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‘Everybody is at a breaking point’: Police board seeks more help as protest strengthens


“Our city is under siege. This group is emboldened by a lack of enforcement by every level of government.”

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As thousands more protesters and flag-waving trucks added to the chaos for a second weekend in Ottawa, the city’s police board pleaded with the provincial and federal governments to help bring what has become a siege to a peaceful end.

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During a special meeting Saturday afternoon, board members suggested emergency legislation and curfews could help end protests that have shut down the city’s core as heavy trucks and machinery blare horns and supporters party on streets and in parks.

“We have to use every tool available in order to bring this to a peaceful close and get our city back. Everybody is at a breaking point,” said police board member and councillor Carol Anne Meehan.

Ottawa residents who say they have been intimidated by some protesters and terrorized by the constant blare of horns began to push back, in court and on the streets. A $9.8 million class-action lawsuit on behalf of a 21-year-old resident living close to the protests was filed Friday and has been adjourned until Monday.

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Meanwhile, some 300 protesters, with signs saying “We don’t want you here” and “We will not be held hostage in our own city”, gathered to express growing anger with the situation. They faced off across Laurier Avenue in front of city hall against convoy protesters on the other side of the street. A line of police officers stood between the groups.

Despite warnings that it was not safe to do so, counter-protesters said they are fed up and feel powerless and unsafe.

“I just want the trucks to leave. I want the freedom to move around the city without feeling scared,” said a protester who carried a sign that read: “Ottawa against hate.”

Organizer Mackenzie Demers said the “complete lack of action from the city and complacency from the police” brought hundreds of people out to vent their growing frustration.

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On Saturday, Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney said little has changed despite the police surge announced Friday that brought 20-25 additional officers to Centretown.

“By all accounts, this has made no difference,” McKenney said. “The harassment and illegal activities continue with impunity.”

Resident frustration was shared by members of the Ottawa Police Services Board.

“People are expressing frustration because they are not seeing any results,” said Meehan. “To hear we need legal advice on what can be done to clamp down on some of the behaviours is baffling. There is criminal behaviour. Have we gone in and arrested the people who are causing trouble at night? If we could see some concrete things happening, maybe we wouldn’t be so frustrated.”

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Board chair Diane Deans said the city is under siege.

“We are in day eight of this occupation. Our city is under siege. This group is emboldened by a lack of enforcement by every level of government.”

Police officials acknowledged they weren’t prepared for what has become an occupation with no end in sight.

“I don’t think we could have predicted what this has turned into,” Deputy Police Chief Trish Ferguson said during the special meeting, held as noisy protests and counter-protests continued for an eighth day. “This is unprecedented. There has never been a protest that has turned into an occupation like this Canada.”

Police officials said they have now cancelled all vacations and brought every available police officer in to deal with the situation. Two hundred and fifty RCMP officers were brought in during the weekend as well as officers from a handful of other forces.

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Police said they have received 400 calls for service directly related to the protest and have more than 50 criminal investigations underway, including 11 hate crime investigations. Seven charges have been laid.

The special meeting came midway through an extraordinary day in the capital, in which a carnival-like atmosphere inside the red zone with dancing, children and bouncy castles clashed with a menacing tone with stockpiles of gasoline and fiery rhetoric from protest leaders.

Speaking outside the gates to Parliament Hill, Randy Hillier, a former Conservative MPP for Lanark who was kicked out of caucus and now sits as an independent, whipped up the crowd with references to Canadians fighting on Vimy Ridge.

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“I’m telling everyone and I’m telling that coward in his cottage,” Hillier shouted, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and motioning to Parliament behind him, “this is the hill we die on.”

While the crowd of protesters had dwindled through the week to just a few hundred, the demonstrations swelled Saturday to about 5,000, police Chief Peter Sloly told the board. There were an estimated 1,000 vehicles at the rally, including hundreds of tractor trailers and convoys of farm vehicles that converged on the city from every direction.

One of the demonstrators rode through the crowd on horseback, carrying a Trump 2024 flag.

Despite a promised police strategy  of “surge and containment,” downtown residents complained of continued lawlessness.

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Speaking at the police board meeting, Ferguson described watching officers pull over and ticket a driver for blaring his horn.

“If we were dealing with reasonable people, this is a deterrent,” Ferguson said. “But these are not the type of people we’re dealing with.”

McKenney vowed to continue to call for the federal government to assume control in the Parliamentary Precinct so that Ottawa police can turn their attention to residential neighbourhoods. Until then, McKenney said, “nothing will change.”

“This will allow Ottawa police to focus on protecting our neighbourhoods, residents and businesses from the violent and intimidating acts of harassment, destruction and noise that we are currently experiencing every day.”

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The class action lawsuit was adjourned to Monday because lawyers for the protest organizers said they needed more time to prepare a defence, while saying the truckers themselves had reached an accord to silence their air horns from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Later in the day, Paul Champ, the lawyer for the plaintiff, posted a video on Twitter offering to drop the lawsuit if the truckers were gone by Monday at 10 a.m.

READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE TRUCKER PROTEST:

Trucker protest noise may lead to ‘chronic annoyance and distress’

Truck convoy: Protest supporters move quickly to new fundraising website

Truck convoy: Police close more roads; harassment ‘continues with impunity,’ McKenney says

Counter protest to take to the streets this weekend

Ottawa police expecting more trucks, protesters and counter-protesters over the weekend

UPDATED Trucker convoy: Cities across Canada mobilize as anti-mandate protests spread

NCC deciding what to do about protest spread, and kitchen shack, around Confederation Park

‘An occupation’: GoFundMe pulls plug on fundraiser for convoy protesters

‘We have to pay rent’: Downtown businesses brace for another weekend of protest pandemonium

Answers to your most common questions on the Ottawa truck protest

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