Ottawa’s police chief told city council on Monday afternoon that it would take 1,800 more officers to put down a protest by truckers that paralyzed the city’s downtown for 11 days, which led the mayor to declare a state of emergency.
“We continue to employ all available officers, there are no days off,” chief Peter Sloly said at the special meeting. “It’s not sustainable.”
The demonstrations, during which some demonstrators desecrated national memorials and threatened local residents, have shaken a country known worldwide as a model of humanism and serenity.
They began on January 29 with protests by truckers against vaccination mandates imposed by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They have since escalated into an occupation of Canada’s capital and broader protests over pandemic rules like vaccination mandates, lockdowns and mask requirements, and Mr. Trudeau. They also spread far beyond the capital.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Toronto and Quebec over the weekend. Convoys of trucks gathered near provincial legislatures in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. Downtown Ottawa, site of the country’s parliament, remained paralyzed on Monday as truckers parked their vehicles on busy thoroughfares.
“Someone is going to be killed or seriously injured because of the irresponsible behavior of some of these people,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson warned Sunday. City officials and the police chief said they were “besieged”.
The entire Ottawa police force numbers only 1,200, but has been supplemented by several hundred officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local police forces elsewhere in Ontario over the past week. It’s unclear where the large number of additional police officers Chief Sloly said the city needs will come from.
Separately on Monday, several federal cabinet ministers told a news conference that the federal government will set up a special body to coordinate efforts among federal, local and provincial governments in handling the protests. While also pledging to provide additional resources, all stressed that they lacked the authority to direct police operations.
Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Public Security, flatly ruled out holding talks with protesters on their demand to end all pandemic measures.
“It would be a terrible precedent to say that if you show up in the nation’s capital with heavy equipment and blockade the capital, you can force an unwise change in our public policy,” he told reporters. “It’s surprising that some who say they believe in law and order seem to miss this point.”
Since the protests began in Ottawa, residents of densely populated neighborhoods near Parliament have complained of protester harassment and seemingly endless honking, as well as the fact that downtown streets are jammed with trucks. At the town council meeting on Monday, Mr Watson said the police arson squad was investigating two people, possibly protesters, who had left fire starters in the lobby of a building.
On Monday, Ontario Superior Court Judge Hugh McLean granted a temporary injunction against the horn requested by a 21-year-old public servant who lives in the area, but it was unclear how that injunction would be enforced.
Many of the capital’s trucks traveled in convoy from the western province of British Columbia which, as it rolled along, was joined and eventually outnumbered by supporters traveling in vans and cars. The group – loosely organized and without a single, clear leader – has also broadened its demands, urging Mr Trudeau to end all Covid rules and restrictions in Canada, including those set by provinces and local governments.
Long before the first trucks began arriving in Ottawa on January 28, Trudeau said he would not cancel the vaccine mandate. He refused to meet with members of the groups, whom he described as a “marginal minority”.
“What we are doing is within the law,” said Eric, a protester from Niagara Region, Ont., who declined to give his full name. He was in a big delivery truck with a poppy painted on the side. Eric said he couldn’t say specifically what he wanted from Mr Trudeau, but that he had to be “a man of the people”.