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Truck convoy: Residents, police brace as protest numbers expected to swell


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The ‘Freedom Convoy’ that converged in Ottawa a week ago started in response to the federal government’s move to require that all Canadian truck drivers crossing the U.S. border be fully vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, the main advocacy body for truckers, has disavowed the protest, saying the vast majority of its members are fully vaccinated and are continuing to work. The core organizers of the protest insist that they are not anti-vaccine but instead oppose mandates that require vaccination for people to work.

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What you need to know, at a glance

  • Police expect 300-400 more trucks and between 1,000 and 2,000 more protesters to arrive in Ottawa Saturday
  • Farmer convoys arriving in Ottawa Saturday, according to MPP who supports convoy
  • Protests spread to Toronto, Winnipeg and other provincial capitals
  • A class-action lawsuit on behalf of Centretown residents seeks $9.8M for for emotional, mental and other distress and punitive damages.
  • GoFundMe says no further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organizers
  • The Ottawa Police Service says it’s launching a “surge and contain strategy” with partners to tackle the protests
  • City warns of continued traffic and service impacts Saturday, with numerous bus detours and several bridge closures still in effect

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9:30 a.m.

Farm tractors expected to join on protest’s second weekend

Ottawa braced for a second weekend of disruption Saturday as an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 more people and 300 to 400 trucks were expected to join the noisy, chaotic downtown protest now into its ninth day.

The truckers are expected to be joined Saturday by farmers en route to the city. In an email to supporters, Patricia Enright of the group, No More Lockdowns, said farm tractor convoys from will be converging on Ottawa from three directions early Saturday afternoon.

One convoy will be leaving from Alexandria at 6 a.m., another from Antrim at 9:30 a.m. and another in Franktown at 8:15 a.m.

“As we enter the second weekend of these historic demonstrations, more convoys are mobilizing across the country in solidarity with the freedom movement,” said Enright, who urged supporters to “get in your tractors, join our convoy to Ottawa to regain our freedom.”

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Enright said the protests need to maintain their momentum in order to keep pressure on governments. A Facebook group used by the farm protesters has more than 4,000 members.

A planned counter protest by residents fed up by the occupation has been called off because of safety concerns, but some members said they are going to go ahead and demonstrate anyway .

The Alexandra and Portage bridges remained closed Saturday, as did Wellington Street and Queen Streets within the protest “red zone,”  the Mackenzie King and Laurier bridges, along with sections of Kent and Bank streets near the protest site.

Police promised a more aggressive posture toward law breakers and criminal offences as part of a new “surge and contain strategy.”

At a media briefing Friday, Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said the protest “remains a very volatile and very dangerous demonstration” and urged residents to report crimes to a special hotline.

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Security fences have been erected around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and National War Memorial, where one protester was seen dancing on the tomb last weekend. A video posted on Instagram Friday night showed fireworks being set off around the memorial.

The Rideau Centre remains closed as do a number of other downtown businesses and restaurants. Hotel staff say they have given up trying to enforce provincial mask regulations because of the number of people ignoring the rule to mask up.

The City of Ottawa continues to advise residents to avoid non-essential travel around the downtown core and says they should expect major traffic impacts and disruptions this weekend across the city.

“The tractors rolling into Ottawa in solidarity with the truckers will greatly bolster their morale,” Enright said, “and send a great symbolic message to the people of Canada and of the world.”

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Later on Saturday, Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ will be in court to launch a $9.8 million class-action lawsuit against organizers of the truckers’ protest, claiming $4.8 million in damages for emotional, mental and other distress, and $5 million in punitive damages, largely due to the protestors’ tactic of continually blaring their truck horns.

Champ filed the claim on behalf of plaintiff Zexi Li, a 21-year-old public servant and uOttawa graduate who lives within five blocks of Parliament Hill.

The claim lists convoy organizers Chris Barber, Benjamin Dichter, Tamara Lich and Patrick King as defendants, and leaves room for as many as 60 others who may be identified later.

The claim is seeking class certification, with residents from Bay Street to Elgin Street and Lisgar Street to Wellington Street considered potential members.

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Documents filed by Champ contend that the defendants “deliberately planned the horn tactic to cause distress and discomfort” and “are aware or ought to be aware that the prolonged use of the extremely loud air horns and train horns can cause permanent hearing damage and psychological harm.”

According to Champ, an injunction will be heard at 2 p.m. Saturday for an emergency interlocutory order prohibiting the use of truck horns downtown.

After the crowdfunding site GoFundMe cancelled the protest’s fundraising campaign, which had raised more than $10 million, organizers said they’d switched to a new source of revenue. Tamara Lich, one of the protest organizers, said in a video Friday that they have a new official donation site, the U.S.-based GiveSendGo, which calls itself a “Free Christian Crowdfunding” website.

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GoFundMe pulled the campaign Friday, saying it had determined the campaign violated the company’s terms of service, particularly those that prohibit the promotion of violence and harassment.

“Organizers provided a clear distribution plan for the initial $1M that was released earlier this week,” read a statement from GoFundMe, “and confirmed funds would be used only for participants who traveled to Ottawa to participate in a peaceful protest. Given how this situation has evolved, no further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organizers — we will work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe.”

Donors have until Feb. 19 to request a refund.

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Meanwhile, weekend protests in solidarity with the Ottawa event are being organized near provincial legislatures in Toronto, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Regina, and Victoria, as well as the Coutts, Alta., border crossing.

Police forces in those cities say they have learned lessons from Ottawa’s predicament and have developed strategies designed to protect key infrastructure, such as vital traffic corridors and hospitals, and also prevent possible violence.

Those strategies have involved significantly boosting the presence of police officers at protest sites, blocking off key access routes and stepping up enforcement of traffic regulations and bylaws regarding excessive noise and other applicable issues.

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READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE EVOLVING SITUATION:

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

-With files from The Canadian Press

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