite some organizers asserting there will be upwards of tens, or hundreds of thousands of participants, the Ottawa police said it is planning for a few thousand attendees. Though, police officials said that the city still doesn’t have a concrete sense of how large the convoy will be, given it has fluctuated in size as it’s crossed the country.

City councillors also expressed concerns during the meeting about downtown Ottawa becoming a “parking lot” for 18-wheelers, resulting in emergency vehicles being unable to move freely, as well as what impacts the event may have on residents who live in the city core.

Police are suggesting locals avoid the area if possible, and have indicated that there will be a large police and emergency services presence in the downtown core, as well as on local roads and highways.

PARLIAMENT HILL SECURITY INVOLVED

Given the House of Commons is not back in session until Jan. 31 and the Senate is not set to resume until Feb. 8— and both are planning to resume under a hybrid virtual structure— it’s unlikely many federal officials will be in the parliamentary precinct when the convoy rolls in.

Still, the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) has told CTV News that it is aware of the planned protest and is “closely monitoring the situation.”

“The Service adjusts its security posture on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct as required,” said the PPS in a statement.

The Ottawa police said Wednesday that it is working with the PPS, the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and other local police forces and national security agencies to gather intelligence ahead of the protests’ apex in the city.

“In conjunction with the RCMP, we will be standing up the National Capital Region command center in order for all agencies to be in direct and real-time communication. Our priority is to maintain the safety of members of our community and participants in these demonstrations,” Ferguson said. 

WHAT IS THE CONVOY’S AIM?

As the convoy makes its way across the country more attention is being put on what the group, or groups who will be showing up in Ottawa are aiming to accomplish once they arrive.

Suggestions have been made that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should end all mandates—despite most public health orders and proof of vaccination systems being provincial responsibilities—or, as some have called for, resign.

A group called “Canada Unity” is backing the convoy and helping to organize support. The group, which says it’s comprised of people who are opposed to “unconstitutional” COVID-19 rules, has recently posted a “memorandum of understanding” to its website that is intended to be presented to politicians on Parliament Hill.

The goal of this document, according to the group, is to see some form of committee, including the Senate and Governor General, struck that could unilaterally revoke pandemic policies.

The belief that this document would be binding or could work to override federal or provincial lawmakers is incorrect. This process would not be able to be used to see the group’s demands met, including their request for the eradication of vaccine passports or the reversals of fines and job losses associated with them.

Because of the way Canadian systems of government are structured, the level of government responsible for a policy has to be the one to reverse or amend it, as University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen has pointed out in an interview with The Canadian Press.

FEDS STANDING BY MANDATES

As the situation continues to unfold, the federal government is standing by its intention to continue the federal vaccine mandates as they apply to truckers, and for Canadian travellers.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has told The Canadian Press that despite the concerns around supply chain issues and trucker shortages, he’s been monitoring the volume of trucks crossing the border each day since the mandate came into effect on Jan. 15 and has seen no measurable reduction in the number of trucks moving goods. 

The prime minister will be concluding a three-day virtual cabinet retreat Wednesday afternoon and will be holding a press conference at 4:30 p.m. EST. It’s expected he’ll face questions about the convoy, how the federal government plans to respond, and what he makes of organizers’ demands. 

With a file from CTV News Ottawa



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