MPs warned about security risks related to convoy, O'Toole plans to meet truckers
The top official who oversees security for the House of Commons has issued a warning to MPs about the potential risks related to the coming convoy of truckers set to arrive on Parliament Hill as early as tomorrow.
In an email sent to members of Parliament obtained by CTV News, Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell cautioned MPs about the potential for doxxing—finding and publishing people’s personal information with malicious intent—of MPs homes who live in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
“Solicitations were issued to the online community for Members’ residential addresses in the Ottawa-Gatineau area,” said McDonell.
The so-called “freedom convoy” is heading to Parliament Hill to protest vaccine mandates, though as the demonstration has picked up steam—raising now more than $6 million through an online fundraiser—it has become a vehicle for Canadians to express anger at the federal government and pandemic public-health restrictions.
The gathering is scheduled to culminate on Saturday, though security officials are preparing for participants to show up on Friday.
Organizers have said that they are running a peaceful and law-abiding demonstration, and some have made attempts to distance their efforts from the rhetoric being amplified by some people who are involved with the event. However, over the last several days, supporters of the convoy have used threatening and hateful language both online and when engaging reporters covering stops along the way.
In his memo to MPs, McDonell suggested that if MPs see a demonstration take place at their personal residences or constituency offices they should not get involved and “go somewhere safe.”
“Avoid physical altercations, even if provoked, close and lock all exterior doors, advise the local authorities… [and] refrain from posting anything related to the demonstration on social media.
This warning came just before Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole announced that he now plans to meet with truckers when they arrive, dismissing that by doing so he is endorsing the suggestions from some supporters.
“I’ve never seen the country more divided, and I've never seen a time that we need to come together more than now,” he told reporters after a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.
“After two years, Canadians are tired… And the thousands of people coming here in the next few days, the trucker convoy, is a symbol of the fatigue in our country right now.”
O’Toole said that is why he plans to meet with truckers, but not the organizers of the convoy, somewhere off of Parliament Hill “so that it can be done effectively.”
The convoy made its way through Ontario on Thursday, seeing hundreds of supporters gather along roadways and overpasses in the Greater Toronto Area, prompting police warnings of major traffic delays.
In a tweet, the OPP asked for all on the roads to be “patient and respectful” in the face of the “potential inconvenience related to the protest convoy,” and asked that participants ensure traffic flow and access for emergency vehicles is not impeded.
There are drivers converging from different routes originating from British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and many places in-between, with the goal of all landing into Ottawa on Saturday to take their concerns to Parliament Hill.
Supporters have said that among what they are looking to accomplish with this protest is to see the federal government end “all mandates” related to COVID-19, despite most public health orders and proof of vaccination systems being provincial responsibilities.
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 posted a “memorandum of understanding” to its website that is intended to be presented to politicians this weekend.
However, the document could not be used to leverage the unilateral revocation of pandemic policies and override federal or provincial lawmakers, despite the group’s belief.
In response to the convoy’s calls to end proof-of-vaccination systems, the federal government has said it is standing by its mandatory vaccination policies.
WHILE OTHERS CONDEMN, CONSERVATIVES ENDORSE
On Wednesday, before entering a five-day isolation that will see him remaining at home over the weekend when the convoy arrives on the Hill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out the “fringe” views among some of those who are supporting the trucker convoy.
He said those who have joined what started as a demonstration of support for Canadian truckers and have come out to express “unacceptable views” do not represent the majority of Canadians.
Answering questions about the coming protest, 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.”
Up until Thursday night, O’Toole would not say whether he was supporting the truckers protest or whether he’d meet with them, telling journalists that he didn’t think it was for him to “attend a protest on the Hill.”
However, several Conservative MPs have been cheering the convoy along, and using heated rhetoric suggesting Trudeau had a “vaccine vendetta,” and was “the biggest threat to freedom in Canada.”
Speaking about the coming convoy earlier on Thursday Ottawa-area Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said he’s making plans to deliver coffee and support to the “freedom-loving truckers” this weekend.
Poilievre dismissed questions about whether he was concerned by the messaging from the convoy’s supporters, saying that any time thousands of people are part of a group, “you're bound to have a number who… say unacceptable things.”
“They should be individually responsible for the things they say and do, but that doesn't mean we disparage the thousands of hardworking, law-abiding, and peaceful truckers who quite frankly have kept all of you alive the last two years, by filling your grocery shelves with the food that you eat, and filling your homes with the products that you rely upon,” he said.
Asked how these messages align with his new suggestion that the temperature should be taken down, O’Toole didn’t directly answer, stating that he thinks politicians from all stripes need to recognize the frustration.
“The truckers themselves need to make sure their voices are heard… We all have a role to make sure that there's peaceful protest and zero tolerance for anybody promoting violence, promoting hatred, or discrimination.”
TRUCKERS DISTANCE FROM CONVOY
Over the last few days vaccinated truckers have been making their voices heard, condemning the convoy, pointing out that the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated and noting that while they have concerns about the cross-border vaccine rules, this is not the way they think it should be solved.
“When this thing started, it was a protest against the border vaccine mandate, it's kind of ballooned, quite a bit since then. Some people not even involved with the trucking industry have grabbed on and kind of become organizers and, and changed the message,” said Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, in an interview on CTV News Channel.
He said his organization has become concerned about the racist remarks and comparisons to Nazis and communism which he said is “not comparable” to what’s going on in Canada right now.
“There's a lot of good drivers in this convoy, who just want to peacefully protest and get the ear of the government and are worried about their jobs, and we encourage those people to stand up,” Millian said. “It's tarnishing the image of the entire industry. So if you're involved in it, and you don't agree with what's being said, you’ve got to speak up.”
In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the convoy does not speak for Canadian truckers and said he was “deeply disturbed” by Conservative MPs adding their support to a movement that includes individuals who may be looking to “incite violence and spread misinformation about expert public health advice.”
“I understand people are frustrated that we’re still in this pandemic. Canadians have all sacrificed so much to keep each other safe. Like many other parents, when I hold my daughter, I think about getting through this safely so that kids can have normalcy again. But I'm concerned by the dangerous rhetoric we’ve seen from the convoy,” Singh said.
“I am concerned by extremist elements that are spreading misinformation and attempting to turn the convoy into a Canadian version of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol,” Singh said.
HILL SECURITY PLANNING FOR UP TO 10K
Ottawa police have said they are closely monitoring the convoy and related chatter online, and are making plans to respond should there be potential counter-demonstrations, interference with critical infrastructure, or other unlawful and violent activity once the convoy arrives in Ottawa.
It’s possible the “significant and extremely fluid event” could span multiple days, with truckers potentially arriving in the nation’s capital ahead of Saturday and staying through the weekend.
Despite some organizers asserting there will be upwards of hundreds of thousands of participants by the time the convoy reaches the capital, Ottawa police have said they are planning for a few thousand attendees, though that could fluctuate.
The Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) says it is preparing for up to 10,000 protesters and the road in front of the Hill will be closed to most, with lanes being designated specifically for the truckers and others for emergency vehicles, according to a memo sent by the PPS to MPs and staff that The Canadian Press has reported on.
“Rest assured that our security partners, including the RCMP, the local police and the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), will be monitoring the situation closely,” said McDonnel’s message to MPs.
“Individual or group of individuals who do not hinder vehicular traffic or trespass on your property have the right to demonstrate. However, should the situation escalate, the police will take action,” he said.
Locals have been advised to avoid travelling in the city over the weekend if possible, with the major highways expected to be clogged by the incoming trucks and other vehicles taking part in the protest.
With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull, CTV News Toronto, and CTV News Ottawa
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