Ottawa’s mayor has declared a state of emergency to handle the truckers who are protesting national coronavirus regulations – a 10-day occupation that has shut down the center of the Canadian capital city.
“(This) reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement, Reuters reported.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” began as a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but morphed into a mass demonstration against the Canadian government over other coronavirus regulations.
The protesters have congregated in downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill, and their demands have grown to include ending all of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national mandates.
Speaking to Canadian radio station CFRA, Watson said the capital is “out of control” and that the truckers were behaving “insensitively” by “blaring horns and sirens, [setting off] fireworks and turning it into a party.”
“Clearly, we are outnumbered and we are losing this battle,” he said Sunday, the BBC reported, adding: “This has to be reversed — we have to get our city back.”
Protest organizers said they would refrain from using their horns on Sunday for four hours “as a gesture of goodwill.”
Watson did not provide specific details about what measures he might impose, but police said they would ramp up up enforcement, including possible arrests of those seeking to help the protesters by bringing them supplies like fuel, toilet paper and food.
Police also moved some protesters and put up new barricades, saying they are “collecting financial, digital, vehicle registration … and other evidence that will be used in criminal prosecutions.”
The protesters, some of whom have been waving Confederate and Nazi flags, said they want to dissolve Canada’s government. Convoy organizers said they would not leave until the vaccine mandates are ended.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government would not back down on the issue.
“We put the question of vaccines and vaccine mandates on the ballot … in the (2021) election and we’re simply carrying out the promise that we made with the support of the vast majority of Canadians,” he said Sunday on CBC television, according to Reuters.
The blockade has relied partly on funding from sympathizers in the US, police said.
GoFundMe has taken down the convoy’s donation page, angering some US Republican lawmakers who vowed to investigate the move by the website.
Four people have been charged with hate crimes, according to police, who were investigating threats against public figures jointly with the FBI.
Police said they were dealing with more than 60 criminal investigations, including for “mischief, thefts, hate crimes and property damage,” the BBC reported.
Trudeau, who is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, has said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” and that the government would not be intimidated.
About 90 percent of Canada’s cross-border truckers and almost 79 percent of the population has received two COVID-19 vaccine doses, Reuters reported.
One woman who drove for hours to join the protest in Ottawa said the action was “about our freedom.”
“A couple of people we know, friends, lost their jobs because of these mandates,” Kimberly Ball told Agence France-Presse, adding that she had concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the jabs.