By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
They came in transport trucks and on horseback. For the second weekend in a row, thousands protested COVID-19 mandates in downtown Ottawa.
The councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean, who sits on the Police Services Board, is now calling on the force to do more.
On Saturday evening, the Ottawa Police Services Board held a special meeting to discuss the ongoing demonstrations which many are now calling a siege.
It comes after a week where tens of thousands have flocked to Parliament Hill to protest an end to all COVID-19 measures. What started strictly as a move to pressure the government into removing vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the Canada/US border, has now turned into a chaotic crowd demanding vaccine passports and mask mandates also end.
The tone in Ottawa is that Police have been unresponsive on the issue, but patrols are being increased, more officers are being sworn in, help is coming from other cities, and tickets are finally being handed out for public drinking, blaring horns, or other disruptive behaviours.
The city’s police chief has said he doesn’t feel there is a policing solution to bring an end to this situation, and today admitted they just don’t have enough resources.
“As I look at the definition of adequate and effective policing, there is literally nothing in that definition of adequate and effective policing that could resolve a city under siege,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said in response to a question from board chair Diane Deans. “That is a democracy threatened by a nationwide insurrection driven by madness.”
Sloly also said Ottawa residents have every right to be mad at the situation, but police didn’t have enough time to prepare a full update to be presented at the special meeting.
What’s The Plan?
Gloucester-South Nepean councillor Carol Anne Meehan gave a fiery message to police during the roughly two hour-long meeting. She asked the Ottawa Police Services to start making arrests and bring forward a plan to end the siege.
“You need officers, we are getting more officers, but we need to be told if there is a concrete plan in place so that we can start arresting people,” Meehan said. “This cannot continue and this is day eight. Have we not put all the levels of government and decision makers in a room because this is an unprecedented situation and we need to take unprecedented decisions and move.”
Meehan said her frustration is in line with many Ottawa residents. The Gloucester-South Nepean councillor said results have not been seen, and finds it “baffling” that a police force needs legal advice to clamp down on rule breakers.
“We are giving the signal to all these people who are coming into town that it is a free for all. They can take tires off trucks, they can put up buildings, they can bring in fuel, they can take over our stadium,” she said. “We have given the signal that it’s ‘come and party in our town.’ I’m expressing frustration not just as a board member and a councillor, but as a resident of this city to see our colleagues and our fellow residents downtown being so hard put upon.”
Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson responded to Meehan’s comments by saying the police are as frustrated as everyone else.
Ferguson however noted they haven’t been given any new powers, and need to follow current standards.
“We have to be the level head and we have to be the ones responding based on the level of authority we have got, and they don’t change in this situation,” she said. “No one has given us powers to arrest if we don’t have them. There is no point in making arrests with a whole lot of effort and energy if it’s only going to be tossed out later in court. We know these things from past protests.”
Meehan was also upset over structures which have been built in Confederation Park. The site has been taken over by protesters who are using it as a base camp. A wooden structure was built earlier in the week and is now being used as a place to hand out free meals. Gas and propane cylinders have also been spotting in the park, along with bomb fires.
A defensive Ferguson responded by saying they have been in contact with the National Capital Commission who runs the park, and have “made progress” in the last three hours. However because of the special Police Services Board meeting that was called, she was unable to be in follow up discussions.
Ferguson also noted other cities such as Toronto and Quebec City have learned from Ottawa’s mistakes. She said Ottawa is also learning as the demonstrations unfold.
But that answer wasn’t satisfactory for Meehan who questions why officials couldn’t do more sooner before the situation got out of hand.
“So everybody has power in this city except the police and residents? That’s the message that we are giving to the protestors in this city,” she said. “We appreciate everything that the police are doing, we do, and we understand that they are exhausted, but this is day eight. We need to know that this is going to end and right now I think there is nothing that indicates that we are not going to go through more days of this.”
Police did note that some arrests have been made, and they are making progress in relation to an investigation surrounding the National War Monument. They said officers are continuing to ticket those who are out of line, and over 50 other investigations are ongoing. Police also said they have responded to over 400 calls for service in relation to the protests, but for many it still feels like the truckers are winning.
Bouncy castles have been set up on downtown streets for the protesters’ children to play on. Outside a local baseball stadium which is being used as a command centre, there were saunas wheeled in and barbecues with food cooking. Propane heaters have been set up in now abandoned OC Transpo shelters.
On Saturday evening as horns continued to blare causing more disruption for downtown residents, fireworks were set off near the parliament buildings.
The truckers say they won’t go home until mandates are lifted, and they are settling in for the long haul. Frustrated residents want the military to be called in, but police say it’s not that simple.
When and how will this end? It’s uncertain. But if police do know, they aren’t saying.