Ottawa

Counter-protests grow, block convoys on 3rd weekend of downtown demonstrations

Residents of Ottawa began rallying in large numbers on Saturday against the weeks-long protest opposing COVID-19 public health measures taking place in the city's downtown core.

'Our city has been completely let down,' says counter-protester

A resident holds a sign toward protesters during a counter-protest to stop vehicles from driving in a convoy en route to Parliament Hill, on the 17th day of a protest against COVID-19 measures that has grown into a broader anti-government demonstration, in Ottawa on Sunday. ( Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As an ongoing protest against COVID-19 public health measures continues through its third weekend, resistance from Ottawa residents appears to be growing.

Counter protests began on Saturday, with hundreds marching through Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood, and continued Sunday morning as a group of people blocked a major intersection to prevent a number of vehicles from joining the main protest downtown.

The impromptu blockade began to form on Sunday morning at about 9 a.m., when roughly 20 residents stepped into the intersection at Bank Street and Riverside Drive.

The blockade grew to approximately 200 people by noon. Some carried signs saying "Go Home Truckers" and "Centretown Neighbours Deserve Better."

Former Ottawa city councillor David Chernushenko saw on Twitter Sunday the blockade was forming and his family was enthusiastic about joining him at it. 

"Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. If the police have a strategy, it sure as heck isn't obvious to us," he said. "We just reached the point [where] you have to do something." 

Later Sunday afternoon, the City of Ottawa said it had reached an agreement with one of the leaders of the demonstration that could see hundreds of trucks and other vehicles roll out of the residential areas in the downtown core over the next 24 hours.

Counter-protesters marched Saturday

Roughly 500 people also gathered Saturday in Lansdowne Park, less than five kilometres away from Parliament Hill, to rally against the trucks and other vehicles that have been occupying the downtown since Jan. 28.

The rally follows a smaller gathering near Ottawa's city hall last weekend.

"We had to do something to show that we're not happy with how our city has been completely let down, by the police, by the city administration, by the province. It's shocking," counter-protester Greg Morrow said.

A longtime Ottawa resident, Morrow said people in the city are used to demonstrations, but nothing like this.

"We're used to the police doing something, and that to me is the most shocking element of all," he said, adding that responses from police forces in other cities — where protesters were prevented from digging in for a long-term stay — has caused more frustration.

"That's very difficult, to see ... how simple it would have been to prevent all of this from happening," Morrow said. "So going forward, I hope there is a serious conversation about policing and how these things can never be allowed to happen again."

A coalition of local labour unions, community organizations and residents hold a rally on Sunday in solidarity with front-line workers and Ottawa residents affected by the convoy protesters, who have been in the city for more than two weeks.. ( Julie Ireton/CBC)

Another counter-protester, Ruva Gwekwerere, said she felt she needed to do something.

"It's really evident our community doesn't feel safe anymore," Gwekwerere said. "I'm here with a lot of different groups from a lot of really different parts of life who are really saying, 'Enough has been enough.'"

Hunger strike planned

Two rallies actually joined forces on Saturday — one organized by residents, the other by labour unions unhappy with the government's handling of pandemic support measures — and marched through the Glebe neighbourhood down Bank Street.

Counter-protester Nazim Khan came to Canada from Pakistan 23 years ago as a political refugee and said he's vowing not to eat until the convoy protesters leave the city.

He described how he was told to "go back to your effing country" recently by a group of protesters on Elgin Street.

"I would rather die than seeing this lawlessness in the capital of this great country," Khan said, adding he hadn't eaten since Friday night.

"Canada gave me a new life, Canada embraced me, and today they are disgracing the same Canada I came to make my new home."

Ruva Gwekwerere was one of hundreds of Ottawa residents who took part on Saturday in a counter-protest against an ongoing demonstration and occupation of the city's downtown by people angry with COVID-19 mandates. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Police facing 'overwhelming' situation

Ottawa police and bylaw officers have now issued more than 2,600 tickets and made 26 arrests related to the entrenched demonstration against COVID-19 public health measures.

In a news release issued Saturday morning, the Ottawa Police Service also said its officers had been dealing with "aggressive" behaviour from protesters, who were "overwhelming officers" and "subverting enforcement efforts."

On Saturday evening, the force said it had launched an "integrated command centre" with its provincial and federal policing counterparts as 4,000 protesters descended on the nation's capital during the day.

The demonstrations continue to cause road closures and transit disruptions in the downtown, with the City of Ottawa providing updates here. 

Some COVID-19 vaccine clinics and testing centres have also been affected by the downtown occupation.

Several municipal buildings, including Ottawa City Hall and the Main and Rideau library branches, also remain closed.

Bronson encampment cleared

A temporary protest encampment set up in the parking lot at 1500 Bronson Ave., near Carleton University, was cleared overnight.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard tweeted just before midnight Saturday that no vehicles, portable toilets or debris remained in the parking lot.

The lot was vacant early Sunday morning.

Protest rolls through Cornwall

Hundreds of protesters also gathered on Saturday in Cornwall, Ont., near the Seaway International Bridge, which connects eastern Ontario with upstate New York.

The demonstrators showed up on tractors and other vehicles, according to Cornwall police. Some told Radio-Canada they had come from as far away as the Ottawa area.

Protesters on tractors and other vehicles gather near the Seaway International Bridge in Cornwall, Ont., on Saturday, one of several protests against COVID-19 mandates that rolled their way across Ontario. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

"We just want freedom back, that's all we want. We're all hard-working people," said Joseph Odermatt, one of the protesters.

"I have grandkids. I don't want my grandkids to grow up like [this]. There's no way. Like, we're all grown people here — when you're sick, I stay away from you, and you do the same."

While police were warning that the protests could disrupt the flow of traffic at the border crossing, as of Saturday afternoon the bridge itself remained open.

With files from David Fraser, Natalia Goodwin and Frédéric Pepin

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