Protest organizers dig in and say only politicians can clear Ottawa’s downtown

Crowds have been shrinking since Saturday, but harassment and disruptions remain

CBC News · Posted: Feb 02, 2022 8:46 AM ET

Some of the organizers of the protest that’s brought noise, traffic problems and harassment to downtown Ottawa say they have empathy for the city’s residents, but insist there’s no other way to end all COVID-19 public health mandates across Canada.

The protest has seen vehicles parked and honking on roads leading to Parliament Hill since Friday, with widespread reports of threats and harassment in the area. Ottawa police have said they’ve chosen not to step in when they see laws being broken because the threat of violence is too high.

Police announced two arrests Tuesday and a third on Wednesday involving a 48-year-old man from Quebec charged in relation to “threats and comments made on social media.” According to the charges, the alleged threats were never acted upon.

Crowds swelled to between 5,000 to 18,000 people on Saturday, according to police, with the city estimating 3,000 came to the Hill on Sunday. Police said Tuesday night that 250 people remained, without offering a vehicle count.

The scope of the road closures and size of the area the city says to avoid have dropped since Saturday, but still take up swaths of both residential and business districts. Many businesses and services have chosen to close.

“Our message to the citizens of Ottawa is one of empathy,” wrote Chris Barber, who said he’s a senior convoy leader in a Wednesday morning news release.

“We understand your frustration and genuinely wish there was another way for us to get our message across, but the responsibility for your inconvenience lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians who have [preferred] to vilify and call us names rather than engage in respectful, serious dialogue.”

The release states protesters “plan to remain in Ottawa ‘for as long as it takes.'”

In that news release, some of its organizers repeated their goal of staying put until all COVID-19 orders by all governments across Canada have ended.

They didn’t mention one faction’s demand that government leaders resign if they won’t end these mandates, nor the specific changes to cross-border truck vaccination rules they focused on earlier in their convoy.

Ottawa’s mayor and Ontario’s premier have said it’s time for the protesters to leave. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he’s not going to meet with protesters, nor be intimidated with changing course on his government’s pandemic strategy.

Ottawa police have scheduled a media briefing for 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.

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