Ottawa, AFP — Ottawa’s police chief vowed Friday to crack down on an “unlawful” occupation of the Canadian capital by protesters opposed to vaccine mandates, as the trucker convoy’s clogging of the city enters a second week.
The tough talk from Ottawa’s top law enforcement official comes as the number of protesters — emboldened by support from former US president Donald Trump — is set to surge again this weekend, as well as be joined by counter-protesters.
“This remains… an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration,” Chief Peter Sloly told a news conference.
Following thousands of complaints from local residents of threats and harassment by protesters who’ve made even sleep difficult with incessant honking, Sloly said police were now “committed to bringing this unlawful demonstration to an end.”
But he did not offer a timeline.
An additional 150 police officers were deployed in downtown Ottawa Friday ahead of the expected arrival of 2,000-3,000 more protesters and counter-protesters this weekend.
The demonstration had peaked at several thousand last Saturday, according to officials, before dwindling to a few hundred by midweek.
“The lawlessness must end,” Sloly said, adding that acts of mischief, hate, harassment, intimidation and “other threatening behaviors” will not be tolerated.
Bridges and roadways into the city this weekend will be blocked, with protesters asked to park in lots on the outskirts and walk or use city transit to downtown.
Meanwhile, authorities have stepped up tracking protest supporters who are “funding and enabling unlawful and harmful activity,” Sloly said.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started on Canada’s Pacific coast in late January and picked up supporters along its 4,400-kilometer (2,700 miles) trek to the capital, as well as more than Can$10 million (US$8 million) in online donations.
Its leaders told a news conference Thursday they planned to stay in Ottawa until vaccine mandates and other public health measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 are lifted.
On the streets of Ottawa, protestors hunkered down, building a large wooden shed in a city park to stockpile fuel containers and propane tanks — a show of resolve rebuked by Mayor Jim Watson.
They’ve also called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to resign.
In a statement Friday, Trump expressed support for the protesters, saying the “harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau… has destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates.” He also egged on a proposal to hold a similar rally in Washington.
Trudeau, who’s isolating after contracting Covid, has refused to meet with them, as others stepped up criticisms of the protesters, accusing them of racism and even terrorism — labels organizers reject.
An estimated 400 more trucks are headed to Ottawa to try to join about 100 big rigs currently parked in front of parliament and surrounding streets, according to police.
Other cities including Toronto, Quebec City and Winnipeg are also bracing for protests this weekend, while a blockade of a border crossing in Alberta continues.