Trudeau decries 'fringe' views of some in trucker convoy, as police prepare for its arrival in Ottawa
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is decrying the “fringe” views among some of those who are supporting the trucker convoy making its way to Parliament Hill to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other policies they feel infringe on their freedoms.
“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know of that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country,” Trudeau said Wednesday.
Answering questions about the coming protest on Parliament Hill, Trudeau said that Canadians who have stepped up to “do the right thing,” by getting vaccinated are the ones protecting “the freedoms and the rights of Canadians to get back to the things we love to do.”
The so-called “freedom convoy” was sparked by outrage over a vaccine mandate recently imposed on cross-border truckers, though the convoy has garnered support from anti-vaccine mandate groups who feel requirements to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other public health restrictions curb their freedoms.
With the intention of taking its “fight to the doorsteps of our federal government,” to demand the mandate’s end, organizers have said that they are running a peaceful and law-abiding demonstration, and some have made attempts to distance from some of the concerning messaging being amplified by people who are involved or have claimed to be affiliated with the event.
Still, as the convoy continues its journey across the country, Ottawa police said earlier on Wednesday that they are making plans in the event that the demonstration turns violent, or becomes a “multi-day event.”
“We are planning for a range of potential risks, including but not limited to counter-demonstrations, blocking of intersections, interfering with critical infrastructures, and unlawful and violent activity,” said Ottawa Police Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson, during a special briefing of the Ottawa Police Services Board on Wednesday to discuss the police force’s plans related to the demonstration.
WHAT IS THE CONVOY'S AIM?
As the convoy makes its way across the country more attention is being put on what the group, or groups who will be showing up in Ottawa are aiming to accomplish once they arrive.
Supporters have said they will be calling on Trudeau to end all mandates—despite most public health orders and proof of vaccination systems being provincial responsibilities—or, as some have called for, resign.
A group called “Canada Unity” is backing the convoy and helping to organize support. The group, which says it comprises people who are opposed to “unconstitutional” COVID-19 rules, has recently posted a “memorandum of understanding” to its website that is intended to be presented to politicians on Parliament Hill.
The goal of this document, according to the group, is to see some form of committee, including the Senate and Governor General, struck that could unilaterally revoke pandemic policies.
The belief that this document would be binding or could work to override federal or provincial lawmakers is incorrect. This process would not be able to be used to see the group’s demands met, including their request for the eradication of vaccine passports or the reversals of fines and job losses associated with them.
Because of the way Canadian systems of government are structured, the level of government responsible for a policy has to be the one to reverse or amend it, as University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen has pointed out in an interview with The Canadian Press.
WHAT ARE POLICE ANTICIPATING?
During the Ottawa Police Services Board meeting Wednesday, the acting deputy police chief said that all indications are that the demonstration once it pulls up, “will be a significant and extremely fluid event that could go on for a prolonged period,” adding that the city is anticipating “significant traffic delays and disruptions.”
During the briefing Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said that plans are still evolving as the convoy of trucks and other vehicles draws closer, but cautioned that truckers could start arriving as early as Thursday and may stick around through the weekend.
“What started out as a single expression, or demonstration through what was called a ‘freedom convoy’ involving vehicles from across Canada over the last several days, and particularly in the last 24 hours, has changed substantially,” Sloly said.
“There are an increasing amount of other interested parties who are considering, if not actually articulating, coming to the nation’s capital and participating in a range of related demonstrations and, in some cases, counter demonstrations,” the chief said. “An event of this duration and nature will have significant operational demands.”
Ferguson told the board on Wednesday that Ottawa police have been in contact with the convoy’s organizers and so far those interactions have been “productive and co-operative.”
Still, some of the online messaging surrounding the event have raised concerns over the prospect of the scene on Parliament Hill becoming dangerous. Facing questions about these concerns, the Ottawa police said it is monitoring any threatening messaging and will be focused on de-escalation and “peaceful solutions” if incidents arise.
Sloly noted that the convoy has been peaceful and lawful as it has passed through cities across Canada, but, within the last 24 hours the Ottawa Police Service has received “a direct threat” to the safety of its officers from a counter-protest source.
Despite some organizers asserting there will be upwards of tens, or hundreds of thousands of participants, the Ottawa police said it is planning for a few thousand attendees. Though, police officials said that the city still doesn’t have a concrete sense of how large the convoy will be, given it has fluctuated in size as it’s crossed the country.
City councillors also expressed concerns during the meeting about downtown Ottawa becoming a “parking lot” for 18-wheelers, resulting in emergency vehicles being unable to move freely, as well as what impacts the event may have on residents who live in the city core.
Police are suggesting locals avoid the area if possible, and have indicated that there will be a large police and emergency services presence in the downtown core, as well as on local roads and highways.
PARLIAMENT HILL SECURITY INVOLVED
Given the House of Commons is not back in session until Jan. 31 and the Senate is not set to resume until Feb. 8— and both are planning to resume under a hybrid virtual structure— it’s unlikely many federal officials will be in the parliamentary precinct when the convoy rolls in.
Still, the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) has told CTV News that it is aware of the planned protest and is “closely monitoring the situation.”
“The Service adjusts its security posture on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct as required,” said the PPS in a statement.
The Ottawa police said Wednesday that it is working with the PPS, the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and other local police forces and national security agencies to gather intelligence ahead of the protests’ apex in the city.
“In conjunction with the RCMP, we will be standing up the National Capital Region command center in order for all agencies to be in direct and real-time communication. Our priority is to maintain the safety of members of our community and participants in these demonstrations,” Ferguson said.
FEDS STANDING BY MANDATES
Despite the current concerted push by those who are backing the convoy, the federal government has said it is standing by its intention to continue the federal vaccine mandates as they apply to truckers, and for Canadian travellers.
“We've been unequivocal and we were very clear in the last election, that vaccination is the way through this, whether it's for travellers, whether it's for federal public servants, or areas of federal jurisdiction,” Trudeau said.
Asked about whether he thinks there is any link between the trucker mandate and the current shortages seen on some store shelves—a concern being amplified by Conservative MPs—Trudeau said the disruptions to the global supply chain right now are because of COVID-19.
“The best way to prevent further disruptions to our supply chains, is by making sure that people don't fall sick, by making sure that people are vaccinated,” he said, repeating his past suggestions that Conservatives are misleading Canadians on this issue.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra recently told The Canadian Press that despite the concerns around supply chain issues and trucker shortages, he's been monitoring the volume of trucks crossing the border each day since the mandate came into effect on Jan. 15 and has seen no measurable reduction in the number of trucks moving goods.
Figures obtained by CTV News show 104,000 trucks crossed the border into Canada in the last week. That's down about four per cent from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic and before the vaccine mandate.
With files CTV National News Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor and CTV News Ottawa.