Canada Live Updates: Latest News on Ottawa Protests – The New York Times

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Police vehicles and municipal buses at a convention center near the airport in Ottawa. 
Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

The police created a perimeter with about 100 checkpoints in Ottawa’s downtown core on Thursday, in what appeared to be preparation for a promised clampdown on demonstrators who have paralyzed the capital of Canada for three weeks.

“The action is imminent,” Steve Bell, interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, said Thursday afternoon, adding that the police were committed to ending the “unlawful occupation.”

He said the police perimeter would help ensure that those seeking entry to the area for an unlawful reason such as joining a protest would not be able to access it.

After declaring the downtown a secure zone closed to outsiders, police officials also closed all exits leading to the city center on the Trans-Canada Highway, which is Ottawa’s crosstown expressway.

Five municipal buses were seen Thursday morning idling on a street adjacent to a convention center near the airport, and police officers were seen boarding at least two of them, which traveled to the city’s western suburbs. Ontario provincial police officers were seen gathering at major hotels in that area.

Around the Parliament building downtown, construction workers spent the dawn hours putting up 12-foot-high wire fencing in a soggy morning rain, and protesters braced for police action. Among them was Andrew Broe, who said the truckers were exchanging text messages with the protest leadership. He said their instructions were to remain in their trucks, lock the doors and not open them for, anyone including the police.

Addressing the House of Commons on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the protesters to go home. “It is high time that these illegal and dangerous activities stop, including here in Ottawa,” he said.

In a sign of intensifying frustration over the protests, on Thursday the scope of a class-action lawsuit against the protesters was expanded to include more workers and businesses whose livelihoods have been upended by the protests. In total, the lawsuit is seeking about 306 million Canadian dollars in compensation for lost income.

The protests began weeks ago with a loosely organized group of truckers objecting to a requirement that they be vaccinated if they cross the U.S.-Canada border. With organizing help from right-wing activists, the protests ballooned into a broader movement opposed to an array of pandemic measures and to Mr. Trudeau generally.

If the clampdown takes place, it could help bring to an end a crisis that has undermined the leadership of Mr. Trudeau and disrupted local residents and the local economy. Truckers and their supporters blocked key border crossings and other routes, impeding commerce and idling automakers’ plants. Some blockaded streets and harassed residents in Ottawa, creating a round-the-clock cacophony in quiet residential neighborhoods. Physical violence has been rare.

Ottawa residents and many Canadians have grown impatient with the sluggishness of the police response, and early this week Ottawa’s police chief resigned amid criticism of law enforcement.

Mr. Trudeau took the rare step this week of declaring a national public order emergency — the first such declaration in half a century — to end the protests. The move extended more robust policing measures across the country, and took aim at both protesters’ fund-raising, which has been deemed a criminal activity, and the demonstrators’ personal and business bank accounts.

The police had begun distributing written notices to protesters in Ottawa on Wednesday warning those remaining to leave the area or face penalties. A few of the truckers have their children with them, and one police notice warned that anyone taking a minor to an illegal protest could face up to five years in prison.

Police warned protesters they could face prison for bringing children to the protests. But some protesters were defiant.

Surrounded by five of his eight children, Daryl Sheppard, a teacher from North Bay, Ontario, 220 miles northwest of Ottawa, walked through the protest on Thursday holding an anti-vaccination sign. Mr. Sheppard, 41, said he and his children would remain in Ottawa.

“I’m not really concerned with laws that infringe on my rights as a citizen, my right to bear witness,” he said.

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.

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Credit…Lars Hagberg/Reuters

Children scamper gleefully outside in the cold among the growling trucks occupying Parliament Hill, playing street hockey and jumping on bouncy castles inflated for their entertainment.

Some are the sons and daughters of the truckers who have been camped here for nearly three weeks. Others have been brought by their parents in a show of support for the convoy.

On Wednesday, Ottawa police officers went truck to truck handing out a notice telling demonstrators they were breaking the law and faced arrest. It warned that anyone taking a minor to an unlawful protest could be fined up to 5,000 Canadian dollars “and/or potentially spend up to five years in prison.”

Outside Parliament with his son and two daughters on Thursday, wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, Baret McAuley, a retired oil field company manager, said the notice did not change his plans to protest with his children, Emily, 17, and Ryan and Sarah, both 12. They had driven more than 1,700 miles from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a 30-hour trip.

“I don’t believe that any person with a soul will take away my children,” said Mr. McAuley, 47.

A woman, who requested anonymity because she feared the consequences of violating the police order, said she arrived at the protest that morning with her young child, only to learn en route about the possible risk. They stood waiting on the street for a ride back home, she said, unwilling to take any chances.

Irwin Elman, who formerly served as Ontario’s child and youth advocate, sharply criticized protesting parents who planned to remain there with children. “To stay there and not exercise a parent’s duty of care to their children, and put their own rights ahead of the rights of their children, it’s unforgivable and selfish,” he said.

Last week, police said children were present in about 25 percent of the heavy trucks at the protest. As the police appeared to be bracing on Thursday to remove the protesters, there were fewer minors among the trucks.

Interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell said in a statement Wednesday that police will be working with the Children’s Aid Society and have “a plan” to keep young people safe in the event of their caregivers’ arrest. He did not elaborate.

In a statement, the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa on Wednesday urged parents to make child care arrangements should they be arrested. If children and parents are separated due to law enforcement action, the organization said, it will “work to reunite families as soon as possible.”

Surrounded by five of his eight children, Daryl Sheppard, a teacher from North Bay, Ontario, 220 miles northwest of Ottawa, walked through the protest on Thursday holding an anti-vaccination sign. Mr. Sheppard, 41, said he and his children would remain in Ottawa, in defiance of the emergency orders.

“I’m not really concerned with laws that infringe on my rights as a citizen, my right to bear witness,” he said.

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Credit…Natalie Kitroeff/The New York Times

There are plenty of coronavirus deniers and conspiracy theorists marching among the trucks in downtown Ottawa, but Mike Johnson doesn’t count himself among them.

Mr. Johnson, 53, said he wasn’t even particularly concerned about government mandates or vaccine passports until his son urged him to drive to the nation’s capital to protest against them a few weeks ago.

But now his fire engine red truck, the only thing of significant value he owns, is parked right outside Canada’s Parliament — and Mr. Johnson says he’s prepared for the police to seize it and to forsake his livelihood to defend the cause.

“When we turned our headlights toward Ottawa, I don’t think any of us knew what we were driving into,” said Mr. Johnson, a trucker from Niagara, Ontario. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got here.”

Many among the protesters have links to far-right parties whose support is so low that they hold no seats in the federal Parliament. Mr. Johnson said that he supports one such party, the People’s Party of Canada, whose leader has railed against multiculturalism, immigration and climate change “hysteria.”

What began as a loose group of protesters against vaccine mandates has transformed into a wider movement against pandemic restrictions in general and the premiership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The logjam in the nation’s capital, the weekslong blockade of an Ontario bridge that is vital to automakers’ supply chains, and the media projection of all that onto the global stage have given the protests an outsized megaphone and impact.

As the police appear poised to clamp down on the protests, the so-called “Freedom Convoy” will likely live on long after the last trucks depart — if only as a vivid template of how civil disobedience can be effective, in particular in a liberal democracy where the threshold for law enforcement intervening to stop demonstrations can be high.

Much like Occupy Wall Street in 2011, the Canada convoys show that what seem like fringe political movements can gather force at a time of anxiety — and when the world’s cameras are pointed at them. Back then, the driving force was anger over endemic social inequality. These days it is a lethal global pandemic.

Mr. Johnson never got vaccinated and didn’t have to — hauling scrap metal around northern Ontario doesn’t require border crossing. He believes the coronavirus is real and when people knock on the door of his cab to talk about conspiracy theories he refuses to engage.

“That’s not why I’m here,” he said. “It’s a distraction.”

His centrally located truck has become a kind of command station for anyone who needs a break from the bitter cold or a place to charge a phone. The throngs of people who stop by have moved Mr. Johnson with stories of losing their work because they don’t want to get vaccinated.

Mr. Johnson believes that even if the police arrive in force, the truckers will have made a lasting mark on the country by drawing attention to their demands.

“This has already been a positive accomplishment,” he said, eyeing the police car parked on the lawn of the Parliament building. “Regardless of what happens.”

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Credit…Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

With 12-foot-high wire fencing going up around the Parliament building, and a mobilization of provincial police about six miles away, the protesting truck drivers who have occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks were on alert for possibly imminent police action.

Like truckers who had mounted blockades in other parts of Canada, they expressed defiance and the intent to hold firm against any effort to disperse them. But the defiance melted away at the other protest sites as law enforcement moved in, and the big question on Thursday was whether the same would happen in Ottawa.

Samantha Dougherty, 32, a protest supporter, patrolled the area around a truck facing Parliament. Inside the truck was her new friend, Lenny Frey, she said, who had been parked there for 20 days and had no intention of leaving.

“Nobody is allowed within 6 feet of this truck,” said Ms. Dougherty, a blow horn in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “This truck is not moving, over my dead body.”

Ms. Dougherty said she had met Mr. Frey at the protest and that they had bonded over their love of freedom. She admonished anyone who got near and told Mr. Frey to keep his window rolled up.

“This is life or death for him,” she said.

She gestured toward an S.U.V. carrying police officers passing by, saying, “Pretty wild, eh?”

“Bring the best you got, we’re fighting for our country and they’re fighting for their job,” she added. “They’re Trudeau’s henchman.”

Any police response would be an overreaction, said another protester, Mark Fenson, 55, who said he was a drug and alcohol counselor from Petersburg, Ontario, and had spent the last 22 months attending anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protests. Pointing toward the encampment, which at times has included recreation activities for children, he said a clampdown would be “going a little far for a bunch of bouncy castles.”

Still, Mr. Fenson said he would allow himself to be arrested, although he felt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the police were unfairly targeting the protesters. He said he believed that the official forces were acting on behalf of global elites trying to implement a new world order. “I’m not about to fight against them,” he said. “I’ll deal with them in court.”

Throughout the occupation, the truckers and their supporters have cast the protests as a lawful part of the democratic process. Any effort to remove them, they say, is a violation of their rights as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian bill of rights.

That perspective has been rejected by officials, much of the public and legal scholars, who note that the charter includes specific limits on those rights to protect other rights and national values. Government officials have said repeatedly that the Ottawa protesters blocking daily life are breaking the law.

However, for these protesters, it is the police and Mr. Trudeau’s enactment of emergency measures that are unlawful and unpatriotic, not them or their actions. That echoes sentiments also found among those who participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, and among some influential right-wing commentators, like the Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“It’s a chess game between the freedom of the people, and a new world order,” said Mr. Fenson.

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Credit…Cole Burston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Police in Ottawa are poised for a crackdown on the protests that have immobilized Canada’s capital, but after three weeks of scant enforcement, images of police officers fraternizing with protesters have some Canadians questioning the gentle treatment of the demonstrations.

In particular, many people on social media are contrasting the police conduct at the trucker protests with the displays of force seen at other recent demonstrations, particularly by Indigenous people.

A video on social media, filmed by a protester from the passenger side of a vehicle on Feb. 12, showed an Ontario Provincial Police officer telling a man and woman through an open window that he supported their cause. The provincial police force has launched an internal conduct investigation into the officer, a spokesman confirmed to The Times.

At the border blockade in Coutts, Alberta, where police seized a cache of weapons and made 13 arrests on Monday, a video circulated online showing Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers hugging and shaking hands with protesters as they dispersed.

“That was astonishing to me. I can’t think of an equivalent situation where the police would have been as supportive of the protesters, particularly in the context,” said Lesley Wood, an associate professor at York University, in Toronto, who studies social movements in policing.

While she said that the latest pandemic protests were not equivalent in composition and tactics to Indigenous land defense or Black Lives Matter protests, differences in race, political orientation and trust in law enforcement could affect how the police perceive a crowd.

Groups like racial or ethnic minorities that have historical reasons to distrust the police are more likely to be seen by officers as uncooperative or threatening, and are much more likely to be met with a militarized, aggressive response, Professor Wood said. Groups, like the current protesters, that include large numbers of former police officers and military service members are more likely to receive friendly treatment.

Many Canadians have contrasted the treatment of the demonstrations to the heavy-handed response last year to protests to protect old growth forests in and around Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were filmed tearing off protesters’ Covid masks before dousing them with pepper spray.

The differences are real, but the Canadian police have generally been slow to escalate in response to civil disobedience by any group, said Howard Ramos, a political sociologist at the University of Western Ontario.

The protests at Fairy Creek, for example, lasted about a year before police ratcheted up enforcement. And he noted that after the Wet’suwet’en First Nation blocked pipeline workers from entering disputed land, the police did not mobilize to make arrests for almost two years after obtaining an injunction, according to the R.C.M.P.

“But at the same time, there are clear instances where the level of sympathy that’s being shown to some of the protesters has been uncharacteristic, to say the least,” Professor Ramos said.

Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, cautioned against viewing Canadian police as a monolith, but said some of the police behavior at the protests sends a negative message to the public.

“This may not be an insurrection,” he said, “but it’s certainly an assault on the rule of law and an assault on democratic tradition.”

Ian Austen in Ottawa contributed reporting.

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Credit…Patrick Doyle/Reuters

She is a former fitness instructor who has sung and played guitar in a band called “Blind Monday” in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She was a senior member of a splinter party that advocated for Canada’s Western provinces to secede from the country.

And now Tamara Lich, 47, has emerged as the public face and the most visible leader of the trucker convoy against pandemic restrictions that has roiled the nation’s capital, shaken the country and prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take the drastic step of declaring a national public order emergency.

Ms. Lich speaks publicly in measured tones, and has become adept at deploying social media — and her Twitter feed — to amplify the protesters’ grievances.

At a news conference in the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on Monday, opened to media other than solely conservative-leaning news outlets for one of the first times, there was an air of gravitas in a room that echoed with the constant coughing of dozens of maskless supporters.

Wearing or not wearing a mask has become a potent political statement during the protests and some Ottawa residents have complained of being taunted by protesters.

“Some of you might oppose our grievances,” Ms. Lich said to the television cameras. Like other members of the movement, she does not wear a mask. “However, democratic society will always have non-trivial disagreements, and righteous dissidents,” she added.

What message discipline exists in the protest movement has come from Ms. Lich, said Jay Hill, the interim leader of the Maverick Party, a small right-of-center group based out of Calgary, Alberta, created to promote the separation of Canada’s three western Prairie Provinces from the rest of the country. Ms. Lich, who worked previously in the energy sector, has deep ties to the group.

Even before the convoy assembled, its messaging was Ms. Lich’s preoccupation, according to Mr. Hill, who said she called him several times even before arriving in Ottawa to strategize.

“We had a number of discussions about staying on message, about the need in this modern-day world of politics to have a very clearly defined message that is understandable and simple, a message that people can grasp hold of and run with,” he said. “Tamara clearly understands that.”

Ms. Lich played a leading role in organizing a GoFundMe campaign for the protests that raised $7.8 million before the crowdfunding site shut it down after receiving “police reports of violence and other unlawful activity,” GoFundMe said.

B.J. Dichter, an official spokesman for the convoy, said he joined the effort after Ms. Lich sought help managing the swell of donations flowing into a GoFundMe page. Mr. Dichter has a history of spouting anti-Islamist views and once said that “political Islam” is “rotting away at our society like syphilis.” He has rejected claims of racism.

Within the occupiers’ tightly managed ground operations, there are military hallmarks, outlined and executed by the several higher-ups who have backgrounds in the armed forces and law enforcement, according to leading members of the group.

Their organization includes oversight of each occupied street by a so-called road captain, with sections divided and overseen by block captains who operate below them.

Before becoming a prominent face of the protests, Ms. Lich was a personal trainer in Medicine Hat, a town once dubbed “Hell’s Basement” by Rudyard Kipling for its location on top of a huge natural gas field.

Zach Smithson, an employee at Body Building Depot Fitness Emporium, where Ms. Lich used to work, said she has become the talk of the town.

“I think we are all very proud of her,” he said.

Ms. Lich did not respond to a call and text message requesting an interview.

Canada has employed strict restrictions in its efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But unlike in the United States, such measures have received very little pushback or politicization.

However, a month ago, a law was passed requiring truckers who cross the border into the United States to be vaccinated, threatening the livelihoods of unvaccinated truckers.

So a group of them, along with other organizations, assembled a convoy and drove across Canada toward the capital, Ottawa, in protest.

The demonstration, which many thought would last only a few days, has turned into a noisy, three-week occupation and has led Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare a state of national emergency.

“The Daily” explores how Canada got to this point, and what the protest is like on the ground.

The Daily Poster

Listen to ‘The Daily’: An American-Style Protest in Canada

Hundreds of truckers and their supporters have occupied the nation’s capital for weeks, in an act that has shocked the government.

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Credit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since the big rigs entrenched in the core of Canada’s capital first pulled in nearly three weeks ago, they have arranged themselves in a semblance of order, parking in evenly spaced rows. Their drivers have stayed warm and are fed by a corps of marshaled volunteers, and though they have varying personal beliefs, they appear carefully on-message: “Freedom!” has been the repeated refrain for the past 19 days.

It is no accident: High above the clot of trucks on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, in hotel rooms just out of the fray, are the war rooms behind the operation. From them, a team of self-appointed leaders, some with military and right-wing organizing backgrounds, have orchestrated a disciplined and highly coordinated occupation.

They have spent the weeks huddling in conference rooms and streaming their own news conferences on social media platforms from hotel lobbies. It is a crew that includes former law enforcement officers, military veterans and conservative organizers, a sometimes fractious collaboration that has nonetheless helped to coalesce a demonstration against vaccine mandates into a force that has destabilized the city and sent shock waves throughout Canada.

And while the main blockade that had crippled trade and stalled commercial traffic for nearly a week at the main border crossing between Canada and the United States reopened this week, the protesters in Ottawa largely haven’t budged.

Canadian officials, who do not have authority to tell the police how to operate, have become increasingly frustrated with the occupation and see the coordination not as a polished demonstration, but a dangerous threat.

“What is driving this movement is a very small, organized group that is driven by an ideology to overthrow the government,” Marco Mendicino, the public safety minister, said in remarks on Tuesday. “Through whatever means they may wish to use.”

The protesters’ efforts seemed to be rewarded on Tuesday by the resignation of Ottawa’s police chief, who had faced mounting criticism for the tepid response to the demonstrations in the capital since the start of the occupation. As news of the chief’s departure reached the encampment Tuesday, jubilant honking blared through the city.

Peter Sloly, the police chief, resigned a day after Mr. Trudeau took the rare step of declaring a national public order emergency that extended more robust policing measures across the country. His invocation of the Emergencies Act also took aim at both protester fund-raising, which has been deemed a criminal activity, and the demonstrators’ personal and business bank accounts.

The new public order threatens to unravel a group already at pains to project credibility. Its underpinnings — as a hodgepodge of people suffused in counterfactual belief systems, conspiracy theories and barely bridled rage at anything seen as contrary to their mission — frequently erupt through the official veneer.

At a news conference in the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on Monday, opened to media other than solely conservative-leaning news outlets for one of the first times, there was an air of gravitas in a room that echoed with the constant coughing of dozens of maskless supporters.

But when a television reporter asked about a large cache of weapons found that day at a protest in Alberta, others in the conference room became enraged, shoving the reporter and calling for his ejection with yells of “how dare you!” as the reporter and his crew fled into the street. Tom Marazzo, a spokesman, later defended the action.