Vehicles from the protest convoy are parked blocking lanes on a road, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022 in Ottawa. Residents of the national capital are again being told to avoid traveling downtown as a convoy of trucks and cars snarl traffic protesting government-imposed vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
Thousands in Ottawa protesting Covid-19 mandates
02:50 - Source: CNN
Ottawa CNN  — 

A demonstration that began with a group of truckers objecting to new Canadian Covid-19 vaccine mandates and escalated into wider protests over the weekend continued Wednesday, as authorities say multiple investigations into criminal activity are underway in the nation’s capital.

There are fewer protesters in Ottawa now than over the weekend, police said, but heavy trucks and other vehicles continue to clog downtown.

Residents, businesses and legislators entering Canada’s parliament can hear loud honking at all hours, and the smell of fuel pervades much of the downtown core.

Two people have been arrested for demonstration-related incidents and 13 active investigations are proceeding, the Ottawa Police Service said Tuesday.

“We want to be very clear, both for the current demonstrations and any planned demonstrations: Illegal activity will not be tolerated,” the police service said in a statement. “There will be consequences for anyone contravening City By-laws, Highway Traffic Act and Criminal Code legislation.”

Some demonstrators have been threatening and harassing locals, officials said, including reports of homophobic and racist behavior, as Ottawa has become a hotspot for protesters objecting to the vaccine mandates.

The protests stemmed from a “Freedom Convoy” of truckers that traveled across Canada for several days before arriving in Ottawa Saturday.

The demonstrators are opposing a recent vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last month that 90% of the country’s truckers were already vaccinated.

Thousands of miles west, a blockade by truck drivers at the Canadian-US border is entering its fifth day, blocking a major commercial artery between the two countries. The drivers, stationed near a border checkpoint in Alberta, have said they’re not moving until health restrictions are lifted.

Supporters arrive at Parliament Hill for the 'Freedom Truck Convoy' to protest against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in Ottawa on Saturday.

Ontario premier says it’s time to ‘move on’

As the trucks in Ottawa idle and supporters wave Canadian flags, the vitriol from some demonstrators has alarmed city residents and officials.

Police observed “multiple cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behavior from demonstrators,” and are aware of their intention to stay in place, the Ottawa Police Service said in a statement Sunday.

Police avoided ticketing and towing vehicles “so as not to instigate confrontations with demonstrators,” but confrontations and the need for de-escalation has regularly occurred between police and demonstrators, according to the statement.

Instances of harassment, threats and war monument desecration have been documented, police 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,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Monday.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of trucking associations, condemned the memorial vandalism and said many protesters in Ottawa appeared to have no connection to the trucking industry.

On Tuesday, the premier of Ontario joined a chorus of politicians from many political parties calling for an end to the demonstrations, urging the protesters to move on.

“There’s a million people that live in Ottawa, you know I hear you, I hear the protesters, the province hears the protesters, the country hears the protesters. Now it’s time to let the people of Ottawa get back to their lives,” Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday.

Protesters in Alberta nearly ran over police, mayor says

In western Canada, trucks and cars have been blocking the Coutts, Alberta, border crossing just north of Sweet Grass, Montana.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to end the standoff Tuesday through negotiations, but drivers are still idling their trucks and have been joined by more protesters, according to Jim Willett, the mayor of Coutts.

“The numbers here have grown again and the RCMP are going truck to truck giving people an ultimatum. They have a facility to start towing vehicles and that’s what I expect to start seeing next,” Willett told CNN, adding the protest is putting a severe strain on residents and businesses.

Both Monday and Tuesday, the RCMP said it tried to find a peaceful solution to the border blockade but the protesters had chosen not to comply.

Protesters so far have been peaceful and mostly polite, Willett stressed, but he noted the situation had clearly escalated and “anything could happen now.”

Another group of protesters broke through a barricade that had been set up by police about 12 miles north of the border town, Willett said, nearly running over RCMP officers as they headed south to join the border blockade.

Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, condemned those “aligned with the protesters assaulting RCMP officers, including one instance trying to ram members of the RCMP,” and called for cooler heads to prevail.

“This kind of conduct is totally unacceptable, assaulting law enforcement officers who are simply doing their job to maintain public safety and the rule of law is completely unacceptable and without hesitation I condemn those actions,” Kenney said.

“And I call for calm amongst anybody who feels sympathetic to those engaged in this blockade, please stay away from the area, please do not further intensify an already difficult situation.”

CNN’s Paula Newton reported from Ottawa; Travis Caldwell wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Raja Razek, Chris Boyette, Holly Yan, Dakin Andone, Kelly McCleary, Artemis Moshtaghian and Keith Allen contributed to this report.