OTTAWA — More than a week after a protest led by truckers against pandemic restrictions effectively closed downtown Canada’s capital, the mayor declared a state of emergency on Sunday.
The City of Ottawa said in a press release that Mayor Jim Watson’s decision “reflects the grave danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing protests and underscores the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.”
The measure, however, is largely symbolic. He gave the city police no additional powers to move several hundred trucks and personal vehicles from the streets near the Houses of Parliament, and provincial regulations limit the city to acting within its current laws when it s is about manifestation.
It came after protesters in Ottawa and other cities across Canada took to the streets on Saturday for the second weekend in a row to continue protests against pandemic restrictions. Protests that began with truckers criticizing vaccination mandates have grown to include a range of other political causes, including opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
While police and officials braced for rowdy crowds and potential violence, the atmosphere of Saturday’s midday protests, while noisy, remained mostly peaceful and celebratory.
In Ottawa, despite freezing temperatures, a band performed on the street outside Parliament Hill under a Canadian flag hanging from a large construction crane. Nearby, several inflatable bouncy castles were set up and makeshift canteens spread across the city center handing out food. In the parking lot of a municipal ballpark that truckers used to stage and camp, three saunas were set up.
In the streets, many people marching towards the protest greeted each other with raised fists and cries of “freedom”.
While the protests did not escalate into serious physical violence, they nonetheless paralyzed downtown Ottawa with traffic, noise and repeated complaints of harassment.
“I get hundreds – and I’m not exaggerating – hundreds of emails saying, ‘I went out shopping, I was yelled at, I was harassed. I was followed in the street, I’m so scared that I won’t be able to get out,” said Catherine McKenney, city councilor for the area, Thursday afternoon.
Across the region, many businesses were closed in the past week, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost sales. Those that stayed open struggled to enforce provincial mask rules.
About 200 to 250 trucks have remained downtown since last Saturday’s protest, their drivers honking their horns frequently. Supporters delivered diesel fuel to truckers, who piled firewood in parks and built a small wooden canteen next to a canal that serves as a popular skating rink in winter.
Sunday, the Ottawa Police said on Twitter that they had started arresting people bringing jerry cans of diesel fuel to truckers.
In Toronto, dozens of cars, vans and heavy trucks were parked along the upscale downtown shopping district at noon, north of the gated area of the Legislative Building, with the sounds of car horns honking and cries of “freedom”. Protesters held up Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms signs and used hockey sticks as masts for Canadian flags and Gadsden flags. People climbed over a dump truck and a man climbed a tree near the Royal Ontario Museum.
Toronto Police announcement that they arrested a man for assault with a weapon and told the public to avoid protests.
Through GoFundMe, some of the organizers raised C$10 million, or about $7.8 million, but the online service only handed out about $1 million. On Friday evening, the platform said in a statement that after speaking with police, it wouldn’t make any more money.
“We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful protest has turned into an occupation, with police reports of violence and other illegal activity,” GoFundMe said.