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Trucker convoy: Protest enters 13th day in Ottawa, border crossings in Alberta, Windsor paralyzed


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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:

  • Downtown bus detours and closures continued Wednesday as the protest entered its 13th day in the capital. Ottawans are still advised to avoid non-essential travel, especially downtown
  • Coun. Shawn Menard said he’d learned of reports of a new encampment on the border of Capital and River wards
  • Kim Ayotte, the GM of emergency and protective services, said there were 154 bylaw tickets in the protest red zone on Tuesday
  • City solicitor David White said legal staff are working with police to see how an injunction might help
  • Ottawa police warn that they will be enforcing judge’s injunction against honking horns downtown
  • The key Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit remained closed
  • Alberta’s vaccine passport is gone but protesters promised to hunker down for the long term on the highway leading to the province’s main U.S. border crossing

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1:09 p.m.

The protest wasn’t on city council’s agenda on Wednesday, but councillors wanted an update from management.

City manager Steve Kanellakos said there were no events to report overnight, other than a flood in the Parliament Buildings’ East Block.

OPP might have identified some protest-related trucks in the east end but those vehicles aren’t expected to come downtown, Kanellakos said.

On the new encampment at 1500 Bronson Ave., Kanellakos said police had to make a tough decision to divert trucks to that location from the Coventry Road camp so more neighbourhoods aren’t clogged with trucks.

Kim Ayotte, the general manager of emergency and protective services, said there were 154 bylaw tickets in the protest red zone on Tuesday.

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Council members pushed city staff on why they aren’t filing a city-led injunction.

City solicitor David White said legal staff are working with police to see how an injunction might help. The city has to be careful about what exactly to ask from a judge to make sure an application isn’t too far-reaching, White said.

“My team is ready to move quickly. We are prepared. That material is ready to go. We just need to identify what we would be asking the court to stop,” White said.

Meanwhile, Ottawa police said that the force will work with the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa “to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and youth” amid the downtown demonstration.

Officers are aware of concerns about young people at the protest and will report any potential dangers to child welfare officials, according to a release Wednesday. The CAS has been getting “ongoing reports” of child welfare concerns, police said, and have a duty to investigate any allegations of abuse or neglect suggesting a child may be in need of protection.

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The force said Tuesday that there were children in about 100 of the protest vehicles who could be at risk during any police operation.

The safety of protest kids has also come up as an issue at city hall.

Donna Gray, the general manager of community and social services, told city council on Wednesday that staff are considering what supports the community can provide protest families, in addition to what supports the families might need to make sure their kids are safe.

11:20 a.m.

Yves Belanger of Hearst, Ont. has been at the protest since the beginning with his daughter, Amelie, and two-year-old granddaughter, Maliya. Belanger is an ice road trucker who lost his job with a mining company because of the vaccine mandate.

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“They offered me a dream job. I told them I didn’t get vaccinated and everything was OK. Then they called me and said, ‘Oh it just came up that we need to get the shot.’ I said, ‘It just came up that you can call me back when the shot’s over.‘“

Belanger drove to Ottawa with Amelie and Maliya, parked his rig outside town and moved into an Airbnb with comfortable beds and a shower.

Bundled up against the cold on Wellington Street on Wednesday morning, Belanger described the protest as a “love bubble.”

“I haven’t ever seen a place so happy, so organized,” he said.

“I have work but I had to come here. I had to represent the Highway 11 people and Northern Ontario and have our freedom back. We want to be heard.”

Approximately 100 of the vehicles at the convoy protest contain children, according to police estimates. These children could be at risk during a police operation, Deputy Chief Steve 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.

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Yves Belanger and his daughter, Amelie, and two-year-old granddaughter, Maliya, photographed on Wellington Street Wednesday morning. (Photo by Blair Crawford/Postmedia)
Yves Belanger and his daughter, Amelie, and two-year-old granddaughter, Maliya, photographed on Wellington Street Wednesday morning. (Photo by Blair Crawford/Postmedia) jpg

Belanger said he had no worries at all about his family’s safety.

“Look at that kid. She’s all smiling and happy,” he said as Maliya explored the sidewalk near the Supreme Court.

“I come here to fill up my battery. We plug our phone to get energy, but me, I come here to get energy. That’s what drives me.

Amelie said the family’s living comfortably in Ottawa.

“I buy food at home. I buy food here. It doesn’t really make a difference. I’m going to feed my daughter.”

Belanger said he’s doing his best to keep the demonstration peaceful and orderly. “I want to keep it nice. We need all the folks like me to do that. To show our maturity. We’ve got to lead by example. We’ve got to keep it calm.”

He said he’s been offered a new job to begin as soon as he returns to Hearst, whenever that might be.

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10:30 a.m.

Coun. Shawn Menard said on social media Wednesday morning that he’d learned of reports of a new encampment on the border of Capital and River wards.

Half a dozen vehicles and three trailers were parked in the parking lot of the Edward Drake building, at 1500 Bronson Ave. on Wednesday morning, including at least one trailer marked with a Canada Unity logo.

Coun. Riley Brockington said via social media that the area was in the Confederation Heights government complex and that he “learned this morning that it ‘was granted for overflow vehicles at the direction of the Ottawa Police Service to alleviate congestion in the downtown core.’

“Zero advance outreach with myself or Coun Menard.”

Brockington also expressed frustration with the protest site at a council meeting on Wednesday: “I’m not sure why the city or police would condone a new encampment in a new neighbourhood,” he said.

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10:20 a.m.

The High Commission of India in Ottawa issued an advisory for Indian citizens in Canada or planning travel to Canada to “take all precautions in light of the ongoing protests and public disturbance in Ottawa and other major Canadian cities.” A special helpline was launched for Indian citizens in distress in Canada, the high commission said in a statement issued Tuesday.

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9:15 a.m.

As what officials in Ottawa have taken to calling an “occupation” entered its 13th day, the protests against vaccine mandates paralyzed an Alberta border crossing and North America’s busiest border crossing in Windsor, Ont.

In the capital, the City of Ottawa continued to advise residents against non-essential travel, especially in the downtown core.

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 faced as they try to end an occupation that is nearing the two-week mark.

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

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On Tuesday evening, 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.

Penalties include up to two years in prison, “and/or another form of punishment as deemed appropriate at time of conviction.”

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

On Tuesday afternoon, police said 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.

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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 said.

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 Tuesday. No one was injured.

The Rideau Centre remained closed Wednesday after shuttering on Jan. 29. Cadillac Fairview has called the situation downtown “untenable” and said “we are increasingly concerned about the economic impact and financial burden for the thousands of employees and 175 businesses that call CF Rideau Centre home.”

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Ottawa Public Library’s Main and Rideau branches and Ottawa City Hall and its amenities remained closed Wednesday.

Ottawa Public Health’s Lowertown Vaccine Hub and the vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa Minto Sports Complex remained closed.

Traffic delays and disruptions were expected to continue Wednesday with widespread road closures in the core. All bus routes with service downtown were expected to remain on detour. Residents who need to travel in and out of the core were advised to use O-Train Line One. Rideau Station could only be accessed via William Street, the city said.

Of interprovincial crossings, the Macdonald-Cartier, Chaudière and Champlain bridges were open. The Alexandra Bridge was closed except for southbound traffic until 10 a.m. with no heavy vehicles allowed. The Portage Bridge was closed.

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In Alberta, the province’s vaccine passport is gone but protesters were promising to hunker down for the long term on the highway leading to the province’s main U.S. border crossing.

Any thought that the announcement Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney to scrap the public health measure at midnight and to remove most other rules in Alberta by March 1 would end the protest near Coutts, Alta., was quickly put to bed.

“We’re here for the big picture. It started with the border thing, it started with (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau and until Trudeau moves, we don’t move,” said John Vanreeuwyk, a feedlot operator from Coaldale, Alta.

Vanreeuwyk said he’s grateful for the steps that Kenney has taken but is angry that people still have to wear a mask.

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“Overall it’s disappointing. Yeah, there was some good that come out of it but not even a 10 per cent.”

The protesters have closed and opened the lanes of Highway 4 on and off. RCMP said late Tuesday night the lanes were again closed due to the protest.

Demonstrators started a blockade at Coutts late last month in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.

The impasse has stranded travellers and cross-border truckers, compromised millions of dollars in trade and impeded access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.

The Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Michigan remained “temporarily closed” Wednesday morning according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

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The Windsor Star reported late Tuesday that protests for the third day in a row had brought traffic at the busiest border crossing in North America to a virtual standstill, with business and political leaders denouncing the ongoing truck blockade as unfairly harmful to Canadian businesses and citizens.

The head of the Windsor chamber of commerce called actions by protesters blocking traffic at the Ambassador Bridge “completely unacceptable” on Tuesday, noting the harm already created for many businesses locally and beyond due to COVID-19 and various lockdowns.

“Many businesses have been through so much in the last two years,” said Rakesh Naidu, CEO for the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. “This couldn’t come at a worse time. To constrict the border like this will impact everyone not just in Windsor, but Ontario and Canada. You have thousands of businesses that rely on the border and trade coming through. You have inventory based on just-in-time delivery.

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“Any disruption of supply can lead to shifts being cancelled and if it continues, closing operations. All of that doesn’t just impact the businesses in all the different sectors, but consumers like you and me. This is not just manufacturing, but goods we all consume as well, like fresh produce, or chemicals and fuel that we need.”

— With files from Jon Willing, Blair Crawford, Megan Gillis, Postmedia, The Canadian Press

READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE ANTI-VACCINE MANDATE PROTEST

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