Ottawa police setting up hate crime hotline after reports of assaults, threats

Ottawa's police chief says the service is launching a hate crime hotline to investigate crimes related to the demonstrations that have taken over much of the city's downtown core and which are dragging into a fifth day.

Police also investigating bribery of city worker

Protesters participating in a cross-country truck convoy protesting measures taken by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 and vaccine mandates gather and hold signs with explicit language near Parliament Hill on Saturday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa's police chief says the service is launching a hate crime hotline to investigate crimes related to the demonstrations that have taken over much of the city's downtown core and which are dragging into a fifth day.

Police Chief Peter Sloly, Mayor Jim Watson and city councillors have spoken out about various reports of of hate-fuelled violence over the weekend, including intimidation and harassment by protesters as thousands flooded the nation's capital.

"We have the intelligence officers and the investigative officers and multi-jurisdictional support from British Columbia to St. John's, from Nunavut to the GTA," Sloly said in a news conference Monday afternoon.

"No matter where you live, no matter where your vehicle's registered, if you've come here and committed a crime, if you have committed a hate crime, you will be investigated. We will look for you, we will charge you. If necessary, we'll arrest you, and we will pursue prosecutions against you."

Residents and organizations across the downtown have complained to city councillors, media organizations and on social media about hate-related threats.

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A homeless shelter, the Shepherds of Good Hope, says a client and security guard were assaulted on the weekend, with racial slurs yelled at the guard by two people who were identified as part of the protests. 

A Confederate flagswastika and yellow stars have been seen at different times throughout the protests. 

Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney says they heard from people who have been yelled at and harassed, including a young couple who had a Pride flag in their window.

Protesters yelled at the couple, who later discovered someone had defecated outside their door, according to McKenney. The harassment was so bad, police were called and the couple had to leave their apartment to stay with friends until it's safe for them to return, McKenney told CBC News.

Threats, assault, bribery

Sloly said there are "several" criminal investigations also underway, from the dangerous operation of vehicles to threats, assaults and bribery.

In all, twelve investigations are currently open, said Deputy Chief Steve Bell at the news conference. So far one arrest has been made

Police keep close watch on protesters in downtown Ottawa on Sunday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

One case involves the alleged bribery of a city employee, Ottawa police told CBC News, but would not release more details. 

Sloly said the volatility of the protests and the risk of escalating a situation — and possibly risking the safety of residents and first responders — make it difficult to lay charges or issue tickets when incidents occur.

He said the situation is especially dangerous for officers at night even though there are fewer protesters.

"That is the reality of policing these large scale, dynamic demonstrations," he said. "We've done our very best. We've kept the city safe, we've kept our members safe and we will hold people to account who have broken the law, to the very best of our ability." 

"The nature of the crowd, the crowd dynamics, the individual acts of defiance, became far more difficult for our officers to manage," over the last few days, Sloly said. 

Police estimated that several hundred trucks and other vehicles associated with the demonstration left the city Monday, but warned the protests could likely stretch on into next weekend.

"I can't say whether that's going to be 100,000, 10,000, but clearly there's an indication that there are efforts being made to extend the demonstration beyond the weekend, through the week, potentially into the next weekend," said Sloly.

"The scale of these operations are significant."

The local hotel association has said even though protesters have been checking out of hotels, they've been booking rooms for next weekend.

With files from Guy Quenneville and Joe Tunney