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Trucker convoy: Downtown silent for first time in 11 days; protesters paralyze Windsor-Detroit bridge


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The “Freedom Convoy” that converged in Ottawa on Jan. 28 began in response to the federal government’s move to require that Canadian truck drivers crossing the U.S. border be fully vaccinated, but has evolved into a protest of all public health measures aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers say they will not end their protest until all measures are dropped.

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What you need to know:

  • The protest entered its 12th day in the capital Tuesday, a day after a judge granted an injunction against honking in downtown Ottawa
  • Ottawa Police say an investigation is underway after demonstrators refused to stop for traffic officer and hit a police cruiser near Bank and Flora at noon. No one was injured.
  • NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Doug Ford to explore the idea of revoking commercial vehicle certificates for convoy truckers
  • Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly has asked for more policing resources from all three levels of government
  • Anti-vaccine mandate protesters shut down the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, which remained “temporarily closed” Tuesday morning
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted the blockade in a speech in the House of Commons Monday night
  • Ottawa Transit Riders speaks out about impact on local residents as closures, including the Rideau Centre, continue

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8:00 p.m.

One of the groups associated with the organization of the trucker protests, Canada Unity, said Tuesday it is withdrawing a previously issued “memorandum of understanding” that in effect called for the removal of the power of elected members of the House of Commons.

The Calgary-based Canada Unity group issued a press release Tuesday evening saying it had come to their attention that their document dated October 2021 “does not reflect the spirit and intent of the Freedom Convoy Movement 2022.”

The press release said Canada Unity does not want any “unintended interpretations to continue. Our sole desire with the MOU was to have a document where Canadians could peacefully express their displeasure with current (COVID-19) mandates, and express their desire to be free.”

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The memorandum called for a deal between The Senate, the Governor General and Canadian citizens and residents — as represented by Canada Unity and its leaders, James Bauder and Sandra Bauder.

The language in the document is not entirely clear. But it says that a “cease and desist” order would have been given to the members of Canada’s parliament, instructing them to direct the premiers, mayors and medical officers of health to stop activities like vaccine mandates and passports.

“To the over 320,000 original signatories of the MOU; we appreciate your support and will continue to peacefully demonstrate until the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is upheld,” the release states.

“Canada Unity firmly supports the constitution and democratic process. We remain committed to following lawful process and upholding freedom of choice.”

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7:30 p.m.

The director of Ottawa’s largest school board said the board is monitoring the effect the demonstration is having on schools downtown but that they remain open.

Students should be able to attend school free of worry and fear, Camille Williams-Taylor, director of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, told trustees at a meeting Tuesday.

However, schools in the downtown core have had high attendance during the protest, and keeping a regular routine is also important, she said.

The board closed Centennial Public School on the Monday after the first weekend of the protest, but the school has since re-opened.

Williams-Taylor said board staff had met with a group of students from downtown schools who said their schooling had already been disrupted enough during the pandemic.

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Williams-Taylor said any parents who wanted to keep their children home could be accommodated by being given schoolwork for them to do at home.

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A representative for the elementary teachers’ union said some teachers were having trouble travelling to downtown schools because of the demonstration, with some taking two or three hours to get across the bridges from Ottawa to Quebec, for instance.

7:00 p.m.

Ottawa police released a reminder that anyone who violates the temporary 10-day court injunction stopping people from using horns downtown could face up to two years in jail.

If someone is arrested for going against the court order and they refuse to say, in writing, that they’ll obey it, “they may be taken to the Superior Court for civil contempt proceedings and criminal contempt prosecutions,” police said Tuesday evening. Penalties include up to two years in prison, “and/or another form of punishment as deemed appropriate at time of conviction.”

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The injunction, granted by Justice Hugh McLean, was made effective immediately when it was ordered Monday. It’s in effect until Feb. 17.

4:50 p.m.

Ottawa Police say they’ve made 23 arrests since the start of the truck convoy protest in late January. The arrests were made in connection to charges like resisting police, breach of probation, mischief (transportation of gas) and flight from police.

By-law and police officers in the city have issued more than 1,300 tickets for offences like excessive noise, use of fireworks, driving a motor vehicle on a sidewalk, obstructed license plate and parking violations, Ottawa Police announced in a Tuesday afternoon statement.

Police also noted that an investigation is underway after demonstrators refused to stop for traffic officer and hit a police cruiser near Bank and Flora at noon. No one was injured.

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As of Monday, police said there were “100 demonstrators in the Wellington Corridor” near Parliament Hill and 418 vehicles in the red zone in downtown Ottawa.

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Kent Street remains blocked with traffic between Wellington and Somerset.

Meanwhile, Joel Lightbound, the Liberal MP who earlier on Tuesday held a press conference to criticize his own party’s handling of the pandemic, has announced that he’s resigning as the party’s caucus chair for Quebec.

4:45 p.m.

Downtown Ottawa was silent for the first time in 11 days Tuesday as protesters abided by a court injunction to lay off their air horns.

A few truckers huddled around a camp fire beside the Terry Fox statue while others shuttled trays of coffee back and forth.

As the big rigs idled, one flipped his air brakes on and off, producing a throaty roar that echoed off the buildings on Wellington Street.

Only one driver ignored Monday’s court order to stay silent. The driver sat the cab of his truck, which had Ontario plates, and began blowing his horn intermittently at around 9:30 a.m.

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He continued as the morning went on, sounding it more aggressively and in the beat patterns that had been characteristic of the air horn fanfare that has sounded in the capital since Jan. 28. But no other truckers joined in.

The driver declined to be interviewed when approached.

Anyone violating the injunction can be charged with contempt of court. At one point, about half a dozen Ottawa police officers stood across the street in front of the Wellington Building, although none intervened. When the officers walked away, the driver began honking again.

Elsewhere, the demonstrators searched for inventive ways to circumvent the court order.

“If we can’t blow the horns, bring your noise!” read one sign on a big rig’s bumper. One man walked through the crowd with a megaphone, periodically blasting its electronic siren. And the dance party resumed in front of the Centre Block, with loudspeakers blaring music (Including a full-volumed “Sunny days, Sunny, sunny days…” in an apparent taunting of the prime ministers), while another pounded away on a bongo drum.

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In the cold and still morning air, the stench of diesel exhaust from dozens of idling trucks mixed with the smoke from open bonfires to create a choking stench.

One of the demonstrators said he’d driven five hours from Toronto to arrive in Ottawa by morning. The man, who would not give his name, was one of the few demonstrators to wear a surgical mask. “My mother is in hospital and I want to protect her,” he said, continually adjusting the mask upward when it slipped off his nose.

Despite his COVID precautions, the man said he didn’t want the “poison” of the COVID vaccinations in his veins.

“I’ve been a Liberal all my life,” he said. “Until a few months ago.”

Meanwhile, members of the Calgary based Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, a Calgary-based ministry, walked through the crowd in red jackets and yellow vests. The group arrived Sunday afternoon, said manager Merle Doherty.

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“We don’t come in and wave our flag and say ’We’re here! We’re here!’” Doherty said. “We just come in and we walk the streets and we pray. There’s multiple communities here. There’s the city of Ottawa. There’s the trucking community. There’s the police community. There’s an opportunity here for us to come in and spread the word of Jesus Christ.”

2:35 p.m.

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 are now reviewing the city’s request for additional reinforcements.

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

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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.”

Mendicino and Blair held the first of several emergency meetings planned with the province’s 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 the request from Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly for 1,800 additional officers from provincial and federal agencies to support the OPS enforcement.

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

Another trilateral meeting has been proposed for later Tuesday, Blair said.

“We need to see a fast and peaceful restitution o 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.”

Meanwhile, the “Freedom Convoy 2022” campaign total on GiveSendGo neared $6.5 million US Tuesday afternoon.

The Boston-based platform is billed as the “#1 free Christian crowdfunding site.”

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On Friday, GoFundMe announced the convoy would be cut off from $10 million raised to support the truckers because the money was going towards “the promotion of violence and harassment” in contravention of its terms of service.

1:00 p.m.

A Liberal member of Parliament is calling out his own government for what he says is its divisive management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Press reports.

Joel Lightbound told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that federal COVID-19 measures, such as vaccination mandates for travellers and civil servants, need to be re-evaluated and the public needs a clear road map for when restrictions will be fully lifted.

Lightbound, who represents the Louis-Hebert riding in Quebec City, says he worries the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a tone and policies that are divisive and risk undermining public trust.

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12:50 p.m.

A union representing truckers joined voices condemning the protests.

Teamsters Canada president François Laporte said the “so-called ‘freedom convoy’ and the despicable display of hate” was linked to right-wing elements and “shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians.”

It serves to “delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today,” he said in a statement issued Monday titled, The Real Enemy for Truckers is Covid-19.

Teamsters Canada represents more than 55,000 professional drivers, about 15,000 of them long-haul truckers, 90 per cent of whom are vaccinated, Laporte said.

“We firmly believe in the right to protest government policies and voice a wide array of opinions,” he said, “but what is happening in Ottawa has done more harm to Teamsters members, be they truck drivers who were trying to deliver their loads, or hotel, restaurant and healthcare workers who were intimidated, abused or prevented from accessing their workplaces.”

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Teamsters Canada wants to work with government and employers on real challenges in the trucking industry to bolster the supply chain and Canadian economy, he said.

“We join in the calls urging those protesters with legitimate concerns to go back to their own communities and work with local politicians,” Laporte said. “We are all frustrated and want our lives back, however, let’s ensure we get there respectfully, safely and protect the health of our most vulnerable first.

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10:08 a.m.

NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Doug Ford to explore the idea of revoking commercial vehicle certificates for convoy truckers, effectively stripping their licence to work in Ontario.

“There has to be something this premier can do,” Horwath said during a virtual press conference Tuesday with Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden. “This is one of those things, and I’m asking the premier to explore it.”

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Horwath accused Ford of “going into hiding” during the 12-day demonstration and said there has been a “shocking lack of action” from the premier.

“The message has to be very clear — this is untenable, it’s unacceptable and it must stop. And if it doesn’t stop, then there are some consequences … the potential to lose your commercial vehicle licences to operate here in Ontario,” Horwath said.

The move would be a “heavy-handed tool,” Horwath acknowledged, “but it would be a powerful incentive to get these folks to pack up and go home … because it impacts their ability to drive in our province, to be licensed in our province. That’s a very major incentive.”

Harden said he’s heard numerous horror stories over the 12-day “occupation.”

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“We’re hearing about persons with disabilities who can’t get access to their attendant care, seniors who are afraid to walk outside, racialized folks who do not feel safe walking in the streets, who left to go live with friends out of the downtown core …

“So I understand when the convoy came here, they had a message for the government of Canada, they feel passionately about their beliefs. But at the moment, we have 500 vehicles clogging the downtown core, we have people walking into grocery stores, unmasked, and asking for others to serve them. We have some serious threats to local health-care professionals.”

Harden said the protest is “providing cover for extremists.”

9:26 a.m.

Downtown Ottawa was silent for the first time in 11 days on Tuesday as protesters abided by a court injunction to lay off their air horns.

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A few truckers huddled around a camp fire beside the Terry Fox statue, while others shuttled trays of coffee back and forth.

As the big rigs idled, one flipped his air brakes on and off, producing a throaty roar that echoed off the buildings on Wellington Street. But there were no horns to be heard.

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8:47 a.m.

As the “Freedom Convoy” entered a 12th day in Ottawa, protesters in Windsor choked off access to the key Ambassador Bridge between that city and Detroit, wreaking havoc at the border and leaving countless travellers stranded.

The Windsor faction of the national protest against COVID-19 mandates escalated efforts by planting big rigs, pickups and the occasional off-road vehicle on the highway, essentially cutting off the main commercial artery in and out of Canada, The Windsor Star reported.

The bridge reopened to U.S.-bound traffic Tuesday morning.

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“We are the people and we’re going to fight for our country,” Hilda Fisher, from Essex, said as people cheered and horns honked. “We’re going to fight until we die. If we have to die fighting for it, we will.”

Police officers monitoring the protest said around 6 p.m. Monday that the southbound lanes of Huron Church coming into Canada had been at a complete standstill since around noon. The bridge was listed as “temporarily closed” as of 7 a.m. Monday.

Overnight protest presser

Hours earlier at a press conference in Ottawa, one of the protest organizers, Tom Marazzo, was “proposing to participate in a coalition of opposition parties with the Governor General,” CTV National News journalist Glen McGregor reported.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a speech in the House of Commons Monday night, blasted protesters in Ottawa who had blockaded streets and disrupted residents downtown for 11 days.

“Ottawans don’t deserve to be harassed in their neighbourhoods or confronted with the inherent violence of swastikas or Confederate flags or insults and jeers just because they are wearing a mask,” he said during an emergency debate.

Trudeau said people have the right to protest and disagree with the government, but they don’t have the right to block streets illegally, harass fellow citizens or insult those who chose to wear a mask or get vaccinated.

Protesters “are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives,” he said. “It has to stop.”

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Trudeau said the federal government would provide whatever resources are required to deal with the protests.

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said Monday that he needs 1,800 more officers and civilians to handle the ongoing convoy protests because his force can’t handle the demonstrators alone.

“They need more help and they need it now,” Sloly told city council during a special meeting Monday.

Mayor Jim Watson, who declared a state of emergency Sunday, and Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, wrote to provincial and federal officials Monday asking for the extra police personnel.

Closures and detours

The City of Ottawa warned that traffic and service shutdowns in the core would continue Tuesday.

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The Ottawa Public Library’s Main and Rideau branches, Ottawa City Hall and the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa Minto Sports Complex remain closed.

The Rideau Centre also remains closed, as do cultural institutions in the core.

All bus routes with service downtown were expected to remain on detour Tuesday. Residents who need to travel in and out of the core were advised to use O-Train Line 1. Rideau Station could only be accessed through the William Street entrance.

Advocacy group Ottawa Transit Riders issued a statement condemning the “illegal occupation” and citing transit impacts in addition to symbols of hate and intolerance, reports of vandalism and assault, and the impact of honking and diesel fumes on residents.

The group urged city officials to return Ottawa to its residents. It called on the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo to ask Ottawa police to remove protesters from key LRT stations so riders can use stations without fear, bolster the number of OC Transpo special constables at Lyon, Parliament, Rideau and Tremblay stations and improve communication of route changes and delays.

“The freedom of movement of Ottawa’s transit riders is being prevented,” Ottawa Transit Riders said. “We have heard numerous stories from our members and the public about how this illegal occupation has affected them.

“Stories of essential workers forced to spend hundreds of dollars on alternative means of transportation such as taxis and Ubers to get to work. Stories of young women harassed and intimidated by occupiers who have taken over areas outside downtown LRT stations.

“Stories of disabled transit riders unable to access ParaTranspo services due to street closures. Stories of seniors lost and abandoned because OC Transpo has not communicated route changes.”

CTV News reported a significant majority of residents in Ottawa are opposed to the “Freedom Convoy” protest against public health measures, according to a new poll, and 87 per cent said it’s time for the protestors to go home.

CTV said the poll — conducted and paid for by Ottawa-based polling firm Abacus Data — found two-thirds of respondents are opposed to the convoy and 22 per cent support it.

An Ontario Superior Court judge granted a 10-day injunction Monday to prevent truckers parked on city streets in downtown Ottawa from honking their horns incessantly.

The case was brought to court by 21-year-old Zexi Li, who said the noise in her apartment had been measured at more than 80 decibels, which lawyer Paul Champ said was the equivalent “of having a lawn mower running in her living room, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

— With files from Aedan Helmer, Blair Crawford, Megan Gillis, The Canadian Press, Postmedia

READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE ANTI-VACCINE MANDATE PROTEST

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