Political pressure grow for end to convoy protests as Ottawa warns of weekend surge

Jordan Press and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 10, 2022 4:08PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 10, 2022 4:42PM EST

OTTAWA – Pressure has mounted on both sides of the border, and across the political aisle in Canada, for protesters blockading key crossings with the U.S. and others encamped by Parliament Hill to go home, or for officials to move them out of the way.

Political patience with the protesters has run thin as vehicles choke the flow of goods at border crossings, including at Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., and the busy Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance said Thursday the industry would pay a heavy price for the border actions. It called on governments to end the current blockades and provide a plan to prevent them from happening again.

Political support for the protesters seemed to evaporate as well, as the interim Conservative leader, who two weeks ago suggested her party do everything to make the demonstrations the prime minister’s problem, reversed course and cut her party’s support.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Candice Bergen called on protesters to go home and end activity that she said was hurting the country’s economic rebound from COVID-19.

“Take down all of the blockades. Protest peacefully and legally, but it’s time to remove the barricades and the trucks for the sake of the economy,” Bergen said.

South of the border, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a written statement urged federal, provincial and local authorities in Canada to immediately end the blockades that threaten her state’s economy. She did so hours before a Michigan congresswoman, Elissa Slotkin, warned of similar protests in the future the longer Canadian authorities let the situation persist.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the RCMP is sending reinforcements to Ottawa and Windsor.

The latter city was granted intervener status Thursday in an application for an injunction that would stop protesters blocking Canada-bound traffic at the Ambassador Bridge crossing. An Ontario Supreme Court justice was set to hear submissions Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was working with municipal leaders and the Ford government in Ontario to put an end to barricades that were “hurting communities across the country.

“We’re going to continue to do what’s necessary to end these barricades,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into the House of Commons.

But the protests showed no signs of letting up.

Speaking to a crowd gathered by Parliament Hill, protester Bethan Nodwell urged the crowd to hold the line downtown until reinforcements arrive this weekend.

“We’re blocking the airports. We’re blocking borders. We are blocking it all. We are not going to retreat,” she said into the microphone.

The situation in Ottawa, which has spurred similar actions nationally and abroad, continued to dominate debate even as political fissures have formed inside the Liberal caucus and Official Opposition over the handling of the protests and public health measures.

The House of Commons foreign affairs committee was scheduled to meet Thursday where the NDP planned to seek unanimous consent to invite U.S. Ambassador David Cohen to testify. The New Democrats want to hear from him about American funding of the protest in Ottawa through online donations, which they say is an attack on Canada’s democracy.

The so-called Freedom Convoy rolled in to Ottawa two weeks ago, ostensibly to protest federal vaccination mandates for truckers, but it has also demanded an end to all COVID-19 restrictions and some in the group have called for the government to be dissolved.

Ottawa police said Thursday that a dozen trucks left an area outside the downtown core after negotiations with protesters who have used the parking lot there as a staging and logistics ground.

Ten more trucks left streets near Parliament Hill, and another vehicle was towed for obstructing traffic as police look to reduce the footprint of the protesters’ occupation of downtown Ottawa.

There are now about 400 vehicles left in the core.

Demonstrators with large trucks have been warned by police that if they block streets they could be charged with mischief to property, or have their vehicles and other property seized and possibly forfeited. Police also warned that charges or convictions might mean being barred from travelling to the United States.

On Thursday afternoon, police said they had made three more arrests since Tuesday, bringing the total number of arrests to 25. An investigation is also underway after demonstrators refused to stop for an officer and hit a police cruiser near downtown, though police said no one was injured.

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly warned anyone considering coming to the capital on the weekend to think twice about entering the city and said they’ll be met by a beefed-up police presence.

Sloly also said he expected an imminent announcement from upper levels of government about the city’s request for 1,800 additional officers to bolster the local force.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2022.

– With files from Mike Blanchfield, Stephanie Taylor, Mia Rabson and Justin Tang in Ottawa and Nicole Thompson in Toronto