February 26, 2022

Trucker convoy protests ‘need to end’ say federal officials

The federal government is calling for the trucker convoy protests to end, pledging to plan next steps in coordination with provincial and municipal governments. Though, as the anti-COVID-19 mandate demonstrations stretch into their second week in the nation’s capital, and worldwide attention fixates on Ottawa, calls continue for officials to do more to resolve the situation.

“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.

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, prompting local officials to make a plea for assistance.

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.”

The update on the federal government’s efforts came amid increased pressure for all levels of authorities to get on the same page to see control restored in the city.

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.

NO PLANS TO END 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.

Federal officials said that while every Canadian wants to see COVID-19 restrictions end, 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.

Public Safety Minister Marco 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,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino during the federal update.

CITY REQUESTS MAJOR ASSISTANCE

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.

Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones issued a statement over the weekend saying that police — including a contingent of OPP officers sent by the province — “have full discretion and extensive existing legislative authority” to respond and manage the situation.

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.

Asked how soon the federal government will respond to the city’s latest request, Mendicino said on CTV News Channel’s Power Play that: “No one here should be under any doubt that we appreciate the urgency of the situation.”

“I know that the RCMP will work closely with chief Sloly to respond to the request that’s been submitted by the mayor,” Mendicino said.

Last week, Watson also said he’d spoken with Treasury Board President and local MP Mona Fortier about ways the government could financially assist those who have lost their wages or income due to businesses not being able to open given the ongoing security risk and instances of harassment of workers for enforcing mask mandates and other pandemic precautions.

Fortier offered no update on this on Monday, though joined her colleagues in calling for the protests to end. “Our residents, workers and businesses are suffering,” Fortier said.

TRUDEAU ‘MISSING’ OPPOSITION SAY

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.

“The prime minister has caused division by overtly politicizing vaccines and the pandemic, and calling these Canadians names. And now he’s saying these protests really aren’t his problem. They’re the province’s or maybe even the city’s. When will the prime minister stop hiding, show up for Canadians show some leadership, and fix the mess that he’s created?” Bergen asked.

Trudeau, who tested positive for COVID-19 one week ago, was scheduled to be in “private meetings” throughout the day and did not appear in question period to field this question.

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.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh suggested earlier Monday that it was time for the prime minister to sit down with the municipal and provincial governments to get on the same page and develop a plan to end the protest.

“Local citizens, healthcare workers and front-line workers across the country are being harassed and assaulted in their community,” Singh said, accusing the Liberals of being “missing in action.”

The NDP was granted approval for the House of Commons to hold an emergency debate on the ongoing situation on Monday night.

“The situation has reached a crisis point. And in times of crisis, it is important for federal leaders to show leadership, to urge de-escalation, and to work together to find solutions,” Singh wrote in a letter to the House Speaker.

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.

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.

MAYOR WANTS MEDIATOR

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.”

Asked what he thought about a potential federal mediator, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc dodged, saying that the federal government is being mindful of what it can “appropriately do” within their jurisdiction.

“The Prime Minister has been actively engaged every day, in briefings and in updates from senior officials in the national security and intelligence community, in terms of what’s happening… I’ve had the opportunity to speak and work with him in meetings right through this past weekend,” LeBlanc said.

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