Prime Minister Justin Trudeau downplayed the idea of deploying Canada’s military to help clear out a trucker protest that’s paralyzed the capital, raising the prospect of an extended occupation of Ottawa’s downtown core.
Trudeau, speaking in a virtual news conference from isolation after contracting COVID-19, said Thursday that the federal government would consider any request for military help from provincial or city officials -- but he doesn’t see that happening in the near future.
“One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military in situations engaging Canadians,” Trudeau said. “There have been no requests, and that is not in the cards right now.”
His comments come a day after Ottawa’s police chief said he believes there may not be a “policing solution” to clearing out the blockades from the city’s downtown core. Columns of big rigs are parked on major thoroughfares, bombarding residents with near-constant blasts from their air horns.
One of the rare times the Canadian military has been brought in to assist with domestic law enforcement was the October Crisis in 1970, when a Quebec separatist group kidnapped a British trade commissioner and then kidnapped and killed a provincial cabinet minister. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister during the time and when asked how far he was willing to go in responding to the crisis, he famously replied: “Just watch me.”
Although the number of actual protesters in Ottawa has dwindled since last weekend -- the most recent count from police was just 250 people taking part in demonstrations near parliament -- there remains well over 100 semi trucks and other vehicles blocking the downtown business district and extending into residential areas.
City officials have also said they expect the protest to be reinvigorated this weekend as demonstrators flood back in from other regions. Furthermore, parallel protests are planned for the provincial capitals in Ontario and Quebec.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement Thursday that Canada’s financial capital would do “everything it can” to avoid a situation like that now afflicting Ottawa.
Organizers of the Ottawa protest say they won’t leave until all COVID mandates are lifted -- not just vaccine mandates, but also mask mandates. Most such public-health orders are in the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
The group raised a substantial war chest through crowd-sourcing platform GoFundMe Inc. That flow of donations, some of which have come from outside Canada, has been put on pause, according to the California-based company
“We are now aware of a significant element from the United States that has been involved in the funding, the organizing” of the protest, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters Wednesday at a news conference.
Asked whether he would consider meeting with protest organizers to negotiate an end to the demonstrations, Trudeau said his government was elected in September with a platform that included vaccine mandates, and he will continue to “stand by the science.”
“Having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a non-starter in a responsible democracy,” Trudeau said.
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