February 25, 2022

Demonstrators descend on Ottawa as ‘freedom convoy’ protests spread beyond capital

As more rallies protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions were held in several major cities today, authorities released more information about an incident in which four people were injured at a demonstration in Winnipeg and reported one arrest at a mass gathering in Toronto.

A second weekend of protests by the so-called “freedom convoy” is taking place in the country’s capital of Ottawa, with as many as 300 to 400 trucks expected to try and enter the downtown core, according to police estimates, along with up to 2,000 people on foot and another 1,000 counter-protesters.

Protests in Toronto, Quebec City, Fredericton, Winnipeg, Regina and Victoria have started, are underway or expected near their respective provincial legislatures.

A protest at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. also remains ongoing. RCMP said protesters on horseback joined the truck blockade on Saturday, with more than 100 horses estimated to be there along with food trucks. Police say traffic is still moving in both directions across the border.

As the protests continued in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, police confirmed on Twitter that a 22-year-old man had been arrested for assault with a weapon, administering a noxious substance — a smoke bomb — and public mischief.

Earlier that same day, Winnipeg police said a man from Headingly, Man., was in custody after four men were injured in a hit-and-run outside of the provincial legislature the previous night.

Winnipeg police say a Jeep Patriot drove through a group of protesters, who have parked in front of the legislative building since Friday morning, before speeding away and driving through red lights.

Officers from the Winnipeg Police Service and RCMP later stopped the vehicle and arrested a 42-year-old man. One of the injured men was treated in hospital and released, while the three others were treated at the scene of the collision for minor injuries.

Police say the accused was not participating in the protest and it did not appear the underlying causes of the demonstration motivated his actions.

OTTAWA

Thousands of people descended on Ottawa last weekend in trucks and other vehicles for the freedom convoy, with mass gatherings staged on Parliament Hill that have continued at a relatively smaller scale since then.

While started in part over opposition to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, requiring Canadians drivers returning to Canada to quarantine if unvaccinated, the protests have come to embody a general frustration over COVID-19 public health measures, with protesters and organizers calling for all pandemic restrictions to be lifted. The United States has a similar mandate for cross-border truckers, as well.

The protests, while generally peaceful but noisy, have frustrated many downtown residents with some, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, having described the convoy’s continued actions as an occupation.

There also have been reports of disruptive conduct, threats and harassment, including incidents involving the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Terry Fox monument, local paramedics and homeless shelter staff.

At least two arrests were made previously for mischief to property and another related to firearms in connection to the initial Ottawa protests. Photos also have circulated of Confederate flags and Nazi symbols appearing at the initial protest last weekend.

This weekend’s event is being billed as a family-friendly affair, with the crowd growing progressively larger throughout the morning and more children in attendance. People have been seen carrying Canadian flags, as well as some U.S. flags and others showing support for former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Some protesters have stockpiled canisters of propane and fuel in the city’s Confederation Park and built a wooden structure for a possible community kitchen.

Many Ottawa residents have been sick and tired of hearing the constant honking of horns for the past week and are urging police to do more.

Ottawa Coun. Diane Deans called an emergency police services board meeting on Saturday and described the city as “under siege” and called the convoy participants “a threat to our democracy.

“This group is emboldened by the lack of enforcement by every level of government. They are terrorizing our residents, torturing them with incessant honking, threatening them and preventing them from leading their lives,” she said during the meeting.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told the committee that the force lacked sufficient resources as well as the legislative framework to properly respond to the convoy.

“We do need more help,” he said. “We need an additional surge in resources.”

Another 150 officers are being sent into affected neighbourhoods as part of the Ottawa Police Service’s response to the continued protests. Police also tweeted on Saturday evening that all available officers have been deployed.

Over 50 criminal investigation, including 11 hate crimes resulting in charges against four people, are being investigated, police said.

Several councillors are urging the province and the federal government to lend their assistance. Ottawa Coun. Catherine McKenney said they are calling on the feds to take full operational control of the Parliamentary Precinct in a tweet posted Saturday.

Speaking on CTV News Channel on Saturday, Ottawa Coun. Catherine McKenney said constituents have never felt that the protests have been peaceful, describing it also as an occupation and national crisis.

Another 150 officers are being sent into affected neighbourhoods as part of the Ottawa Police Service’s response to the continued protests.

But McKenney says the federal government needs to assume responsibility over the parliamentary precinct so local police can turn their attention to residential neighbourhoods.

“We really need the federal government to step in here to do something,” McKenney said.

Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ filed a $9.8 million class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers and up to 60 unidentified truck drivers on Friday. Champ also sought a court injunction on Saturday to immediately stop the honking, but the hearing was adjourned until Monday.

TORONTO AND QUEBEC CITY

In Toronto, dozens of tractors and pickups arrived in the city’s downtown core on Friday afternoon.

Police have closed off a stretch of Toronto’s University Avenue in order to protect the city’s hospital row, located near Queen’s Park where the protests are set to take place.

Hospitals in the area had urged health-care workers to avoid wearing their scrubs and employee nametag over fears that they may be harassed.

Nonetheless, a group of health-care workers and their supporters held a counter-protest to ensure protesters do not interfere with anyone trying to receive health-care services.

“It was quite heartening to see the turnout for the health care workers in the system at this moment,” health-care administrator and counter-protest organizer Angela Robertson told CTV News Channel on Saturday.

The head of the Ontario Trucking Association issued a statement on Saturday saying the trade organization “strongly disapproves” of any protests on roads, highways and hospitals.

Association president Stephen Laskowski added that the vast majority of demonstrators at the provincial legislature appear to have no connection to the industry and harbour grievances that go “beyond the cross-border vaccine requirements.”

He called on demonstrators to protest peacefully and then return home.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he has been in frequent contact with the police chief and expressed relief that the protest was largely peaceful.

“I want to thank all residents, businesses health care institutions and emergency services for their ongoing patience dealing with the traffic and noise disruptions created by this protest,” he tweeted on Saturday.

A large convoy with dozens of big rigs arrived in Quebec City on Saturday morning, with police allowing the vehicles to enter and park in a designated area.

Local police said 40 tickets were handed out Friday, including six for violating municipal bylaws and 34 for highway safety code infractions, with no major incidents. The protests are occurring at the same time as the Quebec Winter Carnival.

As the crowd size grew on Saturday, police in riot gear were seen forming a line on the lawn of the national assembly.

“Whatever the cause is, your vindication against the government, you have the right to say so. But… you need to do it respectfully — as they did for the past 48 hours. So we expect the same today,” Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand said.

Although the protests have included individuals who are anti-vaccine, some who spoke to CTV News in Toronto and Quebec City also offered additional reasons for why the chose to participate.

Some say they support public health measures up to a point, while others say they are vaccinated but want the lockdowns and mandates to end.

GOFUNDME

The latest round of protests comes a day after the online platform GoFundMe announced on Friday it had removed the freedom convoy’s fundraiser for allegedly violating the company’s terms of service.

The freedom convoy raised more than $10 million through GoFundMe, making it the second largest on the platform in Canada behind the fundraiser started after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018, which raised more than $15 million.

GoFundMe initially released $1 million in funds after confirming the money would only be used for participants who travelled to Ottawa.

In a statement on Friday, the company wrote that while it supports peaceful protests, and believes that was the intention of the convoy fundraiser when it started, it now has evidence from law enforcement that the “previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”

In a follow-up statement on Saturday, GoFundMe said after initially deciding to send all remaining funds to “credible and established charities” chosen by the organizers, donors would instead receive automatic refunds within seven to 10 business days and without having to submit a request. The company said it made the decision due to “donor feedback.”

Taking to Twitter on Saturday, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called it a “fraud” for GoFundMe to “commandeer” the $10 million in donations sent to support the freedom convoy, adding he will work with the state’s attorney general to investigate the website’s “deceptive practices.”

Funds are instead being raised through the U.S.-based GiveSendGo, which describes itself as a “Free Christian Crowdfunding” website.

A judge hearing the suit on Saturday adjourned the matter to Monday afternoon.

With files from CTV News, The Canadian Press and Reuters

 

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