Watson said declaring a state of emergency “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations.”

Elizabeth Payne,  Matthew Lapierre

Publishing date: Feb 06, 2022  •  9 hours ago  •  7 minute read  •   40 Comments

Trucks lined streets in Centretown Sunday afternoon.
Trucks lined streets in Centretown Sunday afternoon. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmed

Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency Sunday after a dystopian weekend of carnival-like scenes, heightened lawlessness, growing tensions between protesters and residents, and relentless noise, diesel fumes and fireworks.

The second weekend of a truck convoy protest that became an occupation of Ottawa’s core drove the city to the brink.

“They are terrorizing our residents, torturing them with incessant honking, threatening them and preventing them from leading their lives,” the city’s police board chair, Coun. Diane Deans, said Saturday at a tense emergency meeting during which police Chief Peter Sloly said he didn’t have enough resources to end the occupation.

Coun. Catherine McKenney called the scene on Saturday “absolute, utter chaos and mayhem.”

Police board members and others pleaded with the federal and provincial government to help bring a peaceful end to the protests, as did the owners of the Rideau Centre mall, who announced it would remain closed for an unprecedented 10th day amid continuing safety concerns.

“The continued closure of an important community space, the loss of employment income, and the financial impact on our clients is heart-breaking given all of our shared pain and sacrifice during the pandemic.

“The situation in Ottawa’s downtown core is untenable and we call on all levels of government to collaborate on a solution.”

As the police board was meeting Saturday, hundreds of fed up Ottawa residents had taken to the streets with signs saying “We will not be held hostage in our own city” and chanted “go home” at protesters. Police positioned themselves between counter-protesters on one side of Laurier Avenue, and flag-waving protesters on the other side.

Early Sunday, after a night of “extremely disruptive and unlawful behaviour”, according to police, Watson echoed concerns about the worsening situation in the city, telling CFRA radio protesters were “calling the shots”.

A dance party was well underway midday Sunday at the corner of Rideau and Sussex.

In a brief statement later Sunday, Watson said declaring a state of emergency “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.”

He said the declaration provided a “greater flexibility” in the city administration to manage business continuity for essential services and a more flexible procurement process, “which could help purchase equipment required by front-line workers and first responders.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the declaration could help end the protests, though.

Meanwhile, many businesses remained closed and some residents reported harassment and intimidation. One Ottawa resident missed a dose of chemotherapy because the courier company delivering the oral medication was unable to get it to her on time, blaming “obstruction” of city streets.

For some of the protesters, who danced in the streets, watched their children on bouncy castles erected on blocked streets and cheered honking truckers, the weekend was a peaceful expression of their frustration and unity.

City councillors joined calls for more help from other levels of government.

“There is a siege in our city, there is an occupation in the city and police have said this is bigger than we can handle. We need the province to step up and work with the feds,” said Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who represents some of the most affected areas, including the ByWard Market and Lowertown.

Provincial officials made it clear Sunday that Ottawa already has the resources and tools to end the demonstrations on its own.

“I want to stress that policing protests is a responsibility carried out by local police services across Ontario, who have the resources and authority to ensure their communities remain safe,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in a statement released Sunday. “To be clear: police services, including the Ottawa Police Service, have full discretion and extensive legislative authority under the Criminal Code to respond to and manage demonstrations and take enforcement action, as appropriate, against any individuals committing crimes in their jurisdictions.”

By Sunday afternoon, things appeared to be shifting.

Announcing that “enforcement is underway,” Ottawa police tweeted just before 2 p.m. Sunday that anyone who attempts to bring material supports, including gas, to demonstrators could be subject to arrest.

On Sunday afternoon, groups of police officers informed truck drivers that they would not be allowed to refuel after midnight.

Beginning Monday, police could seize any gas cans, propane tanks or fuel of any kind that protesters were bringing into the downtown core, one officer told a man with a wagon of jerry cans.

Deliveries of fuel from well-organized staging grounds at the Ottawa baseball stadium and other areas around the city became a routine sight over the weekend. Pickup trucks loaded with jerry cans of fuel parked along the road and unloaded into wagons and conveyances to deliver them to idling trucks, often within sight of police officers from Ottawa and other Ontario forces scattered around downtown Ottawa.

A group of more than a dozen police officers patrolled Elgin Street on Sunday afternoon.

“They’re threatening tickets now,” said the driver of a pickup truck with a Canadian flag attached to it who was parked near the National War Memorial. “They say bylaw is going to start ticketing people.”

Since Jan. 28, By-law and Regulatory Services had issued 787 parking tickets for various violations in and around the demonstration area, including 568 over the weekend, director Roger Chapman said in an emailed reply Sunday.

Despite a promise from organizers that honking would cease for four hours on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 12:30 downtown was, once again, engulfed in the noise of air horns.

At the heart of the protest, on Wellington Street, a kilometre-long line of trucks, RVs and pickups continued to stretch from Elgin Street to Bay Street with no indication that the protesters intended to leave.

They huddled around fires, managed barbecues and played street hockey in front of the department of justice.

“This is complete tyranny,” said a man in costume who described himself only as “the booster man”. “The globalists want to take over the world and it’s not a conspiracy theory anymore. It’s real. The truckers started this whole thing and we’ve taken the momentum. The world is following Canada because we’re doing a really good thing here.”

The trucks overflowed into the surrounding neighbourhood and past apartment buildings and condo towers. One residence near the corner of Kent and Nepean Streets hung a sign that said: “terrorists go home.”

At the corner of Kent and Somerset streets, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney distributed release agreements to the protesters. The agreements are connected to a class action lawsuit, which has been filed against the protesters, seeking damages for the harm caused to local residents from the use of air horns and train horns.

But if they’re gone by tomorrow at 10 a.m., they sign this waiver,” McKenney said, pointing to a document they were handing out to groups of protesters. “They won’t be part of the lawsuit.”

The protesters had been receptive, but McKenney was unsure how many protesters would actually leave.

“I think some people might leave,” they said. “To know that you could be part of a class action lawsuit, it could be a deterrent. We’re just doing our little part. If we can get rid of five, 10, 20, it’d be really cool.”

Lawyer Paul Champ, who represents the plaintiff in the class action that cites harmful noise levels, said truckers could face serious consequences from the suit.

Each person directly affected, between 5,000 and 8,000 people, could be awarded between $100 to $200 a day, and some people more, Champ told a social media forum about the ongoing protests on Saturday.

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Truck Convoy: People bringing ‘material’ supports to protesters—including gas—could be subject to arrest; Some protesters relocating from Confederation Park

‘Everybody is at a breaking point’: Police board seeks more help as protest strengthens