Downtown protest organizers stick to message: All COVID-19 mandates must end

Protesters who remain in downtown Ottawa maintain they won't switch gears and leave the capital until politicians reveal a clear plan for the end to all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions, organizers say.

RCMP sending officers to help Ottawa police, public safety minister says

Tamara Lich, co-organizer of the truck convoy's fundraiser, spoke at a news conference on Thursday at the Marriott Hotel on Kent Street in Ottawa. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The latest protest developments:

  • Three Algonquin chiefs in the region have released a joint statement saying they do not support the downtown protest. 
  • Ottawa City Hall and downtown branches of the Ottawa Public Library will remain closed through the weekend. 
  • The military and prime minister say there are no plans for military assistance.
  • RCMP sending officers to help Ottawa police, public safety minister says.

Protesters who remain in downtown Ottawa maintain they won't switch gears and leave the capital until politicians reveal a clear plan for the end to all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions, organizers say.

At a news conference inside an Ottawa hotel Thursday, the co-organizer of the "Freedom Convoy 2022" fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, Tamara Lich, said vaccine mandates do more harm than good.

What began as a protest against "the federal government's restrictions on trucker freedoms," has transformed, she said.

"Our movement has grown in Canada and across the world because common people are tired of the mandates and restrictions in their own lives," said Lich.

The news conference was the first time organizers spoke publicly since they arrived in Ottawa, launching a protest that has now lasted almost a week.

Reporters were not permitted to ask questions of Lich. The lawyer for the convoy did answer two questions regarding the status of the more than $10 million raised in a fundraiser on the GoFundMe website. 

WATCH | GoFundMe campaign raises questions about foreign influence:

Why the GoFundMe campaign for the convoy protest is raising questions about foreign influence

2 years ago
Duration 1:44
Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor at Carleton University and former national security analyst, says the fundraising campaign in support of the protest is sparking questions about how foreign money may be contributing to political movements in Canada.

Funds were put on hold Wednesday as GoFundMe checked whether the use of the money complied with the company terms of service and all applicable laws and regulations. 

The lawyer said the group submitted additional documentation to GoFundMe and he expects the company will soon release the rest of the funds. 

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he and the city's solicitor met with GoFundMe to request that the money raised not be released until the "occupation" of the city ends. 

"They are evaluating the situation from a number of angles and have assured us that the funds will remain frozen for several days while they conduct further due diligence," Watson said in a press release Thursday.

Lich, described at the news conference as "the spark that lit this fire," has ties to the federal Maverick Party with roots in Alberta separatist circles.

She described participants in the demonstration as "average" but tired of "being disrespected and bullied by our government." 

"No one from the federal, provincial or municipal government has spoken directly with us," she said. 

Trucks are seen parked in a major, normally busy downtown Ottawa intersection on Thursday, the seventh day of the demonstration. (Reno Patry/CBC)

Mayor calls structure 'height of stupidity'

Watson told CBC's Power & Politics he wouldn't reward "bad behaviour" by meeting with protesters, but also noted in his role as mayor he doesn't have anything to do with their grievances. 

"These people came in, they protested, and they've continued to stay and create havoc in our city and our community and enough is enough," Watson said.

In response to some protesters digging in — a wood structure was being erected on Thursday to use as fuel storage near city hall and the National Arts Centre — Watson said they'd worn out their welcome and were hurting the city. 

"It's sort of the height of stupidity bringing all that propane and diesel gas under one roof," Watson said. 

"This kind of reckless behaviour is going to endanger and hurt someone at some point." 

The National Capital Commission (NCC) said it was working with Ottawa police to secure the site of the structure and the fuel canisters were removed Thursday.

However, in a follow-up statement to CBC, the NCC said canisters were later returned to the site and they'd again notified police.

Some demonstrators who continue to protest in Ottawa's downtown have built a wooden structure beside the National Arts Centre. (Félix Desroches/CBC)

Watson also said he'd spoken with Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario's minister of finance, as well as the federal President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier about getting support for businesses and employees impacted by the protest.

Both were working to help out Ottawa residents, he said.

Watson said the federal government has pledged to keep supporting Ottawa police and is considering offering additional resources, according to conversations he's had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the RCMP and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday evening, Mendicino confirmed that the RCMP would send additional officers requested by the city of Ottawa. 

Protesters say they won't stay longer than necessary

Lich assured residents the protesters "have no intentions of staying one day longer than necessary."

"Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right," she said.

Former RCMP officer Daniel Bulford, who said he spoke out publicly against vaccine mandates before resigning from the force, said the movement has no link to those charged by police for property damage.

He said organizers have communicated with local police since early last week, and mentioned they have tried to help clear snow in the area of the protest.

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly has said police have been "dogged" and "patient" in their negotiations with the protest organizers, as well as some individual truckers. 

"We have very little ability to negotiate with all aspects of the demonstration. There are multiple stakeholders and players and organizations involved in this," Sloly said in a Wednesday press conference. 

"Many of whom had no intent, despite our best efforts to engage in any form of communication, co-ordination, never mind negotiation."

The city, meanwhile, continues to experience both protests and counter-protests.

CBC has spoken with truckers who say they've lost their livelihoods because they can't cross the border without being vaccinated and locals who've been unable to work because of the "torture" of the ongoing demonstrations. 

On Thursday evening, a handful of Ottawa residents walked from the Human Rights Monument to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they observed a moment of silence.

People hold a vigil in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa on Feb. 3, 2022, as protests against COVID-19 public health mandates stretch on and continue to disrupt life in the city's downtown. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

With files from Power & Politics and Joseph Tunney