'It has to stop': Trudeau accuses protesters of blockading democracy during Commons debate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Ottawa convoy protesters of trying to derail Canada's democracy during an emergency debate about demonstrations against COVID-19 public health restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Federal transport minister calls on Ford government to cancel protesters' commercial truck licences

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a media availability held at a secure location, Monday, January 31, 2022, in National Capital Region. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Ottawa convoy protesters of trying to derail Canada's democracy during an emergency debate about demonstrations against COVID-19 public health restrictions and vaccine mandates.

The protesters in Ottawa are "trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens' daily lives. It has to stop," Trudeau said Monday night in the House of Commons.

"The people of Ottawa don't deserve to be harassed in their own neighbourhoods."

The prime minister delivered his remarks in person in the Commons — his first public appearance since testing positive for COVID-19 on January 31.

He reiterated the federal government's commitment to helping bring an end to the Ottawa protest, now in its second week. Trudeau did not announce any new measures related to the protest.

"The federal government will be there with whatever resources the province and city need in this situation," Trudeau said.

House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota agreed to hold the emergency debate Monday on the protest in Ottawa after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made the request earlier in the day.

"People around the world are looking at Canada right now, looking at Ottawa right now, and asking what's happening," Singh said as the debate began.

WATCH | Party leaders debate protests against pandemic measures and vaccine mandates:

Leaders, MPs spar over protest convoy, vaccine mandates

1 year ago
Duration 3:31
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen faced off on Monday night during an emergency debate Monday on the ongoing protests in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada against COVID-19 public health restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Singh went on to denounce the protest, pointing to some participants' recent displays of hateful symbols, the incessant horn honking and harassment of residents.

"This convoy protest is not a peaceful protest," Singh said.

Conservative MPs repeatedly accused Trudeau of stoking division and discontent across the country through his pandemic management. The Tories also said the Liberals have failed to give Canadians a plan or timeline for a return to normal life.

"We are at a crisis point, not just outside the doors and across the country, but the country overall," said Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen. "And so much of it is because of the things he's said and done."

Ottawa mayor asks for more police help

The House of Commons debate began shortly after 6:30 p.m. today — hours after Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asked the federal and provincial governments for 1,800 more police officers to deal with the anti-vaccine mandate protest tying downtown in knots.

"The situation has reached a crisis point. And in times of crisis, it is important for federal leaders to show leadership, to urge de-escalation and to work together to find solutions," Singh said in a letter to Rota requesting the debate.

WATCH | Ottawa protest was well planned: 

Why Ottawa protesters seem to be a step ahead of police

1 year ago
Duration 3:22
Experts say the presence of former police officers within the ranks of the Ottawa protesters is giving them a tactical edge over local law enforcement.

"For over a week, the people of Ottawa have been under siege, and a similar demonstration in Coutts, Alta., has blocked the border and prevented important goods from reaching the people who need them ..."

The City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency over the weekend. Mayor Watson described the situation in the country's capital as the "the most serious emergency our city has ever faced."

Federal ministers told a press conference in Ottawa Monday that while the response to what Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called an "occupation" has to be led by Ottawa Police, the federal government is still fielding requests for support.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Ford's government has the power to do more to end the situation and should learn from how other provinces handled similar protests recently.

"The provinces have extensive regulatory powers over commercial trucking and road transportation to help end this unlawful occupation and disruptions of commercial trucks blockading the streets and highways," Alghabra said. 

"These powers could include, for example, quickly enforcing the provisions of ... Ontario highway safety, to begin suspending commercial licences and also insurance of commercial owners of equipment blockading the streets for days on end ..."

Alghabra said authorities in Quebec did a good job of containing "unlawful activities by commercial trucks" over the weekend and that Ontario could learn from their example.

Call for 1,800 more police officers

Shortly after that press conference, Ottawa's mayor released a letter he sent to the federal and provincial governments asking for "a dramatic and immediate injection of additional officers."

"Given the scope and scale of the armada of large trucks that are now occupying our downtown core, we are writing to you today to ask that you work to help the city secure 1,800 officers to quell the insurrection that the Ottawa Police Service is not able to contain," said the letter, signed by Watson and Coun. Diane Deans. 

The letter specifically asks for 1,000 regular officers, 600 public order officers, 100 investigative officers and 100 civilian staff and supporting resources. 

A protester affixes a flag to the top of their truck, parked beside a truck with a sign calling for the jailing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outside Parliament Hill, as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions continues into its second week in Ottawa on Monday. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

"We must do everything in our power to take back the streets of Ottawa, and our parliamentary precinct, from the criminal activity and hooliganism that has transpired over the past nine days," the letter said. 

"We need your help to end this siege in the heart of our nation's capital and in our residential neighbourhoods, and to regain control of our city.

"We can contain the occupation but we cannot end it without your support."

Watson calls for federal mediator to step in

This morning, Watson floated the idea of the federal government appointing a "high-profile, respected senior statesperson" to mediate between protesters and governments and resolve the stalemate.

"There seems to be little movement on either part," he said. "I'm not going to condone their activities by showing up and having a chit-chat with them. I want them to leave." 

Singh said the federal government should instead sit down with municipalities to resolve the problem.

"The organizers have made it clear their intention is to overthrow the government," he said, adding "it's clear that we need federal leadership right now."

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he's not willing to negotiate with the protesters who are demanding either an end to all vaccine mandates or a change in government.

"Having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a non-starter in a responsible democracy," he said.

On Monday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino sidestepped questions about intervening directly in the crisis.