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Ottawa police deploy ‘surge’ in response to ongoing protest

150 extra police officers sent to the areas of the city most affected
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly leaves after speaking at a news conference on updated enforcement measures as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions continues into its second week, in Ottawa, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa police are deploying a “surge” of about 150 extra police officers to central areas of the city paralyzed by the protest against COVID-19 mandates that has been going on for days.

Police Chief Peter Sloly says the patrolling officers will focus on mischief, hate, harassment, threats and other intimidating behaviour to send a clear message: “The lawlessness must end.”

The protest against pandemic measures, which has immobilized the city’s downtown with scores of large trucks, is an “increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration,” Sloly told a news conference Friday.

“We’re absolutely committed to bringing this demonstration to an end.”

However, Sloly warned that demonstrators near Parliament Hill remain highly organized, well-funded and extremely committed to resisting attempts to end the demonstration safely.

Police plan to contain the demonstration in the area immediately south of the Hill through concrete barriers and large machinery to control roadways throughout the downtown core.

They are also looking at closing bridges and highway off-ramps, while incoming protest trucks will be directed to designated parking zones outside the downtown core, Sloly said. Illegal parking by demonstrators could result in bylaw enforcement, removal and impound.

Police expect as many as 400 more trucks and up to 2,000 people on foot will arrive this weekend for the protest. In addition, as many as 1,000 people could join counter-demonstrations downtown.

Sloly had a blunt message for anyone intent on causing trouble: “Do not bring weapons, do not bring firearms, do not come here to cause harm. Do not come here to break the law. You will be held to account.”

Downtown Ottawa residents have endured a week of blaring truck horns, blocked streets and racial taunts from aggressive participants. Many city-dwellers have expressed frustration with the fact little has changed days into the protest.

Residents were bewildered Thursday that demonstrators had constructed a wood building and fuel storage pen in Confederation Park, just southeast of Parliament Hill.

Sloly acknowledged the concerns but said police had done “absolutely the best we can to keep this city safe.”

“We need to do better. We’re committed to doing better. We now have more intelligence and allies to do better.”

The Ottawa chief said his empathy for citizens was rooted in personal experience, noting police were investigating death threats that he and other city officials had received this week.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said late Thursday the RCMP had approved Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s request for Mounties to support city police.

Sloly said Friday that local, provincial and national intelligence personnel were working together to analyze information.

“We have increased ability to identify and target protesters, and supporters of protesters, who were funding and enabling unlawful and harmful activity,” he said.

Teams are gathering details including vehicle registration, driver identification, insurance status and other related evidence that will be used in prosecutions.

Every unlawful act, including traffic and insurance violations, “will be fully pursued,” Sloly said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been harshly critical of the protesters, calling on them to leave town and allow residents to resume their daily lives.

Tamara Lich, a protest organizer, told a Thursday news conference the departure of the demonstrators would “be based on the prime minister doing what is right: ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms.”

—Jim Bronskill and Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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