Ottawa protest's lawyer floats chance of quieter nights as police say resources are stretched thin

In their second week, the ongoing protests in Ottawa are facing challenges of an increased police presence, uncertain funding and a legal challenge.

The protest's main fundraiser was shut down, now faces a class-action suit

Two protesters ride horses past parked trucks and Parliament Hill during a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, in Ottawa on Saturday. One of the protesters is carrying a flag supporting former U.S. president Donald Trump. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A lawyer representing some organizers of ongoing protests in Ottawa said Saturday that demonstrators may stop honking their horns overnight, as the protests face rising resident anger and police resources remain strained.

During discussions over an injunction sought by an Ottawa law firm on behalf of downtown residents, Keith Wilson, a lawyer representing three protest organizers, said Saturday that protesters are willing to refrain from honking their horns from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. ET.

The judge hearing the case adjourned the issue of an injunction, which is related to a broader proposed class-action lawsuit, until Monday. He suggested that Wilson and Paul Champ, who represents residents, could work out the issue of honking, but he also floated the idea that horns should only be used for a shorter period of time during the day.

Champ, meanwhile, is giving protesters until Monday to leave if they don't want to be sued in the class action he is bringing forward on behalf of local residents.

He tweeted a release form that stipulates they must leave by 10 a.m. ET Monday.

The $9.8-million legal action alleges that the protest has caused "significant mental distress, suffering and torment" to residents because of the loud honking "12 to 16 hours" daily. Late Saturday afternoon, Champ released a video statement saying the class action could be settled if protesters left Ottawa by Monday morning.

For more than a week, protesters have maintained a near-constant level of noise and disruption in the downtown core of the nation's capital, blocking traffic, honking horns, setting off fireworks and playing loud music.

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Protests against COVID-19 measures continued in Ottawa on Saturday, even as demonstrations faced financial uncertainty and increasing frustration from local residents.

The number of protesters in the downtown Ottawa area has fluctuated during the past week, from thousands in the city last weekend to about 250 by Tuesday, police said.

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly estimated on Saturday that there were "at least" 5,000 protesters in the downtown during the day, with 1,000 vehicles — though he said those numbers changed throughout the course of the day. He noted that the police force was hardening its perimeter in the downtown area but that its resources were stretched thin covering both the protest and regular city needs.

"This is a siege, it is something that is different in our democracy than I've ever experienced in my life," Sloly told a meeting of Ottawa's police services board. He pleaded for more resources from the board but said he needed to return with specific requests.

"We do not have sufficient resources to adequately and effectively address this situation while adequately and effectively providing policing in this city."

As of Saturday evening, police have arrested seven people and issued 70 tickets for traffic violations since the protest began, according to a news release. They are also investigating 50 criminal offences, 11 of which are hate crimes.

Police also tweeted Saturday evening that Ottawa bylaw officers issued 357 tickets in the "red zone" area around Parliament in 24 hours.

Protesters set up a sauna just outside the downtown core in Ottawa. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Local officials and residents have spoken out about instances of harassment and intimidation by protesters, while some demonstrators have also displayed symbols of hate, including the Confederate flag and swastikas. Protesters have also put up a plywood building and tents in the area, as well as a sauna.

On Saturday, two protesters rode horses through the streets, one carrying a flag supporting former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Organizers have sought to keep the protest peaceful and to maintain a festive and positive mood among protesters themselves. The organizers have said they will stay in Ottawa until the federal government lifts all pandemic restrictions — even though most public health restrictions were introduced by the provinces.

Potential challenges to continued protest

But the protest in Ottawa is facing a series of challenges to its continued operation, including a beefed-up police response, unsteady financing and a proposed class-action lawsuit.

Ottawa police have said they will be implementing a "surge and contain strategy" this weekend to restrict access to the downtown and reduce the impact of the protests.

"The demonstrators in the red zone area remain highly organized, well funded [and] extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstration safely," Sloly said on Friday, adding there is no timeline for removing the trucks parked downtown.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that the protest had turned into an "occupation." That language was also used by Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi, speaking in the House of Commons this week. On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the presence of symbols of hate in Ottawa and said the "people of Ottawa deserve to have their lives back, deserve to have their neighbourhoods back."

Protesters gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Candice Bergen, the interim Conservative leader, called on Friday for a "peaceful resolution to this impasse," saying Trudeau needed to provide a plan for a resolution.

"Canadians and Conservatives have heard you loud and clear. Regardless of political stripe, we all want an end to the demonstrations and we all want an end to the restrictions," she said in a statement.

On Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Bergen of "politicizing this and inflaming it for political gain." But he also criticized Trudeau, saying that "he's also trying to divide and create a clear line."

Ottawa residents have become increasingly vocal about their frustration with the ongoing protests. Police said Friday they expected as many as 1,000 counter-protesters to be downtown over the weekend. But on Saturday, city councillor Catherine McKenney urged residents not to attend an organized walk, saying, "It is not safe today."

The approximate area of ongoing anti-vaccine mandate protests in Ottawa. (CBC News)

"I feel sympathy for the residents of Ottawa," said Calin Agotici, a protester who came to Ottawa from Kitchener, Ont., on Saturday.

"I don't think the blame lies with the people protesting here. We're being peaceful. I think the blame lies with Trudeau not willing to hear us out," he told CBC News.

"The government at this time is kind of just causing this, to be honest."

Meanwhile, some counter-protestors gathered at city hall on Saturday chanting, "Whose city? Our city" and holding signs telling protesters to "Go Home" and end the "occupation."

"I think they're very stupid. I think they're not actually going to accomplish their goals, and I think they're just disturbing residents," downtown resident Alyssa Atkinson told CBC News. She said she had left downtown to sleep elsewhere during the protests because it wasn't possible to sleep and she felt unsafe.

GoFundMe yanks fundraiser

The protest has been fuelled in part by money raised through crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, topping $10 million by Friday.

Campaign organizers have received $1 million of the funds, but the rest was frozen mid-week. And on Friday, GoFundMe announced it would stop payments entirely, casting the protest's financing into doubt.

Organizers have said they would use the money from the fundraiser to pay for food, fuel and lodging for the protesters and enable them to stay in Ottawa.

WATCH | Main protest fundraiser shut down: 

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GoFundMe will not disburse any more money from a fundraising campaign for the protest convoy, saying the money will be refunded. Meanwhile, Ottawa police are changing tactics ahead of what's expected to be another weekend of noisy protests.

"Please, if you can donate and help us keep these truckers going, we plan to be here for the long haul," organizer Tamara Lich said on Friday after GoFundMe's announcement. "As long as it takes to make sure that your rights and freedoms are restored."

The crowdfunding company said the protest violates its rules on violence and harassment.

Protest organizers have instead pointed supporters toward another fundraiser hosted by the Christian site GiveSendGo, which by Saturday morning had received more than $800,000 in donations. The site was blocked by PayPal last year after it was used to raise funds for people who attended the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C.

Elsewhere in the country, protesters have gathered in cities like Toronto, Quebec City and other provincial capitals. A major protest also continues at the Canada-U.S. border near Coutts, Alta.

With files from Nick Boisvert and Olivia Stefanovich

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