A hotline for people to report hate incidents is being set up in Ottawa as the Canadian capital grapples with ongoing protests over Covid-19 mandates that police say have led to reports of threatening, illegal and intimidating behavior by the demonstrators, rattling downtown residents and workers.
“We already have a number of hate-related incidents that we’re investigating,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said at a video news conference Monday announcing the hotline. “We encourage anyone who’s been the victim of a hate crime or think they may have been the victim of a hate crime or exposed to hate incidents to contact us.”
The hotline, which is expected to be active within 24 hours, will field reports of criminal activity, threats, assaults and hate-related crimes, “directly related to the demonstrations,” Sloly said.
The announcement came days after a “Freedom Convoy” of truckers arrived in Ottawa to oppose a recent vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. The event grew into a wider protest of Covid-19 restrictions and snowballed into a blockade of the city and the obstruction of a US-Canadian border crossing.
Demonstrators have been accused of desecrating a national war memorial and harassing residents and workers at a homeless shelter.
During Monday’s news conference, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson condemned reports that a couple living near the protests was harassed over a Pride flag displayed on their home.
“This kind of intimidation and bullying tactics, it’s causing great angst in the community. And here’s an example of homophobia,” Watson said. “We see examples downtown of racism, and anti-Semitism, so it’s quite a collection of people that have arrived and that are really, quite frankly, terrorizing some of our residents in their neighborhoods.”
The city has intelligence officers, investigative officers, and multi-jurisdictional support, and there are several ongoing criminal investigations “from bribery to threats to assault to the dangerous operation of vehicles,” Sloly said.
“No matter where you live, no matter where your vehicles are registered, if you’ve come here and committed a crime. If you have committed a hate crime, you will be investigated. We will look for you. We will charge you, if necessary, will arrest you, and we will pursue prosecutions against you,” the police chief warned.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is isolating after recently testing positive for Covid-19, had sharp words Monday for those causing turmoil.
“Canadians were shocked and frankly disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau said.
“I want to be very clear: We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless,” he said. “We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”
Police are negotiating with organizers of the protests, Sloly said.
“We are emphatic in our desire to resolve these demonstrations as quickly, safely and effectively as possible. … All options are on the table. Through negotiation, through to enforcement. All options remain on the table to safely and effectively resolve this demonstration,” he said.
Police: War memorial desecrated during protests
Before the hotline was announced police were investigating the alleged desecration of monuments in the city, including the National War Memorial and that of the late athlete and cancer research activist Terry Fox.
Canada’s chief of defense, Gen. Wayne Eyre, said he was “sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial.”
“Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this,” Eyre tweeted Saturday. “Those involved should hang their heads in shame.”
A similar denunciation also came from the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of Canadian trucking associations, which had already said a large number of the protesters appeared to have no connection to the trucking industry.
“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial are sacred sites for Canadians. The desecration of these sites was a disgusting act and is a dishonour to those soldiers who have given their lives for our country and those Canadian soldiers who continue to fight for our freedom today,” the CTA said in a statement.
The CTA called Fox a “national hero.” The alleged defacing of Fox’s monument was another insult to “the memory of one of the greatest Canadians in our history,” it said.
Shepherds of New Hope, a homeless shelter and kitchen in Ottawa, said some protesters harassed staff and volunteers for meals.
“While we are not certain of exact numbers, the demands for meals and verbal altercations continued for several hours over the dinner period,” the center tweeted Sunday.
“Trucks were parked in our ambulance drop off zone for nearly 12 hours until they were removed and towed with the support of Ottawa Police Services,” the facility said. “Our staff and volunteers faced significant barriers to get in to work.”
Protesters block border crossing
In western Canada, trucks and cars have been blocking the Coutts border crossing just north of Sweet Grass, Montana, where Interstate 15 is a major commercial artery for US-Canada supply chains. The critical route is called Highway 4 on the Canadian side.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta asked motorists to avoid the area, saying Sunday that northbound and southbound traffic was blocked.
“In an effort to find a peaceful solution the Alberta RCMP had been negotiating with protesters at the Coutts border crossing throughout the day,” the police service tweeted Monday night. “While we thought we had a path to resolve this, the protesters chose not to comply.
“The Alberta RCMP will use only the level of intervention necessary to ensure the safety of all citizens and to maintain peace, order, and security. Our goal is to facilitate lawful and peaceful protest,” the agency said in a statement. “When an event becomes unlawful we utilize a measured approach, which ultimately includes enforcement. This event is unlawful and we are asking those who are involved to clear the area.”