Armed with new powers, police are working 'day and night' to end Ottawa occupation, minister says
'There's a lot of work that needs to be done,' says Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino sought to assure Ottawa residents Tuesday that the chaos in their city will soon end as local law enforcement, bolstered by the RCMP, works around the clock to restore order.
Empowered by the federal government's move to invoke the Emergencies Act, police will soon establish "no-go" zones in the city's downtown core to control unruly crowds associated with the anti-vaccine mandate convoy protest, the minister said. People who defy orders to leave, he added, will face fines or jail time, or both.
Mendicino said authorities will move with "great rapidity" to erect more concrete barriers and press private tow truck companies into removing the big rigs that have clogged Ottawa's streets.
To starve protesters of the money that supports their activities, banks and financial institutions will stop the flow of funds to all convoy organizers, he said.
The government is also threatening to suspend corporate bank accounts and commercial licensing for truckers taking part in the convoy.
Mendicino said local police, with support from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, will rein in the lawlessness that has been on display on Wellington Street, the main thoroughfare that runs in front of the Parliament Buildings and the Prime Minister's Office.
The Emergencies Act is essentially deputizing RCMP officers to act as local law enforcement in the city. The federal police force typically does not carry out many policing functions in the province of Ontario. The RCMP will be charged with enforcing municipal bylaws and provincial statutes.
"No one wants to see another weekend like the last three on Wellington Street. I'm assured by my discussions with police that they fully appreciate that. We now depend on them to do the job," Mendicino said.
He said he has told RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki that the current situation is untenable and that peace must be restored to the nation's capital.
RCMP, OPP to take more hands-on role
"I believe that the RCMP understand it and I know that they're working day and night to ensure there is an operation that will be put into effect to restore public order."
Mendicino conceded that the occupation will be difficult to clear because, after three weeks, it's well entrenched.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done."
Mendicino said that while he hopes the Ottawa blockade can be brought to a peaceful end, the discovery of a trove of firearms at a similar anti-mandate blockade in Coutts, Alta. means law enforcement has to be prepared for all eventualities.
"For those that are seeking confrontation and or violence, we rely on our law enforcement to use their best judgment on how to resolve that conflict," he said.
Peter Sloly resigned suddenly Tuesday as chief of the Ottawa Police Service after being roundly criticized for his handling of the convoy protest.
Mendicino said the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will now take a more hands-on role with Sloly out of the job.
He said these two agencies will "share and assume command and control over enforcement" — a move that suggests municipal law enforcement will take a back seat to the more senior policing partners.
'Carnival of chaos'
Mendicino said the federal government did not push Sloly out of the job. "This is not a decision that is within the remit or mandate of the federal government," he said.
Coun. Diane Deans, the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said Tuesday local police have been "ineffective" in handing the demonstration and local residents have been "terrorized" by the weeks-long protests.
"I've watched in disbelief as this carnival of chaos has been allowed to continue," she said, urging police to get the situation under better control. "It isn't good enough."
Speaking to Deans and other police board members, deputy chief Steve Bell — who will lead the force on an interim basis after Sloly's departure — said the occupation has diminished in size in recent days.
There were fewer than 150 protesters on hand during the overnight hours, he said, and there are now about 360 vehicles in the downtown core — down significantly from an earlier peak.
Bell said the addition of OPP and RCMP officers will help police provide more "adequate" and "effective" policing in the days ahead.
While still on the job, Sloly requested 1,800 more officers from the provincial and federal forces to reinforce the local police. Bell said the city hasn't yet received the full contingent.