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Presence of children and new demonstrator tactics are complicating police response to trucker occupation, deputy chief says


Moving remaining vehicles, or convincing their drivers to leave, poses a challenge. The owners of some vehicles have taken to removing their wheels or have bled their brake lines, according to Ottawa police, a process that renders the vehicle immobile.

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The presence of children, the immobilization of some protest vehicles and attempts to thwart enforcement of a fuel ban in the downtown core are among the challenges Ottawa police are now facing as they try to end an occupation that is nearing the two-week mark.

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“Many of the remaining demonstrators are highly determined and volatile,” Deputy Chief Steve Bell said during a media availability Tuesday.

Police had so far made 23 arrests, issued more than 1,300 tickets and were conducting 79 criminal investigations in connection with the demonstrations, the service said in a statement later on Tuesday. They had also seized fuel and cut off material, financial and logistical support to the occupation.

Police have warned of arrests and charges for anyone transporting diesel and other fuels to demonstrators downtown who are idling their trucks to keep warm. But protesters are finding ways to bring it in. “They have begun filling gas cans with water, distracting officers or otherwise attempting to subvert our efforts,” Bell said.

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The demonstrators who have occupied the downtown core since Jan. 28 have also shown hostility towards police, Bell said, describing an incident on Monday where officers who tried to seize fuel from demonstrators were swarmed and needed backup. They suffered no major injuries. The Ottawa Police Service had initiated a criminal investigation into the incident, Bell said.

Joey Nault drinks out of a gas can during the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration in front of Parliament Hill, downtown Ottawa on February 08, 2022.
Joey Nault drinks out of a gas can during the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration in front of Parliament Hill, downtown Ottawa on February 08, 2022. Photo by Jean Levac /POSTMEDIA

Fewer trucks are now taking part in the occupation; there were 418 vehicles encamped in the protest “red zone” as of Monday, according to police figures. Police attributed the drop in participation to their “surge and contain” efforts.

But moving remaining vehicles, or convincing their drivers to leave, poses a challenge. The owners of some vehicles have taken to removing their wheels or they have bled their brake lines, according to Bell, a process that renders a vehicle immobile.

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There are also children in approximately 100 of the vehicles. These children could be at risk during a police operation, Bell said. Their presence was concerning, Bell added, because of the multitude of potential risks in the demonstration area, including carbon monoxide poisoning, high noise levels, cold weather and the lack of access to sanitary facilities.

“That is something we need to address,” Bell said. “We’re not at the stage of looking to do any sort of enforcement activity around that. We’ll rely on the Children’s Aid Society for guidance around that. We just think it’s an important factor that complicates and makes this an even more challenging operation that it’s important that people are aware of.”

The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa said in a statement posted to its website that it was receiving “ongoing reports to CASO regarding child welfare concerns amid the Ottawa protest.”

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“CASO continues to play its role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children in the community, while collaborating very closely with the Ottawa Police Service, especially in matters that involve a child who is located in the protest area.”

Chief Peter Sloly on Monday requested 1,800 additional officers and civilian staff to help police end the occupation in downtown Ottawa. In response, protest organizers posted pleas on social media asking supporters to consider coming to Ottawa to reinforce the demonstrators.

Bell had a message for those who were planning on coming to the city: “Don’t come,” he said. “If you do, there will be consequences, including financial consequences for your illegal and unlawful behaviour.”

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The federal government has so far deployed 275 RCMP agents to respond to the convoy demonstration, and, according to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, officials were reviewing the city’s request for additional reinforcements.

Mendicino and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair held a virtual media conference Tuesday afternoon again urging a “safe and fast” resolution to the occupation in Ottawa, along with related blockades in Windsor and Coutts, Alta.

Those demonstrations are “linked by a common thread,” Mendicino said. “This is no longer about truckers or vaccines. It’s about a very small, angry minority who decided they can stay in the way of their fellow citizens, whether it’s occupying a community or blocking an international border. That is not how we do things in Canada.”

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Freedom Convoy demonstrators get ready for another rally in front of Parliament Hill on Tuesday.
Freedom Convoy demonstrators get ready for another rally in front of Parliament Hill on Tuesday. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Mendicino and Blair held the first of several emergency meetings planned with Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and with Mayor Jim Watson and related officials on Tuesday night.

Mendicino and Blair said those meetings would continue, though neither would commit to Sloly’s request for 1,800 additional officers and staff from provincial and federal agencies to support OPS enforcement.

Both ministers said they were evaluating the details of that request and “determining how best to respond.”

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“We need to see a fast and peaceful resolution to the convoy and we will continue to keep open lines of communication (with city and provincial counterparts) to get that done,” Mendicino said. “What began as an interruption is now an occupation, (with) flagrant expressions of hate and harassment and even violence towards the residents of Ottawa, who have already got through too much in the past 13 days.”

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Right now, Bell says it takes approximately 400 officers each day to maintain a perimeter around the demonstration and to work on reducing the area impacted by the protesters.

“Our members are tired,” Bell said. “They go out every single day to our downtown core to try to take back a portion of our city that has been lost to this occupation.”

At the protest area on Tuesday, truckers, by and large, refrained from honking because of an injunction issued on Monday by an Ottawa judge in response to a lawsuit filed by a downtown Ottawa resident. The injunction forbids truckers from using their air horns for a period of 10 days. If they do, they could be arrested for disobeying a court order.

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