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Children's Aid Society urges Ottawa convoy protesters to make arrangements for kids' care

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The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa is warning parents who have brought children to the "Freedom Convoy" occupation downtown to ensure their kids can be cared for in case they're arrested.

"The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) is urging parents at the demonstration in Ottawa to make the necessary alternate care arrangements should they become unable to care for their children following potential police action," the CASO said in a statement Wednesday.

This comes as Ottawa police hand out leaflets to the demonstrators still entrenched in the capital's downtown core and parliamentary precinct, warning them that their continued presence could soon result in arrest.

The protest, now in its 20th day of occupying Ottawa streets, is ostensibly against COVID-19 public health measures, but also includes anti-government sentiments in general. The most ardent protesters have been adamant in their refusal to leave.

The presence of children at the protest has been known for some time. Last week, police said approximately 100 vehicles parked in downtown Ottawa were housing children.

“It’s something that greatly concerns us,” then-Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell said. “From the risk of carbon monoxide and fumes, the noise levels … we’re concerned about cold, we’re concerned about access to sanitation, the ability to shower.”

The Emergencies Act enacted by the federal government has a prohibition on bringing children to sites where the protests and blockades are happening.

Mayor Jim Watson called on the parents who are in the protest zone with children to leave.

"They’ve been forewarned to get children out of that zone," he said. "Using these kids as some kind of a shield or protection is absolutely reprehensible and irresponsible on the part of any parent. They should pack up and get their kids going back to school, back to their home provinces."

The CASO said it has a duty to care for children who may become separated from their parents as a result of the police action, but also vowed that parents and kids would be reunited as soon as possible.

"CASO has a mandate to protect a child when their parent becomes unavailable to exercise their custodial rights over the child and the parent has not made adequate provision for the child’s care and custody," it said.

"If parents and children are separated following police efforts in ending the demonstration in the downtown core, CASO will work to reunite families as soon as possible."

EMERGENCIES ACT CLEAR ABOUT PRESENCE OF CHILDREN

University of Ottawa criminology professor Michael Kempa says the Emergencies Act eliminates any question about what it means to bring a minor to the protests downtown.

"With the federal state of emergency, it is now unambiguous," he says. "It will be treated as a crime to bring children to the protest in any way, whether you are bringing them to participate or simply to be there."

Kempa says there is a possibility children could be separated from their parents, something about which the CASO had also warned.

"If a parent is charged, the Children’s Aid Society would be in a position where they would have to separate the children for a period of time until parents were released on bail or back in their homes to address that situation," he explained. "Obviously, the state does not want to separate parents from their children for no good reason. The police will focus their attention on the people who are most disruptive and the people who are causing the greatest blockage to public space so for example, the trucks."

Bell, who is now Ottawa's interim police chief, told city council Wednesday every effort would be made to protect any children who may be among the occupation.

"We have engaged a planning team and the Children’s Aid Society to encourage anyone with children in the area to leave and bring those children to a place of safety," Bell said. "We also have a plan to ensure children are protected and cared for during any action."

A notice to the demonstrators, distributed by police Wednesday afternoon, was also clear about the consequences.

"If you bring a minor (a person under 18) with you to an unlawful protest site, you may be charged and fined up to $5000 and/or potentially spend up to five years in prison," it said.

Kempa said any parents still planning on bring kids to the protest in Ottawa should know there could be consequences.

"If you have children with you, it doesn’t mean because you have a child police will not arrest you or deal with the situation, they very well might," he said. "Do not bring children to this area. It is unambiguous, you could be arrested."

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque.

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