By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
With Ottawa Police under new leadership, there is hope an end will come to the days-long demonstrations downtown.
Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor Carol Anne Meehan, who also sits on the Ottawa Police Services Board, asked the force during a roughly two hour-long special meeting what will change as we get set to enter day 20 under siege.
“What’s going to change now? When are we going to see action?,” Meehan asked Acting Chief Steve Bell. “I don’t expect you to give us a detailed schedule. But when can we expect those rigs and pickup trucks and some of the paraphernalia downtown, when can we expect action to begin to move that out?”
Bell said operational plans are not shared in a public forum citing safety concerns.
“What I can tell you is there is absolutely a plan which has been developed through our partners at the OPP and RCMP to have an integrated approach and response to ultimately end the occupation on our streets,” he responded. “That plan continues to be refined and developed, and exists, and when it’s the appropriate time we will brief the board on the execution of that plan.”
Meehan asked if flyers should be handed out to the truckers explaining what penalties are in place saying they are charged, similar to what was done in Windsor this weekend. She said many of the participants are getting their information from non mainstream news sites, which might be inaccurate.
Bell responded by saying they have made the message clear to truckers, and will continue to do so. It comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enacted the Emergencies Act for the first time ever to give the authorities more power.
The War Measures Act was created in 1914, and was used three times for World War I and II, and during the October Crisis in 1970. It was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988 which was never used until now.
The government also put the truckers on notice: The blockades are illegal. Those who participate could have their corporate accounts and insurance on their vehicles suspended.
Impact to Businesses
As we near the Family Day long weekend, Meehan said many people will want to go downtown, and wanted to know if plans were in place to segregate the protests to a smaller area.
“The Rideau Centre has been closed for two weeks, people have been forced to stay in their homes, there are going to be a lot of people who want to go downtown,” she said. “I’m wondering if there is a plan to tackle some of the blockades that are keeping the Rideau Centre from opening. I know there are about 30 vehicles at Rideau and Sussex.”
“If that occupation was moved out, then perhaps the Rideau centre could actually open,” Meehan noted. “Are you looking at prioritizing some of the areas that are impeding businesses and people from accessing their places of work and business?”
Bell noted they understand the pressures the blockades are having on people in the downtown core. He said they continue to work with demonstrators there in hopes of ending the demonstrations. While some truckers have gone home, the core group remains.
The Rideau Centre was forced to close Jan. 29, when a large group of unmasked protesters entered the mall. Security and police were largely outnumbered, and therefore unable to force the mask mandates. Those who work in the mall feared for their health and safety.
The mall has 170 businesses, and employs about 1,500 people who have been out of work and a paycheque for two and a half weeks. Rideau Centre management, Cadillac Fairview, said they were advised by authorities not to re-open since they were unable to assure the safety of its customers and staff.
In the first seven days the mall was closed, The Retail Council of Canada estimated $19.7 million in lost revenue. Now over two weeks in, that number is over $40 million.
The special Ottawa Police Services Board Meeting ended on an emotional note. Energy was high, some felt many questions were left unanswered, and uncertainty caused anxiety.
An emotional Meehan asked about the spread of misinformation many are falling for, and wanted Bell to address the rare situation where Ottawa Police officers were openly endorsing the demonstrators movement.
“I have to say as a resident of this city, I firmly believe that the majority of the rank and file of our service are trying to do the best job they can,” Meehan noted. “But I’m baffled,confused, and really frustrated when I see videos and I hear and anecdotes of officers who are yacking it up with some of the protesters, and are saying they support the cause, and are sometimes assisting them in some of the illegal activities like moving gas cans around.”
Meehan said this image, even if done by only the selected few, damages the reputation of the Ottawa Police Service. The Ward 22 councillor said she respects how people can have different views, but expects police to hold rule of law and protect the citizens of Ottawa.
Bell responded by saying the vast majority of Ottawa Police Officers are out in the downtown core every day trying to restore the rule of law, and are as frustrated as the residents who are impacted by the destinations.
He said those who are caught helping in the illegal activity will no longer be apart of the force.
“For those that are not there is no place in this police service,” Belk said. “Supporting illegal demonstrators, illegal occupiers in our streets, is not part of our core values. We will investigate every single one of those (officers) to our fullest extent and ensure those people are not part of this police service.”