Canada

Ottawa mayor says truckers have agreed to leave residential neighbourhoods

Mayor Jim Watson says an agreement has been reached with the president of the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration to remove trucks out of residential neighbourhoods starting Monday.

The 17-day demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures has gridlocked the downtown core, closing roads, businesses, the Rideau Centre and a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

The Mayor’s Office told councillors Sunday afternoon that an agreement was reached through “backchannel negotiations” this weekend for vehicles to exit residential streets in the coming days. Watson asked organizers to limit the perimeter of the demonstration to Wellington Street, between Elgin Street and the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

In a letter to Mayor Watson on Saturday, “Freedom Convoy” president Tamara Lich said organizers are working to get “buy in” from the truckers.”

“We have made a plan to consolidate our protest efforts around Parliament Hill,” Lich said, telling Watson the Freedom Convoy Board agreed with his request to reduce pressure on residents and businesses.

“We will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get buy in from the truckers. We hope to start repositioning our trucks on Monday.”

Watson’s offer to meet with the protesters if they move all the vehicles to Wellington Street is an about-face for the mayor. Last week, he said that he would only meet with the protesters “the minute they clear out the downtown.”

The mayor sent a letter to Lich on Saturday, saying residents “are exhausted and on edge, and our small businesses impacted by your blockades are teetering on the brink of closure.”

Watson says he wants to see “clear evidence” that the truck convoy will be departing residential streets before 12 p.m. Monday.  The mayor says he will meet with Lich and the organizers to discuss their concerns if they meet three conditions.

 1. Remove all trucks from the residential districts south of Wellington Street, and from all other residential areas including the market, the Ottawa Baseball Stadium on Coventry, etc.;

2. Agree to not backfill the residential areas currently occupied with trucks, other vehicles and/or demonstrators; and

3. Agree to not displace the truck convoy, vehicles and/or demonstrators to other residential areas in the City of Ottawa.

During an interview on CTV News at Six, Watson insisted there would be no deal with the organizers.

“We’re not giving them any deals, we’re not giving them any special treatment. If they have tickets they have to pay tickets,” Watson said.

“At least for the foreseeable future when this issue is over at least some of those people in Centretown can have their streets and sidewalks back.”

The mayor acknowledged there will be criticism for agreeing to negotiate with organizers that have led an occupation of downtown streets.

“This is a completely unique crisis that our city is facing,” Watson said.

“There will always be criticism for new ideas; the bottom line is the people in these downtown urban communities need some help and need a reprieve from the horror and the hell that they’ve been through.”

The “Freedom Convoy” demonstration arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29 to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures. Trucks and vehicles have been parked on Wellington Street and roads around Parliament Hill since the protest began 17 days ago.

Residents have complained about horn honking, fireworks, loud music and harassment in residential areas around the demonstration zone.   A stage with a giant TV screen has been set up on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, while a DJ truck is parked at Rideau and Sussex Drive.  Demonstrators have set up barbecues, tents, a hot tub and a bouncy castle in the area during the demonstration.

Last week, an Ontario Superior Court judge agreed to an injunction to stop the horn honking as part of a class-action lawsuit filed by a Centretown resident.

MAYOR SAYS PROVINCE, FEDS HAVE “NOT STEPPED UP” TO END OTTAWA OCCUPATION

Appearing on CTV’s Question Period Sunday morning, Mayor Watson accused the federal and Ontario governments of not stepping up with additional resources as the demonstration against COVID-19 mandates reaches its 17th day.

However, Watson is hopeful more police officers will arrive in Ottawa within the next 24 to 48 hours to assist the Ottawa Police Service in ending the occupation of downtown streets.

Hundreds of vehicles remain parked on Wellington Street and other roads, as people call for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures. Sunday morning, counter-protesters blocked several downtown streets to prevent the “Blue Collar Convoy” from arriving in downtown Ottawa to support the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrators.

Watson said “control was lost a week or so ago” in downtown Ottawa, and its gotten worse this weekend.

“We sent a request to the federal and provincial governments for 1,800 officers that we need now to bring control and order to the city, and unfortunately both other orders of government have not stepped up to the plate like we’d like them too,” Watson said.

“So all weekend we’ve been working with our federal and provincial partners to stress the urgency.”

Last Monday, Watson sent a request to the federal and Ontario governments for an additional 1,800 officers and civilians to help Ottawa police end the downtown occupation.  On Saturday, Ottawa police said it was waiting for reinforcements to arrive to implement their “plan to end this unlawful occupation.”

“We have a plan to end this unlawful occupation and await the necessary reinforcements to do so,” police said in a statement.

Ottawa police, the RCMP and the OPP have established a new “Integrated Command Centre”, which police say will help them better respond to the occupation in Ottawa.

Watson says he’s hoping to reach an agreement on Sunday with the upper levels of government for additional police resources to arrive in Ottawa.

“No more sort of thoughts and prayers with the people of Ottawa, we need actual action from the province, from the federal government. We do not have the resources to bring order to this situation,” Watson said.

“My number one priority is to bring some peace to the people who live in the residential communities. They’re the ones that are the hardest hit, along with the small business community.

The mayor adds police need to act and end the “completely unacceptable behaviour” downtown.

“My objective is to make sure that all three police services are operating in tandem to get this nightmare finished once and for all,” Watson said. “It’s taken far too long, and the public and my council colleagues are frustrated.”

On Saturday, police said “aggressive, illegal behaviour” by demonstrators in the downtown core was limiting police enforcement capabilities during the third weekend of the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration.

“Due to the volume of people and vehicles in the downtown core, police safely managed the movement of various convoys in and around Ottawa,” Ottawa Police said about operations on Saturday. “One 300 vehicle convoy and a 20-kilometer long car convoy from Quebec were safely managed.”

Police announced the establishment of an enhanced “Integrated Command Centre” with the OPP and RCMP to respond to the “significant influx of demonstrators into the Ottawa area and the escalation of the current occupation.”

“We expect that the ICC will result in a significantly enhanced ability of our police service to respond to the current situation in our city,” police said. “The ICC will allow us to make the most effective use of the additional resources our policing partners have provided to us.”

The Prime Minister’s Office says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed further “immediate actions” the federal government is considering to address the situation in Ottawa, and will reconvene today.

“They emphasized the urgent need for anyone participating in the blockades to return to their communities peacefully and immediately, and that consequences for breaking the law will be increasingly severe,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement late Saturday evening. 

“These blockades must be brought to an end, and the federal government will continue working on every option to end them.”

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told CTV’s Question Period the government is prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act to end the trucker convoy protests and blockades across the country.

A former Ottawa police chief says the Ottawa Police Service must try to keep a lid on things until the reinforcements arrive.

“I think that the Ottawa Police Service clearly is unable to execute the strategy that they’ve laid out because they do not have the resources in place to do it, and the best they can do is to keep a lid on it,” Charles Bordeleau told CTV News Ottawa.

“They key question is when they do get those additional resources will they keep with the same plan or will they alter their strategy in order to become more effective in executing what the community wants.

“The community wants these people to leave, and they really have to assess whether the current strategy they have in place is having that measurable impact and if that additional number of resources will continue to have an impact on executing their plan.”

As of 10:30 a.m. Saturday, police had made 26 arrests, while police and Bylaw Services officers had issued 2,600 tickets. There are currently 140 criminal investigations underway into the demonstration.

Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in Ontario on Friday, saying it will give authorities more tools to help stop the “illegal occupation of Ottawa.” Fines up to $100,000 are possible for blocking critical infrastructure, including municipal and provincial roadways and pedestrian walkways.

COUNTER-PROTESTS BLOCK THE “BLUE-COLLAR CONVOY”

Counter-protesters took to the streets of Ottawa on Sunday to block the “Blue Collar Convoy.”

According to the “Blue Collar Convoy” Facebook page, groups were scheduled to depart Canadian Tire Centre and RCGT Park at 9 a.m. and drive downtown.

The convoy from RCGT Park was greeted by dozens of protesters at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Bank Street at 9 a.m. By 1 p.m., hundreds of people, including elected officials, had blocked the road to prevent the convoy from travelling downtown.

On Saturday, thousands of people participated in the “Community Solidarity March” at Lansdowne Park to express opposition to the ongoing demonstration downtown.

Signs included “Make Ottawa Boring Again” and “Ottawa Strong, Occupiers Out.”

INJUNCTION TO STOP IDLING, NOISE AND FIREWORKS 

Mayor Watson says the city’s lawyers will be in court on Monday seeking an injunction to address bylaw infections in the downtown core.

City Solicitor David White told council on Friday the injunction would address the “evidence of flagrant and repeated violations” of noise, idling, fireworks and open air fire bylaws during the demonstration.

“During recent events, By-law Services have not been able to effectively undertake their usual enforcement activities in those parts of the City most affected by the protests, due to safety and operational concerns identified by the Ottawa Police Service,” White said.

“Where enforcement has occurred, it has not had a deterrent effect.”

Last Wednesday, the Chief Justice of Ontario approved increased penalties for bylaw infractions in the downtown area.

Fines for violations (previous fine in parenthesis)

  • Noise Bylaw – $1,000 ($490)
  • Idling Bylaw – $1,000 ($100)
  • Use of Care of Road Bylaw – $1,000 ($350)
  • Open Air Fire Bylaw – $1,000 ($100)

COUNCILLORS EXPRESS FRUSTRATION

Ottawa councillors continue to express frustration with police and the upper levels of government.

Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, a member of the Ottawa Police Services Board, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “step up.”

“The nightmare in downtown Ottawa must end.  The damage being inflicted is beyond anything the occupiers are protesting,” Meehan said on Twitter. “@JustinTrudeau must step up. We need a leader!”

CTV News reporter Glen McGregor reported Saturday evening that he is hearing “intense frustration” from councillors not on the Ottawa Police Services Board, saying they are “livid with the police response and lack of information from the chief. They are furious.”

Coun. Tim Tierney responded on Twitter, “The OPS/PSB say they’re in charge, we’re still waiting for that to happen.”

DOWNTOWN OTTAWA

Crowds braved freezing cold temperatures and the threat of fines on Saturday to join in the demonstration. 

“It’s fun here, everybody’s friendly,” Danny told CTV News Ottawa on Wellington Street.

While police have promised increased enforcement in the area, demonstrators say not much has changed.

“When they come, they come. The officers that have come here have been great,” Peter Doull said, adding he’s received a $110 fine for parking in a no parking zone.

“They’re really being respectful of the people and I thing the people are being quite respectful of them,” Mike Burton told CTV News Ottawa. “I don’t see any problems here at all. This is a peaceful protest.”


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