'Focused on getting this job done': Ottawa police prepared to end convoy occupation
Ottawa police are giving their strongest indication yet that they're prepared to remove demonstrators with the "Freedom Convoy" protest that has become a 20-day occupation of downtown Ottawa.
Speaking at a special city council meeting, Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said police have the resources and a plan to bring the occupation to an end.
"You'll be hearing and seeing these actions in the coming days. It will take time to do this right. Every step will be considered and methodical," he said. "Some of the techniques we are lawfully able and prepared to use are not what we're used to seeing in Ottawa, but we are prepared to use them and whatever means necessary to bring about the safest outcome and restore order."
He wouldn't speak directly to what these techniques entail, but he said the plan would not be complete until "the streets are cleared fully."
Bell said he regrets the pain and suffering the nearly three-week occupation has caused for residents and businesses downtown and he accepts that the reputation of the Ottawa Police Service has been "tarnished" and has left residents feeling abandoned and unsafe.
"We cannot change the past, but we can promise you that we stand with you. We will safely return these areas to their normal state as soon as we can," Bell said. "For today, and the days to come, the Ottawa Police Service and our partners are focused on getting this job done."
Speaking to the demonstrators, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson delivered what he called a simple message.
"The window of opportunity for you to leave our city is closing," he said.
Bell said the plan to clear the streets will not be quick, and he urged all demonstrators and occupiers to leave of their own accord.
"This is an operation that will take time over a number of days to actually execute and achieve. Again, my deep desire is people leave our city. Those that are occupying our city, get in your vehicles and go home. We're starting to actually increase pressure on them and encourage them to leave our streets. My absolute hope is that they do that prior to us having to intervene."
POLICE WARN DOWNTOWN OCCUPIERS TO LEAVE
Ottawa police started handing out leaflets to protesters downtown, warning them to leave the area or face criminal charges, Wednesday morning.
Police began handing out a 'notice to demonstration participants' on Wellington Street and the surrounding area where 'Freedom Convoy' demonstrators have been camped out for 20 days.
"You must leave this area now," the notice says. "Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking streets, are committing a criminal offence and you may be arrested. You must immediately cease further unlawful activity or you will face charges."
The notice cites the federal Emergencies Act, which the prime minister invoked on Monday, saying it allows for the prohibition of travel to, from or within specific areas.
"That means anyone coming to Ottawa for the purpose of joining the ongoing occupation is breaking the law," it says, adding that the act also allows police to seize vehicles that are part of the demonstration.
The leaflet also warns that any charges or convictions may lead to denial when trying to cross the U.S. border, and says the demonstrators are committing mischief.
"The people of Ottawa are being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property and you are causing businesses to close. That is mischief under the Criminal Code."
A further notice to demonstrators, issued Wednesday afternoon, was even more direct about some of the consequences demonstrators could face.
"You may be arrested and charged with criminal offences including but not limited to mischief, and potentially charged with a variety of other non-criminal offences," the notice said. "Your vehicle and property may be seized or removed. Your driver’s licence may be suspended or cancelled. CVOR (Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration) certificates may be suspended or cancelled. Your personal or business bank accounts, including virtual currency, may be subject to examination and restriction."
Police also warned that anyone bringing a minor to an unlawful protest site could be fined up to $5000 or sentenced to up to five years in prison and that anyone travelling to an unlawful protest site in order to participate could also be charged.
"Be aware that legislation now prohibits interference with any critical infrastructure including 400-series highways, railways, airports and international border crossings," police warned.
ARRANGE CHILD CARE, CHILDREN'S AID URGES
The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa issued a warning to parents who have brought children to the protest to make sure their kids can be cared for in case parents are 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.
When asked Wednesday whether force would be needed to clear the demonstrators from downtown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that it's not up to him.
“I’m not going to be using force. The decisions made will be by police doing their jobs the right … way,” he said.
Ottawa police said they would take all action to make sure any children involved will be protected.
"We have engaged a planning team and the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society to encourage anyone with children in the area to leave and bring those children to a safe place. We also have a plan to ensure children are protected and cared for during any action," a police news release said.
A court order banning the honking of horns in the downtown core has been extended.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Hugh McLean extended the court order, which first came into effect on Feb. 6, for another 60 days.
Despite the court order, some sporadic honking could be heard on Wellington Street Wednesday morning as police officers handed out the notices to demonstrators.
The injunction is part of a proposed class-action lawsuit by Centretown residents who endured the relentless sounds of honking for several days at the beginning of the protest. A 21-year-old resident, Zexi Li, is the lead plaintiff.
Lawyer Paul Champ, representing the residents of Centretown, told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that he and his partners have identified about 15 to 20 truckers who could be found in contempt as they continue to honk their horns in defiance of the injunction.
"We've got the licence plate numbers of all those trucks and the times that are breaching and we will be taking action eventually," he said. "We've got over 400 of the trucks that are downtown and we've identified, through provincial registries, over 200 of who these individuals are. In terms of the ones who are breaching, I think we've only identified about 15 to 20, although we are aware there's more."
Champ says any honking in the protest zone that is not for emergency use is considered a breach of the injunction.
MAYOR: 'FULL CONFIDENCE' IN INTERIM CHIEF
Newly-named interim chief Steve Bell said Wednesday that with the help of OPP and RCMP officers under the new command centre, that Ottawa police are now in a position to end the occupation. Peter Sloly stepped down as chief on Tuesday.
"I have full confidence in the deputy chief," Watson said Wednesday. "I’ve known him for a number of years. He’s a straight shooter. He will move when he feels it’s the most appropriate to have a safe, quick and orderly operation."
Watson, while thanking Sloly for his service, said he made the right decision to resign and expressed frustration at the lack of police action as hundreds of protesters took over the downtown core.
"The bottom line is that there were built-up expectations every weekend that something would happen, that we would actually see some progress and movement on getting people out, and unfortunately the public was let down time and time again," he said.
"We were promised many, many times there would be action," he added. "We didn't see a whole lot of that."
ABOUT 360 VEHICLES DOWNTOWN
About 360 vehicles remain downtown related to the occupation, according to police, with about 150 demonstrators believed to be spending the night in the core. Numbers are expected to increase closer to the weekend, as they have the last two weekends following the start of the event on Jan. 29.
Acting Deupty Chief Trish Ferguson told the board that as of Tuesday morning, police had 172 active criminal investigations related to the occupation, 18 arrests had been made and 33 charges had been laid. With the help of Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services, nearly 3,000 tickets had been issued.
The entire operation has cost police more than $14 million.
A special meeting of Ottawa city council first scheduled for Monday and then postponed to Tuesday is now scheduled for today at 4 p.m.
"The meeting is being rescheduled to allow Council to receive a more comprehensive update and ask questions when the necessary personnel are available," the city said. "Further, [Monday's] announcement requires more work and analysis to provide Council and the public with a better understanding of the tools available under the Emergencies Act."
Coun. Diane Deans, the chair of the police services board, suggested that the Ottawa Police Service may have been ill-equipped to handle the protest from the start.
"The Ottawa Police Service is a municipal service, and probably was never designed to address an issue like this," she told CTV Morning Live. "This is a national crisis, and we don’t have the internal expertise that prepared us to handle something like that. We didn’t have the intelligence. There’s a lot of lessons to learn here."
One expert suggested the longer police wait to take action, the more credibility they risk losing.
"Every level of government has declared an emergency," University of Ottawa criminologist Michael Kempa told CTV Morning Live. "At a certain point if you don’t back up your multiple declarations and statements with action, it would be impossible to be taken seriously."
That action could start with communication, he said, as at the Ambassador Bridge blockade in Windsor where authorities handed out leaflets to protesters informing them of the laws they were breaking.Federal ministers say their work of implementing the Emergencies Act is underway.
The public order emergency declared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday automatically went into effect for 30 days, but the government must still table a motion in both the House of Commons and Senate within seven days of declaration to confirm it. Government House Leader Mark Holland said Tuesday morning the motion is coming "imminently."
The speaker of the Senate recalled the Senate to sit on Friday to discuss the declaration of emergency.
The Rideau Centre, Ottawa City Hall, and two Ottawa public library branches remain closed today.
The city of Ottawa says Ottawa City Hall, the underground parking garage and the Rink of Dreams are closed until further notice.
The Ottawa Public Library Main and Rideau branches remain closed.
Ottawa Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the University of Ottawa Minto Sports Complex will be closed. The Lowertown Vaccine Hub, located at the Jules Morin Fieldhouse on 400 Clarence St. E., will be open.
The detours of OC Transpo routes 10, 11, and 16 will be modified based on more reliable access to roads in Centretown, including sections of Bank, Gladstone, Albert and Bronson. Maps of the revised detours are available on octranspo.com.