Feb 7, 2022
Truckers ordered to mute horns as protest strains life in Ottawa
Police target truckers' fuel after Ottawa declares emergency
Police in Canada’s capital were trying to cut off the supply of fuel to a convoy of truckers and other activists occupying Ottawa’s downtown core, while a court issued a 10-day injunction against their use of ear-splitting air horns.
The demonstrations, which are becoming a test case for how democracies deal with public frustration over COVID-19 restrictions, have paralyzed the city for more than a week and a state of emergency was declared on Sunday.
The city’s mayor, Jim Watson, asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday to supply 1,800 law-enforcement officers “to quell the insurrection that the Ottawa Police Service is not able to contain.”
Police broke up a logistics hub Sunday that had been set up in a now-fenced-off park in between a major tourist hotel, city hall and the headquarters of Canada’s defense department. The truckers had been using the spot to stockpile propane, gasoline and diesel.
Lines of big rigs remain parked on major thoroughfares. But residents could get some relief after an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in their favor and issued a temporary injunction to stop the near-constant horn-honking that Watson called “tantamount to psychological warfare.”
Politically, the protest has both helped topple Trudeau’s main rival in the Conservative Party and exposed just how polarizing the Liberal prime minister’s more than six years in power have been in Canada.
Trudeau has largely been out of sight during the protest after testing positive for COVID-19 a week ago and going into isolation. On Friday, he said calling in the military was “not in the cards,” but he’s been silent since then and had no scheduled public appearances on Monday.
A quintet of his ministers stressed in a midday briefing that Trudeau’s government has only a limited role in responding to the disruption. But it also conceded it has heard the legitimate frustrations of the protesters.
“We all want to see a return to normal life and a responsible, evidence-based easing of the guidelines and protocols,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said. “I assure you that day is coming soon.”
He added, however, that the government doesn’t intend to back down on the vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers that helped trigger the protest. “We cannot allow an angry crowd to reverse a course that continues to save lives in this last stretch. This should never be a precedent for how to make policy in Canada.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said provinces should look at using their “extensive regulatory powers over commercial trucking and road transportation to help end this unlawful occupation.” That could include suspending licenses and insurance for participating truckers.
Many businesses have been shut. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has two branches in the downtown closed since last week while National Bank of Canada has one, according to spokespeople for the banks.
The Bank of Canada confirmed Monday its headquarters are closed to most staff. Former Governor Mark Carney described the unruly protest as “sedition” and called on authorities to cut off funding to the convoy.
“They are not patriots. This is not about ‘restoring freedom’ but beginning anarchy,” Carney, who was governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
Late Friday, GoFundMe Inc. removed a fundraiser for the Canadian truckers, saying their campaign violates terms prohibiting the promotion of violence -- a decision Mendicino praised. But money is still flowing to the convoy via other crowdsourcing platforms, include GiveSendGo, which said it’s received US$4.5 million.
As the convoy was en route to the capital, Trudeau dismissed it as a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.” The protesters have now adopted those terms as catchphrases adorning their signs and clothing.
Meanwhile, the opposition Conservatives are divided over how to respond to the truckers. Only a handful of their elected members have so far condemned the demonstrations, with one Quebec lawmaker calling for a stop to “this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups.”
Other Conservatives have publicly embraced the demonstrators, including Pierre Poilievre, the perceived front-runner in the race to succeed Erin O’Toole as leader.
O’Toole, a military veteran and former corporate lawyer, was toppled in a caucus putsch last week. Though he was already unpopular within the party after failing to defeat Trudeau in September’s election, his attempt to embrace the cause of truckers in general while distancing himself from the actual protest helped seal his fate.
Interim Leader Candice Bergen represents a rural prairie region and has endorsed the trucker convoy from the start. On Saturday night, Poilievre -- the party’s firebrand finance critic, who represents a suburban district south of Ottawa -- announced his candidacy for the top job. His video message made no mention of the growing crisis in Ottawa’s streets.
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