February 25, 2022

Facing calls to do more, Trudeau says trucker convoy ‘has to stop’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for an end to the trucker convoy protests that are now stretching into their second week in the nation’s capital.

“It has to stop,” Trudeau said during an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday night. “Everyone’s tired of COVID, but these protests are not the way to get through it.”

In his address Trudeau vowed his government will “be there” to meet the requests for assistance, as pressure ramps up for all levels of authorities to get on the same page to see control restored in the city as the anti-COVID-19 mandate demonstrators dig in.

“People of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighbourhoods, don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask. That’s not who Canadians are,” the prime minister said. “These pandemic restrictions are not forever.”

After a second weekend of protests and an uptick in tickets and arrests, the mayor of Ottawa declared a state of emergency on Sunday. As of Monday evening, hundreds of trucks continue to clog streets throughout the city and organizers show no signs of packing up.

The debate was called by the New Democratic Party. With worldwide attention fixated on Ottawa, the party said the situation had reached “a crisis point.”

In his address Trudeau vowed his government will “be there” to meet the requests for assistance, as pressure ramps up for all levels of authorities to get on the same page to see control restored in the city as the anti-COVID-19 mandate demonstrators dig in.

Trudeau, who tested positive for COVID-19 one week ago, was scheduled to be in “private meetings” throughout the day and his attendance in-person for the debate was a last-minute addition to his itinerary.

From the outset of the protests, Trudeau has taken the position that he has no plans to negotiate after expressing his disgust over the behaviour of some participants during the first weekend of protests, including those expressing hatred and displaying violent sentiments towards Trudeau. 

“I am here because Parliament is working,” said the prime minister, noting once again that Canadians had their say on vaccine mandates — democratically in the 2021 federal election.He applauded MPs who have also called for an end to the blockades, among all parties, saying that now is the time for partisanship to fall to the wayside.

PM ACCUSED OF BEING M.I.A. AMID CRISIS

His appearance in the Chamber comes after opposition parties had accused the prime minister of being “missing in action” on the second Monday of the demonstrations.

Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen came out swinging in question period Monday, suggesting Trudeau was “in hiding” over the trucker convoy, an issue that’s divided members of her party after Bergen took a strong stance in favour of the protesters’ self-proclaimed fight for freedom through the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

During the debate, Bergen and other Conservative MPs spoke about how they feel the prime minister has pushed the country to be more divided than ever before, questioning whether he regrets speaking disparagingly about unvaccinated Canadians or using “divisive” mandates to try to control the virus, and suggesting he listen to what those still on Wellington Street are asking for.

“We are in uncharted territory. We are at a crisis point, not only with what’s going on out the doors across the country, but the country overall, and so much of it is because of the things that he has said and done. Does he regret his words? And will he work with us so that we can find some resolution?” Bergen said.

In response, Trudeau said he doesn’t agree that the country is more divided after the pandemic, rather in his view Canadians have spent the last two years stepping up for each other, noting that 88 per cent of the eligible population has gotten vaccinated, with thousands week after week continue to roll up their sleeves to receive their shots.

“This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians, but Canadians know the way to get through it is to continue listening to science,” he said. “It’s not because Canadians love getting needles.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was the one to request the debate, and kicked off the night’s conversation highlighting the harassment local citizens, health-care workers, and journalists have faced in the last week from convoy supporters.

“This convoy protest is not a peaceful protest,” Singh said. “The honking, and the noise, and the fireworks… Most of that activity happens at night when there’s no one in Parliament, so they’re clearly not targeting Parliament. The convoy is certainly not about helping workers, or small businesses hurt by the lockdowns. The behavior and activity of this convoy has directly impacted workers.”

The NDP have suggested that the debate would also be used to discuss the “significant amount of funding coming from the U.S.”—an element the federal officials also fixated on in Monday’s update.

LATEST ON FEDERAL ASSISTANCE

Earlier on Monday, federal officials held a press conference calling for the trucker convoy protests to end, and pledging to plan next steps in coordination with provincial and municipal governments.

“These blockades and occupations need to end. Unlawful activities are not the way to offer meaningful involvement in government policy development,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Monday.

Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said during the federal update—the first of its kind since the “Freedom Convoy” protests kicked off—that the federal government is willing to strike a “trilateral table” to better allow the various parties responsible for managing the standoff to respond efficiently to the “fluid and dynamic situation.”

Ottawa residents—a number of which have been subjected to continuous honking and street harassment for 11 days—are growing increasingly frustrated as the protesters dig in on their demand for politicians to end all COVID-19 mandates.

Several ministers expressed regret Monday about the amount of local disruption the ongoing demonstrations have caused, but continue to maintain that the city and the province have the tools and the jurisdiction to best respond.

One thing the government did commit to doing Monday, was to talk with Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney about enacting existing regulatory powers over the commercial trucking industry, including suspending commercial licenses and insurance for the owners of the equipment blockading streets for days on end.

“It’s clear, blockades of streets and bridges is against the law and should bring serious consequences for the owners,” the transport minister said, thanking the majority of truckers who remain on the road, upholding Canada’s supply chains.

Continuing to describe the city as under “siege,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson started the day reviving his suggestion that it’s time for the federal government to step in more fully, something both he and Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly have suggested will be needed to see an end to the demonstrations, as local police struggle to contain the situation.

During a press conference ahead of the federal update, Sloly said his officers are “stretched to the limit,” asking that all levels of government “bring whatever they can bring to bear” to help see a peaceful and sustainable end to the demonstration.

Watson sent letters Monday to both Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking for a dramatic increase to the city’s law enforcement capacity as soon as possible, including 1,800 officers to “quell the insurrection.” Watson said 600 of these officers would be focused on maintaining “public order,” while others would focus on a range of supports including social media and financial forensics.

During Monday night’s debate, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino indicated that additional resources will be provided.

“I can confirm that the RCMP has received, and approved a request for additional officers,” he said. “I have requested information throughout the day from the RCMP Commissioner and from other representatives to make sure that we are doing what we can to end this convoy and reestablish law and order in Ottawa.”

Federally, 275 RCMP officers have already been called in to assist. The Canadian Armed Forces has yet to indicate they have any plans to become involved, and calling in the military is a move that has rarely been taken in the history of civilian demonstrations in this country.

STANDING BY MANDATES

Amid the continued calls from protesters both in Ottawa and seen at similar demonstrations across the country over the weekend, federal officials are standing ardently by their support of vaccine mandates, saying the government cannot and will not let an “angry crowd” sway policymakers off a science-based path to putting the pandemic in the rearview mirror.

“No matter how much a small minority may hold themselves above public health measures, they are not above the law,” said the federal government in a statement outlining their next steps.

Mendicino said Monday that looking at the big picture, Ottawa residents have “effectively been held hostage,” in contrast to the relatively smooth experiences locals had in other cities.

Mendicino said that he’s been glad to see in the last 48 hours an increase in tickets and arrests, as convoy participants have “crossed the line.” However, going forward he hopes it’s clear to all involved that “we can’t find ourselves in a similar situation again.”

“It would be a terrible precedent to say that if you show up to the nation’s capital with heavy equipment and blockade the capital city that you can force reckless change in our public policy,” he said.

‘FIND SOME COMMON GROUND’

The suggestion was also made Monday by mayor Watson that Trudeau could appoint a mediator to be “an honest broker on both sides to try to find some common ground, if that’s possible,” to bring an end to the demonstrations in the city’s downtown.

“Someone of great stature in our community and the country who can actually open doors and bring some peace and calm to the situation,” Watson said. “Because right now we’re at a complete standoff.”

Singh said Monday that he doesn’t agree with Watson’s suggestion, because in his view, the organizers of the convoy have “made it clear their intention is to overthrow the government.”

Monday marked the second week of MPs returning to work in West Block directly in front of where a large concentration of trucks has now been parked for 11 days. Throughout the protests MPs have been cautioned about security risks associated with the convoy.

Over the weekend, Ottawa police said they were “actively working with Canadian, U.S. and international security agencies authorities to investigate email-based threats to public officials.”

On Monday MPs were alerted that three constituency offices not located outside of Ottawa reported receiving large brown manila envelopes that were deemed “suspicious.” There has been no confirmation that these packages are connected to the convoy protests.

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