Ottawa declares state of emergency over 'Freedom Convoy' Covid protests

Thousands more protesters descended on the Canadian capital again over the weekend, infuriating locals

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Canada’s capital declared a state of emergency on Sunday as police struggled to rein in ongoing protests against vaccine mandates.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who declared the emergency, said in a statement that the increasingly rowdy demonstrations posed a “serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents.”

Hundreds of trucks continued to occupy the downtown area near Canada’s parliament with no sign that the protesters planned to leave.

The protests started in reaction to Canadian and US laws that went into effect in January, requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated. They have since morphed into a rally against Covid restrictions more broadly.

The state of emergency “highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government", Mr Watson said.

It was unclear to what extent Ottawa would ask for outside help. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to rule out using the army to disperse the protesters, but the demonstrations have intensified since then.

“The situation at this point is completely out of control because the individuals with the protest are calling the shots,” Mr Watson said on Sunday in an interview with CFRA, a local radio station. “They have far more people than we have police officers.

An anti-vaccine-mandate protester in Ontario on Sunday. Reuters

Thousands of protesters descended in Ottawa again over the weekend, joining a hundred who remained since last weekend. Residents of Ottawa are furious at the nonstop blaring of horns, traffic disruption and harassment and fear no end is in sight after the police chief called it a “siege” that he could not manage.

The “freedom truck convoy” has attracted support from many US Republicans including former president Donald Trump, who called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “far left lunatic” who has "destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates.”

A former US ambassador to Canada said on Sunday that US groups must stop interfering in the domestic affairs of America's neighbour.

“Canada US relations used to be mainly about solving technical issues. Today Canada is unfortunately experiencing radical US politicians involving themselves in Canadian domestic issues. Trump and his followers are a threat not just to the US but to all democracies," Bruce Heyman, a former US ambassador under President Barack Obama, tweeted.

Mr Heyman said “under no circumstances should any group in the USA fund disruptive activities in Canada. Period. Full stop.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxon tweeted: “Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers' worthy cause", and Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on Fox News that “government doesn’t have the right to force you to comply to their arbitrary mandates.”

The state-of-emergency declaration highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.

It gives Ottawa some additional powers around procurement and how it delivers services, which could help purchase equipment required by frontline workers and first responders.

Updated: February 07, 2022, 10:12 AM
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