Ottawa braces for 3rd straight weekend of protests

A third weekend of protest in Ottawa could again bring a renewed wave of people and vehicles to the city, according to the city's police chief, as the province is now under a state of emergency with harsh new penalties.

Protester numbers have swelled on weekends, but province now has more powers

A young child wrapped in a Canadian flag plays soccer in front of police officers during the ongoing protest in Ottawa Feb. 9, 2022. (Lars Hagberg/Reuters)

A third weekend of protest in Ottawa could again bring a renewed wave of people and vehicles to the city, according to the city's police chief, as the province is now under a state of emergency with harsh new penalties.

Crowds have been larger and louder the past two weekends, with numbers dropping off during the week. Chief Peter Sloly told reporters Friday this weekend's crowds should be similar to last weekend. 

He also said, while police have been in contact with some protest organizers, others won't speak to police. 

"We expect that many demonstrators are considering coming to the city this weekend. Please do not come," he said on Thursday.

"For those of you that are planning to come here and commit offences, don't. There will be accountability for any unlawful criminal activities."

Ontario's state of emergency

Citing the situation in Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Friday, saying rights have reasonable limits and he has to protect residents and the economy.

At a press conference Friday, Ford said he will convene cabinet and "urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure."

"This will include protecting international border crossings, 400-series highways, airports, ports, bridges and railways. It will also include protecting the safe and essential movement of ambulatory and medical services, public transit, municipal and provincial roadways, as well as pedestrian walkways," Ford said. 

"Fines for non-compliance will be severe, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment. We will also provide additional authority to consider taking away the personal and commercial licenses of anyone who doesn't comply with these orders."

WATCH | Doug Ford explains the state of emergency:

Ford declares state of emergency in Ontario

2 years ago
Duration 3:20
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province in an attempt to end the 'illegal occupation of Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.'

Ottawa's police chief welcomed the province's move to declare a state of emergency, saying the new powers will help the force manage the ongoing demonstration in the city. 

In a meeting Friday of the Ottawa Police Services Board, Sloly said the force will be limited until it receives additional resources. 

The force's legal staff is also working to determine exactly how police can use the new powers, according to Sloly. 

"We will enforce them to the extent that our resources allow us," Sloly said. "The more resources we can get, the more we can do."

He called the ongoing protest one of the most complex and difficult events police in the province have ever faced. 

With related protests popping up elsewhere in the province, including Sarnia and Windsor, Sloly said he's been meeting with all police chiefs in Ontario to co-ordinate how to cover off needs for each city.

Locally, Sloly said police are squeezing all the effort it can out of officers. He said he is personally on his 19th straight day of work with the force attempting to send officers home if they've had shifts for 17 days in a row. 

Twenty-five arrests have been made by police for charges both directly related to the protest, such as mischief and bringing in fuel, and indirectly for people at the protest, such as driving while disqualified.

Ottawa police have said they're also taking down information to act on later when a situation is too volatile to make an arrest. They've requested help, saying it would help end what they call an occupation more quickly.

While Ottawa police said negotiators managed to convince the drivers of 25 trucks to leave the city on Thursday after their latest warning, 400 trucks remain illegally parked on streets in the core.

Durham Police officers make their rounds of Ottawa's protest on foot Feb. 10, 2022. They're one of seven municipal police forces to come to the city to help. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The protest's motivations have been shifting, but common causes include the end of COVID-19 rules and a dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau, speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Friday, said he doesn't accept Ottawa police have exhausted all tools and resources because it has received support from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP. 

Police board chair, Coun. Diane Deans, called his comments "unfair," and went on to say while the federal government is realizing it now, it was "late to recognizing this as a national crisis."

She said the board knows the force needs more support. 

Message from a school board

This week also saw more protesters outside of Ottawa's downtown, with a new camp set up in a parking lot on Bronson Avenue near Heron Road and traffic disruptions around the main airport

Protesters also held signs supporting the protest outside Centennial Public School in Centretown on Thursday.

They got out of their cars and approached the school's fence at recess, said Ottawa-Carleton District School Board spokesperson Darcy Knoll in an email. After a brief conversation with a staff member at the school, he said they left.

In an email to parents and the media, the board said it was aware of posts on social media suggesting protesters might start driving past schools. Staff will be ready to shelter in place if there are safety concerns, it said.

"This idea is unacceptable. Schools are places for learning, and the safety of students and staff should not be threatened," the statement said. 

It went on to say the board had heard of efforts to plan a province-wide school walkout in support of the protest on Friday. It said it was not aware plans for this in Ottawa.