The ongoing protest by Canadian truckers over Covid-19 health restrictions is now an “unlawful” occupation of the country’s capital, Ottawa officials said Wednesday.
“We’re looking at every single option, including military aid,” Ottawa’s police chief Peter Sloly said during a briefing.
He underscored the fact that such a request for help would be rare and that he could only recall the military being called in to quell civil disobedience twice in the last century. Yet a spokesperson for Canada’s defense minister said later Wednesday there are “no plans” for such involvement.
“The Canadian Armed Forces are not involved in law enforcement in this situation,” Daniel Minden, spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand, said in a statement.
Though the number of trucks and protesters in the city has dwindled, Sloly warned residents he expects more will return to the capital by the weekend.
The truckers oppose a recent mandate requiring drivers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. The group is also protesting against other health restrictions, like mask mandates and Covid-19 lockdowns.
During an hours-long community briefing, Sloly said his police service could not realistically stop thousands of protesters or hundreds of trucks and cars from entering Ottawa.
“There is no lawful authority to seal a city, there’s no practical capability to seal a city of this size,” Sloly said, noting it would take a police force of 50,000 to even attempt it.
Sloly also claimed that US money and organizers were involved in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest.
“We are now aware of a significant element from the United States that have been involved in the funding, the organizing and the demonstrating. They have converged on our city and there are plans for more to come,” Sloly claimed, adding, “The longer this goes on, the more I’m convinced there may not be a police solution to this demonstration.”
A GoFundMe page for the “Freedom Convoy” had raised nearly $8 million US before being paused by the company, saying it required more information from the organizer of the fundraiser.
GoFundMe outlined several actions they take to vet fundraisers, including identifying the organizer and how the money will be spent, among other efforts.
“We strictly prohibit user content that reflects or promotes behavior in support of violence – in this case, the organizer met our requirements and the fundraiser did not violate our Terms of Service at the time of creation,” the company said in a statement.
City officials earlier said they were considering bringing legal action against GoFundMe for helping to fund an illegal protest but worry legal action would take several weeks and would not help to resolve the issue.
Protests to continue
Organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” released a statement Wednesday saying they had empathy for city residents but that they will stay in Ottawa until all levels of government end all mandates associated with the pandemic.
“Our message to the citizens of Ottawa is one of empathy,” said Chris Barber, who identified himself as a senior leader with the group. “We understand your frustration and genuinely wish there was another way for us to get our message across, but the responsibility for your inconvenience lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians who have prefer to vilify and call us names rather than engage in respectful, serious dialogue.”
A similar trucker protest thousands of miles away in the province of Alberta continued Wednesday with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police saying they continue to try to negotiate with protesters.
Police said the demonstrators agreed to open a lane near the Coutts border crossing on Wednesday afternoon.
That protest has blockaded a major commercial border crossing between Alberta and Montana since Saturday.
Protest has negative effects on vulnerable people, charity says
City officials said the convoy’s words of empathy rang hollow as they described angry and frustrated residents who are putting up with inconvenience and abuse.
Horns have blared almost continually downtown for five days and traffic has impeded many from getting food and medical attention.
Businesses, including restaurants and a large mall, have been mostly shutdown since the weekend.
Charities in particular have said the most vulnerable residents in the city are suffering trauma.
Shepherds of Good Hope, a homeless shelter and kitchen in Ottawa, said some protesters harassed staff and volunteers for meals.
A local women’s shelter also said its staff and residents are affected by the ongoing demonstrations.
“The residents and staff in Ottawa’s women’s shelter are exhausted,” Amber Bramer of Cornerstone Housing for Women in Ottawa wrote in an online statement. “This protest is having consequences on the rights and wellness of the city’s most vulnerable people. Women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter, especially women of color, being able to go outside is the only reprieve many women experiencing homelessness have and they cannot even do that.”