Ottawa police launch 'surge and contain' strategy at 'Freedom Convoy' protest

Ottawa police say they are stepping up measures to protect downtown neighbourhoods as the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest reaches the one-week mark.

Chief Peter Sloly announced a new “surge and contain strategy” Friday that he said would "restore order, hold offenders to account and protect our neighbourhoods."

The strategy includes sending 150 more officers to affected neighbourhoods to target unlawful behaviour connected to the ongoing occupation, which is a protest against COVID-19 mandates.

"The surge will deliver a clear message to the demonstrators: the lawlessness must end," Sloly said.

The new measures also include barricading the protest “red zone” using hundreds of concrete and heavy-equipment barricades, cutting off access to the downtown core for more vehicles. Sloly said this will further isolate and contain the demonstration.

Incoming vehicles will be directed to designated parking zones outside the downtown core, and vehicles parked illegally will be ticketed and towed. Police said they may close highways, interprovincial bridges and major roadways to keep vehicles out of downtown. The city released a full list of road closures Friday afternoon.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said police are expecting 300 to 400 trucks to try to enter the downtown core throughout the weekend, along with up to 2,000 people on foot. He also said police are expecting about 1,000 counter-protesters.

Bell said he understands residents' frustration, but asked counter-protesters not to come downtown this weekend.

"We would like to not have that to be another dynamic we have to manage," he said. "Let us successfully work to restore the trust and confidence in the police, restore feelings of safety and security in the neighbourhood, by being able to deploy our resources."

There are about 200 to 250 trucks parked in the city right now, he said.

Police say they have also increased efforts to identify protesters who are funding and enabling unlawful activity.

“The hatred, violence, and illegal acts that Ottawa residents and businesses have endured over the last week is unacceptable in any circumstance,” Sloly said.

“The current occupation of the Parliamentary Precinct remains unresolved despite significant success in reducing the number of trucks/demonstrators while preventing riots, injuries and death. We take no solace in these operational successes," he added.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly listens to a question 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. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The demonstrators, he said, "remain highly organized, well-funded, and extremely committed to resisting efforts to end the demonstration safely. This remains a very volatile and very dangerous demonstration.”

The police force is facing growing criticism from downtown residents who say they have faced noise, harassment and other disturbances. Sloly said he understands there's "a range of opinion" on the force's response, but they have learned from the past week.

"We need to do better. We're committed to doing better," he said. "We have learned from our experience. We have gathered new evidence."

“Every unlawful act, including traffic infractions, will be fully pursued,” says Chief Peter Sloly of @OttawaPolice. “Our goal is to end the demonstration.” @ctvottawa pic.twitter.com/wGQEPfYDbH

— Natalie van Rooy (@NatalievanRooy) February 4, 2022

End the occupation in Ottawa, premier says

Premier Doug Ford says it's time to end what he calls "the occupation" on the streets of Ottawa.

"As I said earlier this week, Ontarians are united in their desire to put this pandemic behind us and to get back to life as we knew it before COVID-19, but the occupation in Ottawa is only hurting families and businesses that are trying to continue on with their lives. It’s time for it to come to an end," said Ford in a statement Friday afternoon.

Speaking with reporters, Ford said, "What's happening in Ottawa, in my opinion, is unacceptable."

"As any premier would say; the right to protest, the civil liberties, the democracy that's a given. But when you start occupying, it's unacceptable. We won't have any tolerance, again I want to repeat this, for hatred of any kind, harassment of any kind."

Increased security in Ottawa

There are visible signs of increased security in downtown Ottawa ahead of the expected arrival of more protesters this weekend.

Fences have been installed around the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Last weekend, photos showed vehicles parked at the memorial, and people using the monument as a washroom.

Ottawa police are investigating the desecration of the National War Memorial last Saturday, after video showed someone dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Police and city staff are setting up concrete and heavy equipment barricades on several streets to create "no-access" roadways.

Protesters say they have no plans to leave

The main organizers of the Freedom Convoy say they have no plans to leave the city.

"We are calling on all levels of government in Canada to end all COVID mandates and restrictions," said Tamara Lich, one of the leaders of the "Freedom Convoy" protest, on Thursday. Lich said no one from the federal or provincial government had met with them since the start of the protest.

"We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination."

On Thursday, protesters were seen stocking up on canisters of propane and cans of fuel in Confederation Park, while a wooden structure was being built for a possible community kitchen. The structure was still erected on Friday morning.

The eight-day protest has seen dozens of transport trucks, pick-up trucks and other vehicles blocking Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, along with several other streets in the downtown core.   Horns have been heard ringing through Centretown, Lowertown and the ByWard Market throughout the day and evening.

As residents, businesses and social services agencies raise concerns about the impacts the protest is having on their wellbeing, three councillors are leading walks through the core. Councillors Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard are leading the walks, the first of which started on Friday at 11 a.m. Others are planned for Saturday and Sunday. 

Community safety walk in #Ottawa. This is just one group walking around Centretown. They’re showing support for neighbours who have been harassed, heard non-stop truck horns, fireworks late at night, it goes on. #ottnews @ctvottawa pic.twitter.com/PViFGt6t3Y

— Katie Griffin (@KatieGriffinCTV) February 4, 2022

A petition calling on Ottawa police to "evict" the Freedom Convoy from downtown Ottawa had 32,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Ottawa police estimated earlier this week that the protest included 250 people.

RCMP sending more officers

The RCMP will be deploying additional officers to assist Ottawa Police with the policing of the demonstration.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino spoke with Mayor Jim Watson on Thursday to discuss the ongoing protest.

"I am able to confirm that the RCMP has approved all the additional officers that were requested, and they will be ready to assist the Ottawa Police Service, who are the police of jurisdiction," said Mendicino in a statement.

"This request is in addition to RCMP resources and support already in place since the arrival of the convoy to Ottawa. It is important to underline that these are operational decisions taken by the police, independent of the government."

Watson told council he had spoken to Mendicino.

"I reiterated our City’s call for additional resources to support our officers responding to this demonstration on the ground. He assured me that our request for assistance was being given the highest consideration by (RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki), and he offered his ongoing support until we see an end to the occupation," said Watson.

Special council meeting

Watson is calling a special council meeting for Monday to discuss the ongoing protest in downtown Ottawa.

In a memo to council, the mayor said the meeting will discuss the impact of the truck convoy demonstration on residents and businesses.

Watson calls for freezing GoFundMe money

The mayor and city manager Steve Kanellakos also spoke with GoFundMe to discuss the fundraising campaign to support the "Freedom Convoy" demonstration.

"The whole thing seems very sketchy," said Watson on CTV News Channel's Power Play. "This one woman is getting all this money, how she's distributing it? Where's that money going to go?"

Watson wants GoFundMe to freeze the $10 million raised until the end of the occupation.

"Keep the money frozen until these folks leave the city of Ottawa, then give them that incentive."

City services remain closed

The city of Ottawa says Ottawa City Hall, the underground parking lot and the Rink of Dreams will remain closed all weekend.

The Ottawa Public Library Main and Rideau branches will remain closed until Monday.

Motorists can continue to check the city's online traffic map for up-to-date information on traffic delays and disruptions due to the demonstrations.