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Ottawa police to get more help from RCMP to address trucker convoy protest

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Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced late Thursday that the RCMP has approved all requests from the Ottawa Police Service to address the convoy that has taken over the city’s downtown core.

In the statement, Mendicino said that convoy has “caused significant disruption” to local residents and that the people of Ottawa are “entitled to expect that the law is upheld and enforced by police and that public safety is maintained.”

“I am able to confirm that the RCMP has approved all the additional resources that were requested, and they will be ready to assist the Ottawa Police Service, who are the police of jurisdiction,” he tweeted.

“This request is in addition to RCMP resources and support already in place since the arrival of the convoy in Ottawa. It is important to underline that these are operational decisions taken by the police, independent of the government.”

Earlier Thursday, someof the main organizers for the “Freedom Convoy” decried Thursday that they had been painted as “racists, misogynists…and even terrorists,” and that no one from the federal or provincial government had met with them.

Tamara Lich, one of the leaders of the convoy, read a prepared statement “calling on all levels of government to lift all COVID-19 restrictions and mandates,” and vowed to stay on until there is a “solid plan” to see action on their demands.

Speaking at a press conference, Lich said lawyers for the convoy had sent GoFundMe “all the details they had asked for” in regards to the money raised for the truckers' protest on the platform and how it would be dispersed.

“We want to thank the hundreds of residents of Ottawa who have stepped forward to show us support, provided accommodations, food and just plain friendship to members of our convoy,” she said. “This love of community is what Canada is all about.”

GoFundMe suspended the “Freedom Convoy” fundraiser for the second time on Wednesday and it is now under review, according to a pinned post on the website.

The fundraiser had raised more than $10 million in pledges and $1 million was released to the organizers of the trucker convoy last week.

During an interview with CTVNewsChannel’s Power Play, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he met with officials at GoFundMe on Thursday and suggested withholding the money until the truckers leave the city.

“They’re doing a full review,” he said. “The whole thing is sketchy. This one woman is getting all money, how’s she distributing it? Where’s that money going to go?”

Also speaking at the press conference was Daniel Bulford, a former RCMP officer who quit over the service’s vaccine mandate. Bulford said he has seen truckers and supporters of the movement feeding the homeless, picking up trash on the streets, shovelling snow at and guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Terry Fox memorial statue.

Bulford said any safety issues brought to their attention have been forwarded to the Ottawa Police Service immediately. 

Convoy lawyer Keith Wilson answered reporters' questions regarding the suspension of the convoy’s GoFundMe funds, saying the bulk of the money is still held by the fundraising platform, but that the group has taken “appropriate steps” to ensure the legal and accounting boxes are checked, including audit procedures, and that they hope to open the flow of donations again soon.

The group did not answer reporters’ follow-up questions. 

STOCKPILE OF FUEL ‘STUPID,’ MAYOR SAYS

Horns could still be heard ringing through Ottawa’s downtown on Thursday, as some protesters were seen building wooden structures near Ottawa City Hall and stockpiling fuel.

In a tweet, the National Capital Commission, which is responsible for development of Canada's Capital Region, said it is “aware of the situation” and that “canisters have been removed from the site,” but a CTV News camera from the scene showed that the canisters had only been covered with a tarp.

Watson called the canisters and the structure “stupid” and “dangerous.”

“That structure should be taken down,” he said. 

“These individuals seem to not think beyond their nose. Putting those two volatile products side-by-side does not make any sense.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa is bracing for the upcoming weekend and the possibility of an influx of trucker convoy protesters as the demonstration enters another day in the nation’s capital.

Parts of Ottawa’s downtown core remain inaccessible to the public as a scaled-down, core group of protesters continue to occupy the areas surrounding Parliament Hill, with transport trucks and personal vehicles encamped on the streets.

Ottawa Police Service estimates the remaining group of protesters includes approximately 250 people.

In a statement issued Thursday, police said officers have issued 30 traffic tickets and charged one man criminally in relation to the protest.

“Police laid eight charges for unnecessary noise (honking horns), one for transporting dangerous goods (insecure fuel cans), one for improper muffler, four for disobeying signs, two for driving the wrong way in one way traffic, one unsafe lane change, one distracted driving, six speeding, one running a stop sign and five document offences,” the statement said.

One driver was charged for allegedly driving while criminally prohibited, and had their vehicle impounded for 45 days..

NO PLANS TO CALL THE MILITARY: PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that he has no plans to call in the military to help Ottawa police contain or disperse the protest.

“One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military in situations engaging Canadians,” Trudeau said.

The protest has been a divisive issue on Parliament Hill, where Liberals and the NDP have condemned the demonstration.

In an internal email obtained by CTV News,newly elected interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen told senior members of the party not to tell anyone involved with the trucker convoy to leave.

“I don’t think we should be asking them to go home,” Bergen wrote in the email.

“I understand the mood may shift soon. So we need to turn this into the PMs problem. What will he take the first step to working toward ending this?”

Meanwhile, some Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan posed for a photo with members of the convoy on Wednesday night, which Watson called an “absolute disgrace.”

“To see these elected and appointed officials come and mug for the cameras and send out selfies is really the height of irresponsibility,” he said in an interview with CTVNews Channel’s Power Play on Thursday.

“Our people in Ottawa deserve better, they deserve an apology from these characters that went out there and little regard for the stress and strain for the people in our neighbourhoods.” 

OTHER CONVOYS COMING

A tractor convoy is being planned from Alexandria to Ottawa on Saturday in support of the truckers, according to a Facebook group with more than 1,900 followers.

Similar convoys are allegedly being planned this weekend in Toronto and Quebec City.

“I want to be absolutely clear, I support Toronto police taking necessary action to prepare for this possible protest with a focus on doing everything they can to protect the safety of Toronto residents and businesses,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters on Thursday.

Tory is planning a public update on the planned convoy protest in Toronto on Friday.

At a Wednesday briefing, Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly said the situation is “intolerable” and “unprecedented,” and that “all plans are on the table” to remove the protest: from a court injunction, to calling in the RCMP, and potentially requesting the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

However, in a statement emailed to CTV News late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the minister of national defence said “the Canadian Armed Forces are not involved in this situation, and there are no plans for such CAF involvement.” 

The director of communications for the minister of public safety has said that “the federal government has financial support available for the City of Ottawa in these types of situations through the Nation’s Capital Extraordinary Policing Costs Program.”

The program sets aside $15 million over five years to help cover policing costs incurred in the course of duties specific to Ottawa.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said the remaining demonstrators were “highly volatile,” signalling a shift away from initial “demonstration-based activities.”

RESIDENTS REPORT HARASSMENT, THREATS

Residents of Ottawa fed up with the disruption have begun counter-protesting, aiming their frustration at the city, the police and the trucker convoy.

More serious reports of residents being harassed and threatened with rape and violence for wearing masks or being physically assaulted while walking in their neighbourhoods have caused uproar on social media and led to tense questions in Wednesday’s briefing between city councillors, the police and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

The Cornerstone Emergency Shelter for Women released a statement Wednesday outlining the trauma their clients and front-line support staff are facing due to the protest.

“Women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter, especially women of colour, being able to go outside is the only reprieve many women experiencing homelessness have and they cannot even do that,” the statement reads.

“The incessant honking and noise from the trucks have caused significant anxiety and distress for staff and shelter residents. Women have admitted themselves into hospital due to the increased trauma from the noise and fear.”

INDIGENOUS LEADERS DECRY ‘IGNORANT ACTS’

On Wednesday, Chief Dylan Whiteduck posted a statement on Twitter on behalf of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and the Kigitgan Zibi Anishinabeg about the convoy and protest taking place in their traditional and unceded territory, calling it “unacceptable.”

“For those who are participating in these actions, the Algonquin Nation does not support the set up of a teepee, the pipe ceremony and a sacred fire in Confederation Park in support of the “Freedom Convoy.” 

There have been several instances of protesters either claiming to be a part of a First Nation, wearing regalia and lending their support to the convoy, or using sacred items like drums and taking part in ceremonies that have caused significant backlash on social media.

The statement said the Algonquin Nation did not give consent for their ceremonial practices to be used and warns those actions could cause more harm to “who we are as First Nations [and] Algonquin People.”

The statement was echoed by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) on Thursday. They said the convoy is “an insult to our Chiefs, our communities and to the hundreds of loved ones we’ve lost through this pandemic.”

Citing the “ignorant acts of cultural appropriation of First Nations culture and spirituality,” the statement decried the disrespect of “traditional drums, pipes and medicines” used by protesters.

“It’s a disgrace to see our culturally sacred items being used improperly, without proper protocol, in support of anti-vaccine protests” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in the released statement. “The FSIN condemns such open acts of racism and ignorance which are being committed across our traditional Treaty territories.”

Speaking on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday, Liberal MP Greg Fergus decried the hate symbols that have been on display throughout the protest.

“It is totally unacceptable to me, it was shocking, it was frightening to see people who would carry those symbols…we have to go beyond calling it a symbol,” Fergus said. “The swastika and the Confederate flag really represent probably two of the worst eras in human history -- how we killed people through state-sponsored terrorism, to really dominate one group of people over another – it’s an unacceptable demonstration of that symbol in a public space and on Parliament Hill.”

Fergus said that while he thinks it is a very small minority of protesters who carry and believe in those symbols, it “disturbed” him that there was “no condemnation of those symbols while they were being carried and proudly displayed on the Hill.”

Fergus said the events left him wondering who would come to his rescue if adherents to those hate symbols decided to “act out” on him.

COUTTS BLOCKADE PARTIALLY LIFTED – ANOTHER APPEARS

Meanwhile in Alberta, the RCMP managed to negotiate a partial lifting of the Canada – U.S. border blockade at Coutts Wednesday night, with many of the protesters remaining in the area, but moving their vehicles to the side of the highway.

After that partial reopening, however, a second blockade was set up 18 kilometres to the north near Milk River.

Cpl. Curtis Peters, RCMP spokesperson, told CTV News Channel late Thursday that only about 10 vehicles were able to get through before the second blockade was established, but it is now also allowing vehicles to pass.

“With the ongoing dialogue with the group, we were able to get that traffic moving again,” he said.  “There’s still a significant backlog there. There’s still ongoing protest activity in two locations now.”

Peters said there are about 60 commercial vehicles near the border and about 200 vehicles -- consisting of commercial, passenger and farming vehicles -- near Milk River.

“It’s created a very narrow lane of travel, but it is still moving,” he said.

Peters said officers are in “constant communication” with the protesters and are considering several ways to bring an end to the demonstrations near the border.

“We’re constantly considering different options and feel out what’s next,” he said. “There’s no magic solution we can provide that will provide an immediate end to this.”

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With a file from the Canadian Press and CTVNews.ca writer Alexandra Mae Jones

Correction

This story has been updated to reflect the correct last name of MP Greg Fergus.

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