Ottawa police expect another 24 hours of traffic disruptions, demonstrations from 'Freedom Convoy' rally
As demonstrators protesting COVID-19 restrictions remained on Parliament Hill Sunday night, city officials are urging people to avoid non-essential travel downtown and work from home if possible on Monday.
Elected officials, business owners, and residents are expressing frustrations with the ongoing traffic disruptions, fireworks and constant horn honking as the "Freedom Convoy" ends a second full day in downtown Ottawa.
"We're making progress, there's no real clarity yet," said Chief Peter Sloly, adding police have been communicating with the core organizers of the "Freedom Convoy" and "those we can reach."
"I think the only thing we can say for sure we're still going to be dealing with some level of traffic disruption and demonstration over the next 24 hours."
Ottawa police and the city of Ottawa are urging people to avoid non-essential travel on Monday, especially in the downtown core.
"If you work in the downtown core, please plan to work from home if possible," said police Sunday evening.
The Ottawa Carleton District School has closed Centennial Public School on Monday due to the ongoing protest, while the Centretown Community Health Centre and the University of Ottawa –Minto Sports Complex Vaccination Clinic will also be closed.
Ottawa police say "several" criminal investigations are underway in relation to incidents on Saturday, including "threatening/illegal/intimidating behaviour to police/city workers and other individuals and damage to a city vehicle."
At 9 p.m. Sunday, hundreds of people remained on Parliament Hill and along Wellington Street, while hundreds of trucks were parked throughout the downtown core and along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. The sounds of truck horns and fireworks could continue to be heard for a third night.
Ottawa police estimate the price-tag for policing the demonstration is more than $800,000 a day.
Earlier in the day, a large crowd had gathered on Parliament Hill to protest the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the borders and other public health restrictions, but the crowd was smaller compared to yesterday.
While police have said they don't know when the protest will end, rally organizer Tamara Lich told a gathering on Parliament Hill Sunday morning that, "We are not leaving until all of you and all of your kids are free.”
"We are not leaving until you can open up your businesses, we are not leaving until you can hug your best friend, we are not leaving until you can go see your parents in a long-term care facility, and for your children to have a birthday party. This ends now, and we're going to do it peacefully."
The Canada Unity website says it will begin hosting speaker events in Confederation Park on Monday. There are also plans for a "Maskless Shopping", with the website saying, "We need about 1,000 people .. maybe more."
The "Freedom Convoy" protest has seen thousands of truck drivers and their supporters fill Parliament Hill and streets in downtown Ottawa, denouncing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and calling for an end to the restrictions 22 months into the pandemic.
Throughout the weekend, people have carried Canadian flags and signs around downtown Ottawa saying "Make Canada Free Again!", "No More Vax Pass", "We Support Truckers", "Freedom to Choose", "Freedom Not Fear", and "Freedom for All."
A few protesters were seen carrying flags and signs with hateful imagery such as a swastika. Several people carried large flags with "F*** Trudeau" or wore or carried signs that featured a yellow star.
A counter protester outside Parliament Hill held a sign saying, "Vaccines Save Lives."
The Rideau Centre closed its doors for the day on Sunday, The LCBO closed several outlets in the downtown and Glebe neighbourhoods. Police also set up barricades to block vehicle access to the National War Memorial after several vehicles parked there on Saturday.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, police said it was "very aware" of complaints relating to parking, idling, noisemaking and other inappropriate behaviour.
"At this time, due to safety concerns, management of the protest and traffic must take precedence," said police.
Ottawa police say the priorities for the rally include:
- Management of traffic issues (including gridlock)
- Keeping peace and order
- Protecting monuments
- Addressing threatening and/or high risk behaviour.
Ottawa police reported no incidence of violence or injuries so far during the "Freedom Convoy" demonstration in downtown Ottawa. Police told CTV News Ottawa Sunday morning that no arrests were made Saturday or overnight.
"Large crowds remained in the downtown core throughout the night and were actively managed by police. Officers encountered several challenges with demonstrators, including sporadic road blockages by trucks, which officers worked to clear. These high-risk situations were de-escalated and resolved with no arrests," police later said in a news release.
Thousands of people and vehicles filled the streets of downtown Ottawa on Saturday, forcing the city of Ottawa to declare, "Streets in the downtown core are closed due to gridlock. There is no more room for vehicles."
Motorists are being asked to avoid travelling into the downtown core due to the number of vehicles already in the area.
Mayor Jim Watson told CTV News on Saturday that it was time for the protest to end.
"My message, again, is clear - You’ve been here, you’ve made your point, you’ve protested, you’ve disrupted a lot of communities - the ByWard Market, Centretown and so on in our city - it’s time for you to go back to your home," said Watson on CTV News Channel. "Because we have to start rebuilding our economy because COVID-19 has been devastating to a lot of small businesses."
Ottawa is the final stop of the Freedom Convoy, a cross-country journey to Parliament Hill to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Hundreds of convoy participants arrived on Friday, while the main convoys from eastern and western Canada rolled into town on Saturday.
As the protest continued on Parliament Hill, elected officials and residents expressed frustration by the disruption to their lives in their neighbourhoods around the downtown core.
The sounds of fireworks and truck horns continued through the night and into the morning, and vehicles remained parked on many streets.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney is asking police to remove vehicles from Queen Elizabeth Driveway and residential areas.
"Centretown residents have had enough. All-night honking; music; swastikas; public urination & defecation," said McKenney on Twitter. "I have asked @OttawaPolice remove protestors from the QED & out of all residential areas. Residents deserve peace and relief from these disgusting acts."
Coun. Jeff Leiper says vehicles have been parking on streets in his ward, located several kilometres from Parliament Hill.
"After a chaotic protest arrival, I hope that security forces now have a much more complete understanding of who’s involved, their numbers, locations and tactics. I would like to see clear efforts to contain and conclude this demonstration," said Leiper on Twitter.
"Everyone wants to see this end safely, but we do want it to end. The incidents downtown we witnessed yesterday make clear the lack of moral authority on the part of participants to claim legitimate protest rights."
Leiper says he has seen video of a motorist driving on a Parkdale Avenue sidewalk and received reports of aggressive behaviour in Westboro.
"Residents are angry, and demonstrators' behaviours are only exacerbating that anger. There is no win here for demonstrators if the protest continues as it has."
In a tweet Sunday afternoon, officials say police and city staff are "very aware" of complaints about parking, idling, noisemaking and other inappropriate behaviour.
"Due to safety concerns, management of the protest and traffic must take precedence. These matters will be responded to as resources become available," said police.
Ottawa police say the Alexandra and Portage bridges, connecting Ottawa and Gatineau, are closed to vehicle traffic.
The Champlain Bridge is open, and there are lane reductions on the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge.
Police say the Chaudiere Bridge is open for health care and essential workers only.
"Be prepared to show identification," said police. "If you are neither, do not use the bridge."
Many streets in downtown Ottawa are also closed to vehicles, with only one lane open for emergency vehicles.
You could see traffic impacts on:
- Wellington Street
- Queen Street
- Metcalfe Street
- O’Connor Street
- Lyon Street
- Kent Street
- Sir John A Macdonald Parkway
- Queen Elizabeth Driveway
- Laurier Avenue and Elgin Street around Confederation Park
What is the Freedom Convoy?
The Freedom Convoy is calling for the end of vaccine mandates in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"On January 15th, a small team of Alberta truckers, their family members and friends, came to the decision that the Government of Canada has crossed a line with implementing Covid-19 vaccine passports and vaccine mandates," said a statement Wednesday on the Freedom Convoy 2022 Facebook page.
"As of today, we now have the support of millions of Canadians from across the country."
The list of demands includes the federal and provincial governments terminating the vaccine passports and all other "obligatory vaccine contact tracing programs", and terminate COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The protest was initially sparked by outrage over a vaccine mandate imposed this month on cross-border truckers, but has since garnered support from anti-vaccine mandate groups.
In a statement on Friday, the Freedom Convoy organizers urged participants to "treat all police officers with respect" and "do not make any type of threat."
"If we keep calm and show love and support for one another, many things will happen. We will eventually cause the government to reverse its policy on Covid passports and vaccine mandates as the UK has recently done," said Facebook post.
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Christy Somos