Armed with new powers, police are working 'day and night' to end Ottawa occupation, minister says

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.

'There's a lot of work that needs to be done,' says Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino

The complex challenge of ending the protests in Ottawa

1 year ago
Duration 3:01
The federal Emergencies Act gives authorities more power to break up the Ottawa protest, but removing the trucks and protesters will be a complex, time-consuming and potentially dangerous process.

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.

People hold a sign attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and vaccinations during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

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.

WATCH | Protesters vow to stay in Ottawa: 

Protesters unmoved by efforts to clear encampments

1 year ago
Duration 1:51
Protesters in Ottawa say neither the implementation of the Emergencies Act or an agreement with the city are enough to move them away from Parliament Hill.

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."

A uniformed officer with a balaclava stands on a street. In the rear are trucks and protest signs.
An Ottawa police officer stands near a row of downtown protest vehicles and signs on Feb. 11, 2022. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

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.

WATCH | City councillor unsurprised by Ottawa police chief's resignation: 

City councillor not surprised by resignation of police chief amid protest ‘paralysis’

1 year ago
Duration 1:29
Coun. Catherine McKenney says residents were upset about a lack of police enforcement that allowed protesters to occupy residential neighbourhoods, criticism that ultimately led to calls for change in police leadership.

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.

WATCH | Ottawa councillor speaks to CBC's Power & Politics about Sloly's resignation: 

Will Peter Sloly's resignation change Ottawa's police response to the convoy protest?

1 year ago
Duration 5:40
Diane Deans, Ottawa city councillor and chair of the Ottawa police services board, joins Power & Politics to discuss Peter Sloly's resignation as anti-vaccine mandate protests continue.

"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. 

Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said the addition of OPP and RCMP officers will help local police bring the anti-vaccine mandate demonstration to an end. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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