From the western province of Alberta, moving east to Quebec City, and in cities and towns in between, thousands of Canadians have hit the streets in trucks, tractors, cars and on foot to protest the nation’s Covid-19 restrictions.
With persistent and noisy horn honking, protesters are demanding governments at all levels lift their health restrictions, including vaccine and mask mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
“The whole event has gone beyond just vaccines and it is now about the entire ordeal,” protester James MacDonald told CNN, adding he’s been in Ottawa since last weekend and has no intention of leaving until health measures are dropped.
The “Freedom Convoy” was initially started by truckers protesting a recent mandate requiring drivers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. But others have joined the cause. Demonstrators reached Ottawa, Canada’s capital, last weekend, and its organizers said the protests will linger there and elsewhere if necessary.
During an Ottawa Police Services Board meeting Saturday, City Council members and officials discussed the disruption to the lives of local residents and reports of harassment and intimidation.
Board Chair and City Council member Diane Deans characterized the protest as an occupation, saying it was an insurrection that was terrorizing residents and was a “threat to democracy.”
Police Chief Peter Sloly said he agreed with Deans’ words, saying they summarized what he and his force had been trying to deal with for more than a week. He emphasized that he didn’t have the resources or mandate to deal with the situation.
“The oath of office that I and my officers swore was never intended to deal with a city under siege, a threat to our democracy, a nationwide insurrection driven by madness,” Sloly warned during the meeting adding that, “We do not have sufficient resources to adequately and effectively address this situation while adequately, effectively providing policing in this city.”
While mostly nonviolent, the protests have been noisy and chaotic, and some residents, especially in Ottawa, said they feel like they’re being held hostage by demonstrators.
“I understand the police force does not want to directly intervene for fear of violence,” Ottawa resident Jack Krentz told CNN this week, “but it feels like we’ve been left alone a little bit.”
Numerous businesses in Ottawa have complained to city officials they are losing money and customers, and the majority of businesses in Ottawa’s downtown core have been closed for more than a week or have been operating with reduced hours.
Ottawa police said they have responded to more than 400 calls for service related to the demonstrations since they began last week. At least 50 criminal investigations are underway, including 11 involving potential hate crimes.
Manitoba man arrested for allegedly driving into crowd
A Manitoba man was arrested after allegedly driving a vehicle into a crowded protest and striking four people in Winnipeg on Friday night, according to a statement from the Winnipeg Police Department.
David Alexander Zegarac, 42, drove through a group of people gathered at Winnipeg’s Legislative grounds as part of the “Freedom Convoy,” police said.
After allegedly striking the four people with his Jeep Patriot, the suspect fled “at high speeds and passing through red lights,” police said. He was subsequently arrested after a brief struggle with law enforcement, police said.