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'We are not intimidated,' PM says as MPs return to the Hill despite ongoing trucker protest

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly condemned the behaviour displayed by some participants in the trucker convoy protests over the weekend, as members of Parliament returned to work on Monday despite downtown Ottawa remaining beset by the “freedom convoy.”

Trudeau said he and the government will not be intimidated by the transport truck demonstration, now into its third full day, and indicated the Liberals have no plans to engage with the demonstrators.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and frankly, disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capital,” Trudeau said during a national address from the National Capital Region.

“I want to be very clear, we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers, and steal food from the homeless. We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. We won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans,” he said, referencing some of what’s transpired over the last few days.

“There is no place in our country for threats, violence, or hatred, so to those responsible for this behavior: it needs to stop,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister’s comments didn’t go over favorably with the Conservatives— some of whom took part in the protest—saying that the truckers who have seized national attention and are still outside honking their horns, deserve to be listened to.

“Contrary to some, there are thousands of passionate, patriotic, and peaceful Canadians on the Hill right now who just want to be heard. Will the prime minister extend and olive branch? And will he listen?,” asked Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen in the House, after meeting with truckers Sunday night.

Protesters have spent the weekend calling for the removal of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions. Many participants have expressed outrage at the prime minster and a desire to see him removed from office. Amid the protests signs and flags with Nazi imagery, the Confederate flag, yellow stars, as well as patches or clothing that belong to groups with extremist views have been seen.

While the protest has largely been non-violent, Ottawa Police said Sunday that they have seen “multiple cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour from demonstrators.” Police are also conducting “several” criminal investigations in relation to acts described by police as “desecration” of the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and a monument to Terry Fox.

Monday evening, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said that the demonstration has “scaled down” over the last 12 hours, after the city was inundated by “tens of thousands of individuals from a wide variety of causes” who have actively protested in some form for 24 hours straight since arriving on Friday.

Trudeau thanked the security forces and police for their work this weekend, the health-care workers who are watching what’s gone on, and the nearly 90 per cent of truckers who are fully vaccinated.

“The behaviour on display this weekend does not represent you,” he said.

While Canadians have a right to protest and make their voices heard, they do not have the right to halt democracy, or harass or intimidate others who don’t agree with them, said Trudeau.

MPS BEGIN WINTER SITTING

Monday marked the first sitting day of the year, and business got underway in the chamber at 11 a.m. without incident. Many MPs are still participating virtually through the hybrid sitting format set up in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The House of Commons made the decision Sunday that the start of the winter sitting would go ahead as planned despite the elevated security risk to MPs.

The Sergeant-at-Arms sent MPs a memo late Sunday night detailing how those attending in-person can access the House of Commons precinct, recognizing that the ongoing demonstrations “could make it difficult.” MPs were given suggested routes, and told that there continues to be an increased presence of Ottawa police and the Parliamentary Protective Service in the area.

Marking the kick off of proceedings, Government House Leader Mark Holland noted that while so far there have not been any incidents, parliamentarians and others “are having difficulty getting into this building,” due to the situation outside.

“But none of us are going to be intimidated from doing our work in this place. Parliament is here to continue,” Holland said, adding that there was “never a moment’s hesitation or any talk of delaying the start of the sitting.

“I fully support dissent. I was in opposition for a long time, I've been in many protests, I've stepped up and I’ve criticized governments, I've been frustrated and angry by what governments have done, but in a free and democratic society, there is a right and wrong way to do that,” Holland said.

While one lane of Wellington Street directly in front of Parliament Hill was cleared as of Monday morning, most of the downtown core remains gridlocked. Trucks are honking continuously and supporters are mulling about. Organizers have shrugged off the condemnations of their presence and have declared plans to stay in town indefinitely.

As MPs made their way up to the Hill throughout the day, protesters—who appear to have kept their rigs fuelled without moving them off of the main strip by carrying in jerrycans of gasoline — continued their occupation of Wellington, chanting “meet with us.” Some participants were seen fastening pylons to the horns on the front of their trucks in an attempt to amplify the sound of their honking.

TRUCKER CONVOY COMES UP IN QP

The trucker protests were front and centre in Question Period on Monday. Trudeau took part virtually given he tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, but off the top faced a series of questions from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“When you ignore and divide a country when it needs to be united, that's not leadership, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister knows that the voices of a few don't represent the millions of Canadians who are worried… When is life getting back to normal?” O’Toole asked.

He later took to Facebook to accuse Trudeau of fear mongering over “a handful” of incidents and said that he thinks what is underpinning the trucker convoy is fear of the world changing and these people being left behind, a fear he suggested the Liberals are stoking.

After the leaders went through the opening rounds of questions, MPs got into a heated exchange over the situation, with the Conservatives making reference to Trudeau’s past wearing of Blackface, and the Liberals accusing their Official Opposition counterparts are inflaming tensions.

MPs that CTV News spoke with on their way up to the Hill expressed mixed views about the unprecedented situation.

“I get the frustration, but for a convoy that says it’s about freedom, there are a lot of good people who aren’t really feeling freedom this morning,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on his way into work.

“There's police enforcement here that is very visible and they're taking appropriate actions as circumstances dictate,” he said.

Conservatives have been supporting the trucking convoy, and after several MPs participated, they have come out to condemn examples of hateful symbols seen in the city this weekend.

CONSERVATIVES MEET MORE TRUCKERS

Still, MPs with the party continue to meet with the truckers parked outside of Parliament.

On his way into West Block, Conservative MP Scott Aitchison said that the “real frustration” that Canadians feel should not be ignored, and if it is, it would be at the government’s “peril,” electorally.

“I think it’s a delicate balance. I think that every member of our caucus who has, you know, been down there to speak to folks have worked really hard to make sure that they're making the distinction that they are in support of peaceful protest, that they're not in support of the more radical elements and they've, you know, called that out,” Aitchison said.

Conservative MP Glen Motz took to the makeshift stage the convoy set up Monday, thanking the protesters for standing up for freedom and “taking a stand.” He told them that he didn’t feel they deserved “to be ostracized” because they have a view that’s “different than the prime minister’s.”

In a tweet, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre called the convoy participants “cheerful, peaceful, salt-of-the-earth, give-you-the-shirt-off-their-back,” people. He has not tweeted about members of the convoy who harassed shelter staff for free meals meant for Ottawa’s homeless population.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday that the behaviour seen in Ottawa this weekend was “wrong.”

“The impact on people, the people of Ottawa particularly, is absolutely wrong. And the solidarity that people have shown throughout this pandemic is something that gives me a lot of hope and a lot of pride,” Singh said.

During question period Singh took aim at O’Toole, saying that in his view, instead of clearly denouncing the behaviour, his party has “left the door open to this type of hate in Canada.”

'NEVER SEEN THE LIKES OF THIS': CITY OFFICIAL

Trudeau said that it’s on all politicians to show leadership and “fight division and fear with facts.” Asked about whether his government should do more to enforce the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, Trudeau pointed to Canada’s high vaccination rate and said if those in “tinfoil hats” choose to reject science, they have to live with the consequences of their choice.

“The concerns expressed by a few people gathered in Ottawa right now are not new, not surprising, are heard, but are a continuation of what we've unfortunately seen in disinformation and misinformation online,” he said.

After a weekend of crowds of thousands clogging streets in downtown Ottawa, the advice to locals remains to stay away given the security concerns.

“We have never seen the likes of this kind of civil disobedience that we are witnessing in our city today,” said city councilor and chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board Diane Deans. “I know that our patience is worn thin. I know that we would all like this to come to an ending just as soon as possible.”

With files from CTV News’ Christy Somos and Kevin Gallagher

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