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Trucker convoy: Protesters descend on Ottawa airport; Key Canada-U.S. bridge closed


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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 Thursday as the protest entered its 14th day in the capital. Ottawans are still advised to avoid non-essential travel, especially downtown
  • Protestors were slowly circling the Ottawa International Airport on Thursday morning, honking their horns and obstructing traffic
  • Police said: “We are aware of a concerted effort to flood our 911 and non-emergency policing reporting line”
  • Lawyers behind a class action lawsuit on behalf of downtown residents warn of “dirty tricks” that may be an effort to harvest personal information
  • Ambassador Bridge connection Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Michigan remains “temporarily closed” by protests

10:01 a.m.

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“We are aware of a concerted effort to flood our 911 and non-emergency policing reporting line,” Ottawa police tweeted at 10 a.m. “This endangers lives and is completely unacceptable.”

Police warned: “It is a crime to unnecessarily call 911 or our non-emergency number (613-236-1222). We track calls and will charge anyone deliberately interfering with emergencies.”

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Meanwhile, the RA Centre said it was shutting down for the weekend after learning it has been identified as an “unsanctioned staging location” for the trucker convoy.

“This unauthorized activity has precipitated us to take the extraordinary measure of CLOSING and securing the RA Centre and property” on Saturday and Sunday, the RA Centre said Thursday.

There will be no access to the RA Centre or its property at 2451 Riverside Dr. from 11:30 p.m. Friday until the regularly scheduled opening time on Monday.

The centre said it was tipped off by media reports and social media posts about the “Blue Collar Convoy.”

“Please know that this decision was taken with great care and concern for the safety and security of members, volunteers and staff,” the RA Centre said.

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9:09 a.m.

Protestors were slowly circling the Ottawa International Airport on Thursday morning, honking their horns and obstructing traffic.

In a livestream on Facebook, Pat King, one of the convoy’s key organizers urged protesters to converge in Ottawa.

“We’re having a parade,” King said at about 9 a.m. on the livestream being viewed by 11,500 people.

“We’ve been at this for two hours,” King claimed at 9:24 a.m. Tweets about the truckers circling the airport were reported at about 8:30 a.m.

Sixty to 70 light trucks were circling the airport’s arrivals and departures roadways “in an attempt to disrupt operations,” the Ottawa International Airport Authority said in a statement.

Airport traffic is light due to the pandemic, so the impact was so far minimal, the authority said at about 9:40 a.m. It was monitoring the situation with airport security and police and advised travellers to give themselves extra time to get to the airport.

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“We are very disappointed that the protesters have chosen to disrupt an industry that has already been decimated by the pandemic,” the airport authority said. “The Ottawa International Airport is an important link for essential products and services for Canada’s north, and an important economic engine for the region.

“Disrupting our airport will hurt people who are already suffering, including passengers and employees who rely on our industry for their livelihood and well-being.”

At 9:12 a.m., the City of Ottawa confirmed via Twitter there were “traffic disruptions at Ottawa International Airport” due to a demonstration.

“Duration unknown,” the city warned. “Expect delays.”

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Meanwhile, Ottawa police said at 9:20 a.m. that officers were able to “negotiate for a dozen more trucks to leave Coventry (Road).”

Ten trucks also left Ottawa from the area of Bank and Laurier streets, police said. Another vehicle was towed for obstructing traffic near Nepean and Bank streets.

“We want to again ask remaining demonstrators to leave and remind them of the message we issued yesterday,” police warned.

8:45 a.m.

The lawyers who won a temporary injunction against protesters’ blaring horns downtown took to social media to warn downtown residents of “dirty tricks” afoot.

“I want to advise that our law firm is NOT distributing a form to join the class action,” lawyers Paul Champ and Emilie Taman tweeted Wednesday evening.

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“We believe this is being done by those associated with the protest to collect personal information.”

The pair promised more information for residents soon.

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On Monday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean granted a temporary 10-day injunction banning the horn honking and air horn blowing that has echoed through downtown Ottawa since demonstrators arrived in the city on Jan. 28.

The $9.8-million class action is open to as many as 6,000 downtown residents who live in or close to the demonstration’s “red zone.”

Benjamin Dichter, vice-president of the “Freedom Convoy 2022” group, claimed at a media conference Wednesday that another “massive convoy” of 1,000 to 1,500 trucks was on the way to Ottawa from Alberta.

Dichter said morale was high among demonstrators in downtown Ottawa, describing the atmosphere as happy and peaceful with children on bouncy castles, families hanging out and protesters making friends and even falling in love.

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Protesters are not “at odds” with the police, either, Dichter claimed.

However, Ottawa police issued a blunt message to protesters Wednesday: You’re risking arrest and seizure of property while charges could block travel to the United States.

It’s a crime — known as mischief to property — to “obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of property,” the Ottawa Police Service said.

“We are providing you notice that anyone blocking streets or assisting others in the block of streets may be committing a criminal offence,” police said.

The City of Ottawa also received judicial approval Wednesday to increase fines for some bylaw offences, hoping they will deter nuisance and protect people.

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Offences related to noise, use and care of roads and open air fires now have maximum fines of $1,000, or $1,130 when the victim surcharge is added to the ticket.

City hall was again advising residents to avoid non-essential travel Thursday, especially in the downtown core.

The Rideau Centre remained closed Thursday after shuttering on Jan. 29 with one worker speaking to columnist Kelly Egan about the impact on 175 businesses, thousands of workers and residents trying to take transit.

Ottawa Public Library’s Main and Rideau branches and Ottawa City Hall and its amenities remained closed Thursday. Ottawa Public Health’s Lowertown Vaccine Hub was expected to reopen but the vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa Minto Sports Complex was to remain closed until Tuesday.

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Traffic delays and disruptions were expected to continue with widespread road closures in the core. All bus routes with service downtown were expected to remain on detour with residents who need to travel in and out of the core 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 except to southbound traffic for essential workers.

Meanwhile, the NDP called on the U.S. ambassador to testify before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, saying American funding of the nearly two-week-long anti-vaccine mandate protest in Ottawa is an attack on Canada’s democracy.

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The protest in the capital has sparked solidarity rallies, some of which have blocked traffic at border crossings in Coutts, Alta., and the busy Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge crossing.

A significant amount of the more than $10 million in donations to the demonstration came from U.S. donors. The Commons committee meets today and would need unanimous consent of all parties to issue an invitation to Ambassador David Cohen.

The “Freedom Convoy” has been receiving heavy coverage on Fox News.

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Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says Ottawa residents have been subjected to “acts of thuggery and disrespect” by demonstrators, and the government is working to ensure Ottawa police have the “resources that they need to enforce the law to restore public order and to bring this unlawful protest to an end.”

City and police officials in Ottawa have called for extra policing support from the Ontario and federal government — a move echoed in Windsor Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he spoke with Ontario Premier Doug Ford about the blockades in Windsor, Ont., and Ottawa on Wednesday evening, adding that the federal and provincial governments will be working to “get the situation under control.”

-with files from The Canadian Press

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