By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
As Ottawa Police step up efforts to control the anti COVID-19 mandate protests downtown, Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder says “it’s about time.”
On Friday morning Ottawa Police held a press conference at their Elgin Street headquarters where they addressed the ongoing demonstration which is expected to grow into the weekend.
Ottawa’s Police Chief Peter Sloly said a “surge” of 150 additional police officers would be patrolling downtown streets this weekend, and would focus on mischief, hate, harassment, threats and other intimidating behaviour.
It comes after Ottawa residents have been calling on the force to do more to bring an end to the disruptive protests which organizers stated would be peaceful.
The big rigs and other transport vehicles arrived in the capital last Friday. They came from all across Canada to demand an end to vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the US/Canada border. That quickly grew to others demanding an end to all COVID-19 mandates, including mask wearing and vaccine passports.
About 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are fully vaccinated.
All week horns have been blaring night and day keeping downtown residents awake. Those seen wearing masks have been intimidated, and a local women’s shelter said their residents were having flashbacks and feared for their safety. The national war monument was urinated on, the Terry Fox statue was inappropriately used to promote ending COVID-19 rules, and fireworks were lit all at midnight.
Some demonstrators have been caught flying the Confederate flag, others have been comparing rules for the unvaccinated to the Holocaust.
Protesters have also been setting up a makeshift camp in nearby Confederation Park — even building a wooden structure on the site — and building fires which at one point tipped over. Gas canisters were also lined up in a nearby fenced area, but were moved after the NCC said they had to go.
While all this behaviour breaks various rules, only 30 tickets have been handed out to truckers — primarily for blaring their horns — and only three people have been charged.
Many feel the police could have done more to stop this days ago, including Barrhaven’s city councillor.
Stay Out of Downtown
In her weekly newsletter sent out Friday, Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder posted a video where she shared her reaction to this morning’s press conference by Ottawa Police.
Just days ago Harder asked Chief Sloly during a briefing why barricades weren’t put in place sooner and why restrictions couldn’t have been put on local highways. The response: it wasn’t possible.
“It’s pretty easy in Ottawa to control at various entries a large number of these large vehicles,” Harder said. “I was told ‘we are not allowed to do this’, (but) it sounds like they are now going to be doing that downtown.”
On Friday Sloly said they were looking at the option of closing bridges and highway off-ramps for this weekend’s demonstration. Incoming protest trucks will be directed to designated parking zones outside the core, and concrete barriers and large machinery would be used to block streets in the downtown core.
It’s a reversal from just 48 hours ago when Ottawa Police said they couldn’t do that. What’s changed?
“Let’s face it folks, they stopped you who own cottages in Quebec from crossing the bridges to get to your own cottages because of COVID and rules going on in Quebec,” Harder said. “You can tell I’m angry and I know many of you are.”
The Barrhaven councillor also said she’s received various calls and emails from local residents asking her to support the convoy, saying they are “a peaceful group.”
Harder said she won’t do such a thing.
“To the people who have told me ‘I’ve been downtown twice; I’ve gone downtown and talked to some of those people and they are very nice and well meaning’, stop being a part of the problem,” Harder urged. “Stop going downtown.”
She also addressed the negative impacts the convoy has had on local shops and businesses in the area. The Rideau Centre has been closed for over a week after maskless crowds stormed the mall, leaving over 1,500 employees without an income. Expects say it also means millions in lost revenue.
Other shops and restaurants in the ByWard market have also been forced to stay closed, either fearing truckers will enter and refuse to follow COVID-19 guidelines, or because their staff have been harassed. The uncomfortable position for the retailers couldn’t come at a worse time: this was the first week restaurants could reopen for indoor dining, and capacity limits were also increased in many settings.
“It is out of control, it shouldn’t have taken this long, I’m liking what I hear today, but I really believe there is a whole bunch more of this that’s going to rain upon us,” said Harder. “I hope it’s not too late. I hope this is ended peacefully, and I hope that we can get back to some kind of normal in a time when COVID is still so active and the vast majority of you have been doing all you can to follow the rules.”