Ottawa and provincial capitals on alert as convoy protests ramp up

A police cruiser blocks University Avenue between Bloor Street and Queen’s Park in Toronto during a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 5, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Recent developments from protests against public-health measures:
  • Protests are under way in Ottawa and Toronto, though the Ontario Trucking Association says most of the demonstrators have no connection to the trucking industry. There are also counter-protests in Toronto, near the Ontario legislature, where convoy protesters have gathered.
  • In Quebec City, thousands of demonstrators have gathered near the Quebec legislature to protest against public-health measures.
  • Winnipeg police say a man drove his vehicle into a group of protesters outside the Manitoba legislative building Friday evening, injuring four of them. The driver is in custody.
  • Residents of downtown Ottawa are seeking damages and an injunction because of constant noise and harassment from protesters over the past week. On Saturday afternoon, a judge said he plans to rule on the matter on Monday.
  • Millions of dollars raised by protest organizers will not be released by crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, owing to violations of its terms of service. Donations will be refunded automatically, the company announced Saturday.

  • People gather in protest against COVID-19 mandates in Edmonton on Saturday, as similar protests play out in other major cities across the country.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

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5:50 p.m.

Pickups, big rigs and a large crowd of demonstrators opposed to pandemic restrictions are on the streets near the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton for a second straight Saturday.

Many of the people carried signs lampooning critics, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’ve said the demonstrators are a small fringe minority.

There was at least one flag that supported former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Honking horns could be heard throughout the city’s downtown, but one apartment window displayed a sign that appeared to challenge the demonstrators, saying “Honk if you love science.”

Corbett Fert, a demonstrator who said he’s not against vaccines or masks, just mandates, said, “Sometimes freedom has to be a little noisy.”

The Canadian Press

4:40 p.m.

In Vancouver, the crowd gathered at the intersection of Robson and Burrard streets has grown from at least several dozen to a few hundred.

The city police department posted to Twitter that “hundreds of vehicles have entered the downtown core, causing significant congestion.” It said officers are trying to keep the flow of traffic moving and to minimize delays.

Globe staff

4:35 p.m.

About two hundred counter-protesters gathered in the plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall on Saturday afternoon to voice their objection to the protest. They carried signs that read: “We will not be held hostage,” and “no hate in our city,” and chanted “Go home” and “Whose city? My city!”

Mackenzie Demers, 25, said he had organized the counter-protest on Reddit, after the City of Ottawa refused his application for a permit to hold an assembly.

“Every single Canadian has the right to protest,” Mr. Demers said, but the truck protesters “do not have the right to terrorize our citizens, harass our people, shoot off fireworks and honk their horns at five in the morning.”

Clumps of pro-trucker protesters periodically gathered on the other side of the street, separated by about three dozen Ottawa police officers. But they dispersed when people who appeared to be pro-trucker organizers urged them to return to Parliament Hill. “We don’t want to give them an audience,” one man with a megaphone said of the counter-protesters.

John Ibbitson

2:50 p.m. ET

Toronto police say they’ve arrested a 22-year-old man for allegedly igniting a smoke bomb.

They say they arrested the man around 2 p.m. at the ongoing demonstration at Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto. The man faces one count each of assault with a weapon, administering a noxious substance and public mischief.

Trucks have blocked a nearby intersection as the main protest against public-health measures moved north of the Ontario legislative building. Hundreds gathered there as the semi trucks blared their horns and protesters cheered.

About two dozen riot squad officers stood a block south.

– The Canadian Press

2:45 p.m. ET

An Ontario Superior Court judge is holding off on ruling on a request to order truckers in Ottawa’s downtown to stop blowing their horns.

Justice Hugh McLean says he wants to give all sides in the lawsuit time to submit all documents to him, adding that he plans to make a decision on the horns on Monday afternoon.

On Friday, Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ filed a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of residents seeking millions of dollars in damages and an injunction “prohibiting the continuation of the nuisance.”

During a hearing today, McLean noted the difficulty in enforcing such an injunction if the wording wasn’t just right.

Lawyer Keith Wilson says only one of the three people named in the proposed class-action who he represents actually has a truck, which he says has never had the horn sounded.

He also says the truckers in downtown Ottawa have an accord among themselves that the horns won’t sound overnight between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Champ notes that still means the horns will ring 12 hours a day at levels that are causing harm to downtown residents.

McLean suggests the truckers limit the use of air horns to short periods of time, perhaps around noon, but not for the full 12 hours.

– The Canadian Press

2:28 p.m. ET

In Vancouver, police blocked off a city block at the intersection of Robson and Burrard. A crowd of at least several dozen people waved flags and signs and cheered at passing trucks.

One woman, who gave her name as Nina, said she had been vaccinated twice but did not want to have to get a booster.

She would not say where she worked or give her full name.

“All we want is our freedom,” she said.

In a deserted Wolford Tights shop on Burrard Street, manager Michelle Huang said the steady honking and flag-waving crowds just outside the door had been “terrible” for business.

Some people had banged on the store windows as they went by, but Ms. Huang said she didn’t feel unsafe.

“It’s just really, really annoying,” she said.

Counter-protesters blocked a major intersection in east Vancouver, but Vancouver police said on Twitter just before noon Pacific time that the conflict has been resolved and traffic was moving again.

– Wendy Stueck

2:21 p.m. ET

At Coutts, Alta. on Saturday, lawyer Chad Williamson said the critical border crossing remains open to one lane of travel in each direction, “in accordance with the protesters’ good faith gesture to accommodate immediate needs of travelers.” On Friday, Alberta RCMP had said they were still managing two illegal protests in the Coutts area.

In a message to The Globe, Mr. Williamson – who has acted as a spokesperson for the Coutts protesters – said some cross-border travel remains open only in “anticipation of fruitful, productive policy movement,” based on statements from the government this week.

On Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney said his government will announce early next week a detailed plan to end Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine passport. The Alberta Premier also said he will lay out a phased approach to end almost all COVID-19 health restrictions by the end of the month, provided the pressure on hospitals continues to decline.

Mr. Kenney said a high vaccination rate coupled with stabilizing hospital patient numbers make these actions feasible.

The protesters near Coutts, about a three-hour drive southeast of Calgary, have similar messaging to protesters in Ottawa and other parts of the country. They want governments to cancel all COVID-19 restrictions, such as vaccination passports and mask mandates. However, their main focus appears to have shifted to getting rid of Alberta-specific COVID-19 health measures.

The blockade at Coutts, which started one week ago, has snarled the flow of traffic at Alberta’s most important land-border crossing – a key conduit for U.S.-Canada trade of beef, cattle, produce and animal feed. Mr. Williamson said demonstrators “will not leave until a proper and satisfactory resolution is reached.”

On Saturday at noon, Mr. Kenney tweeted a message directed at those planning protests across Alberta on Saturday, saying “by all means, send your message through peaceful, lawful protest.”

“But disrupting the lives of your fellow Albertans and creating illegal, dangerous road hazards is totally unacceptable. In a democracy we always have strong disagreements, but we must resolve them within the rule of law.”

Mr. Kenney added, “police are responsible for ensuring public safety and lawful conduct on our roads. They can issue stiff penalties, e.g. under Alberta’s [Critical] Infrastructure Defence Act, to those blocking roads.”

– Kelly Cryderman

2:09 p.m. ET

For a second Saturday, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people gathered on and around Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates.

The occupation – as Premier Doug Ford has called it – of downtown Ottawa is formidably well organized. Rigs clogged Wellington and other streets in Centretown. A wooden shack constructed earlier in the week at nearby Confederation Park offered free coffee and sandwiches. There were ample supplies of firewood, firepits and portable generators at the site. Journalists have documented a sophisticated command centre at a parking lot in the city’s east end.

Police erected barricades three blocks south of the Hill to keep vehicles out. Most shops in the area were closed, with the exception of some fast food stores and cannabis dispensaries.

At one Dutch Love dispensary location, manager Rafael Sartin said the protest had been “really bad for us, businesswise.” Mr. Sartin, who emphasized that neither he nor the company had any view on the protest itself, said the store had shortened hours because of “safety concerns,” and was keeping its front door locked, letting customers in only if they agreed to wear masks. Earlier in the week, he said, there had been unpleasant scenes with customers refusing to wear masks and demanding service.

“It’s been a struggle,” he added.

The crowds on Saturday skewed younger rather than older, and, unlike last week, this time there was a stage with music and speeches. “I’ve been here a week and it’s been nothing but fun,” one speaker declared. “This is the real Canada.”

Randy Armstrong, 47, had arrived in Ottawa with his rig at about one in the morning. He was part of a group of about 20 people and about 10 trucks from the Peterborough area, located around 275 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. Some in his group were coming up on weekends, he said; others had been in Ottawa all week. Mr. Armstrong said he planned to be “in and out of here until it ends.”

“Things have to change,” he said. Vaccine mandates and passports had been in place “way too long.” But he noted that restrictions were gradually lifting. When asked if he would stay in Peterborough once most restrictions were lifted, he replied “You betcha.”

– John Ibbitson

1:55 p.m. ET

Crowdfunding platform GoFundMe says it’s changed its plans for the millions of dollars raised in support of protesters who have been encamped in downtown Ottawa for more than a week.

The company pulled the fundraiser from its site on Friday evening, saying police evidence suggested it had devolved into an “occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity,” and pledging to either refund the money raised or redistribute it to charities chosen by the protest organizers.

But GoFundMe has since published a blog post stating it’s changed its mind in response to “donor feedback” and will now only be issuing refunds.

GoFundMe says those who donated to the Freedom Convoy campaign will not need to submit refund requests and can expect to see their money returned within seven to 10 business days.

GoFundMe previously said it removed the fundraiser because it violated the site’s terms of service, which prohibit the promotion of violence and harassment.

An initial $1-million of the more than $10-million raised was released to organizers earlier this week.

– The Canadian Press

1:35 p.m. ET

A Manitoba man is in custody after allegedly driving his vehicle into a group of protesters who are part of the demonstrations taking place outside the province’s legislative building this weekend.

Winnipeg Police say the incident took place just before 10 p.m. Friday evening.

Cst. Rob Carver spoke at a news conference Saturday where he alleged the 42-year-old man from Headingly, Man., was driving his Jeep westbound when he hit four men and fled toward the west end of the city.

Police say officers were able to stop the vehicle about a half hour later and the driver was arrested after a “brief struggle.”

Police say three of the injured men were treated at the scene, while a fourth was treated in hospital and released.

The accused is facing multiple charges, including assault with a weapon and dangerous operation of a conveyance.

Cst. Carver said police believe the accused was not participating in the protest and that it does not appear the underlying causes of the demonstration motivated his actions.

Protesters have been parked in front of the Legislative building since Friday morning as a sign of solidarity for similar movements across the country.

– The Canadian Press

1:30 p.m. ET

Several thousand demonstrators have gathered near the legislature in Quebec City to protest against public-health measures.

Dozens of trucks are parked on René-Lévesque Boulevard near the National Assembly, with some participants holding signs depicting Premier François Legault as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and others offering “free hugs” from locals who say they are unvaccinated.

The area surrounding the legislative buildings saw a heavy police presence deployed at about noon, with provincial police stating on Twitter that protesters must not block roads.

– The Canadian Press

1:15 p.m. ET

A couple hundred health-care workers and their supporters marched from the University of Toronto to hospital row just south of the Ontario legislature Saturday afternoon.

They held signs saying “free-dumb” and “N95 masks for all.”

Police have closed off the roads near the hospitals to traffic.

Outside the nearby Royal Ontario Museum, one man stood in a pedestrian walkway, instructing the driver of a red truck to turn back on Bloor Street. The driver honked his horn and motioned that he could not. The standoff continued for 10 minutes and ended only when a police officer intervened to take the counter-protester out of the crosswalk and tell the truck driver to head north – and away from Queen’s Park.

– The Canadian Press, with a report from Colin Freeze

1:07 p.m. ET

A group of Indigenous senators say they are “extremely disturbed” by the events in Ottawa over the past week.

Nine members of the upper chamber say the “display of racist and hateful symbols” has sparked “profound shock and outrage” across the country and hurt Indigenous communities.

The senators, who come from a range of political backgrounds, say they were also troubled by the desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument.

They also note their concern for the downtown businesses affected by the ongoing protest, as well as marginalized and vulnerable individuals whose access to critical services has been interrupted.

Meanwhile, Ottawa police say more than 20 highway ramps and roads will be shut down sporadically Saturday amid protests in the capital.

The majority of the shutdowns affect ramps and exits on Highway 417, the spine of the city’s road network.

The Ottawa police announcement, which was shared via Twitter, came as horns blared along streets clogged with banner-flying trucks and flag-festooned cars below Parliament Hill.

Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney says residents of the Centretown neighbourhood were promised extra officers Friday, but the force’s surge has amounted to only about two dozen officers across the area so far.

– The Canadian Press

1:04 p.m. ET

An Ottawa lawyer will appear in court Saturday to argue a class-action lawsuit that centres around the constant sound of blaring truck horns in the city’s downtown core. The suit seeks $9.8-million in damages and an injunction barring the nuisance.

Paul Champ, the lawyer arguing the case on behalf of named plaintiff Zexi Li, said noise from the horns has registered between 105 and 125 decibels for 10 minutes straight at times.

Mr. Champ said constant exposure to that level of noise can lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus, and added that babies, children and people with disabilities or conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder are suffering enormous health impacts.

“This legal action is not trying to stop these individuals from protesting,” said Mr. Champ, who added that downtown Ottawa residents are used to large protests that shut down streets.

“But this protest and these tactics have really crossed the line. They’re causing serious psychological and physical harm to these residents, and that part of it simply has to stop.”

Ms. Li said in an affidavit that her “nerves are frayed” after constant honking that registers at 84 decibels within her apartment (a similar level of sound to that produced by a food blender), and harassment whenever she leaves her apartment.

“When I do get up the courage to leave my apartment, I am almost immediately subjected to heckling by members of the convoy who yell at me to remove the mask I wear to protect myself and others from contracting COVID-19,” Ms. Li said in the affidavit.

“If I ignore the heckles, members of the Convoy respond by honking their horns at me.”

– Salmaan Farooqui

12:35 p.m. ET

About three dozen people gathered in front of the New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton Saturday.

Supporters driving by honked horns as the people waved signs that read “Mandate Freedom” and “True North Strong and Free.”

A notice on social media said the group would later travel to Quispamsis and protest outside the home of Premier Blaine Higgs, but none of the people gathered said they would make that trip.

– The Canadian Press

12:00 p.m. ET

The head of the Ontario Trucking Association says the vast majority of demonstrators at the provincial legislature in Toronto Saturday appear to have no connection to the industry and harbour grievances that go “beyond the cross-border vaccine requirements.”

Association president Stephen Laskowski issued a statement Saturday saying the trade organization “strongly disapproves” of any protests on roads or highways, or near hospitals.

He notes that the vast majority of Canada’s 300,000 truck drivers are vaccinated and reminds any big-riggers who participate in rallies across the country Saturday that their behaviour reflects on them and their colleagues in the sector.

Mr. Laskowski is calling on demonstrators to protest peacefully and then return to their homes.

– The Canadian Press

11:45 a.m. ET

Several hundred protesters gathered on the south side of the Ontario legislature in Toronto Saturday.

Police used cars, SUVs and municipal buses to block all vehicular traffic into Queen’s Park Circle and nearby Hospital Row. Protesters were still allowed to enter the grounds of the legislature by foot to cluster around a monument of King Edward VII on horseback.

There, several speakers addressing the crowd spoke of attending the Ottawa convoy rally and being energized by it.

Demonstrators held signs that read “Freedom = no mandates” and “let love guide you, not fear.” Many were waving Canadian flags.

Tim Hortons coffee was being served while reggae blared from loudspeakers amid chants of “freedom and “liberté.”

Many speakers urged a peaceful protest, and credited truckers in Ottawa for bringing to the public’s attention causes involving protests against public-health measures.

– Colin Freeze, with a report from The Canadian Press

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