Ottawa pleads to absent Trudeau for reinforcements to end convoy’s occupation

Trudeau, who tested positive for Covid about a week ago, has faced criticism for being away from the public eye in recent days as the big rigs of the “Freedom Convoy” dug in on the streets around Parliament Hill. Since Thursday, he hadn’t made public comments about a campaign that’s raking in lots of cash from U.S. donors, has been applauded by former President Donald Trump and drawn comparisons to Jan. 6.

The prime minister reemerged Monday evening in the House of Commons during a debate about the convoys.

“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives — it has to stop.” Trudeau told parliamentarians in a speech. “The people of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods. They don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a Confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask.”

Trudeau argued his government has supported Ottawa in dealing with the protests from the beginning. He promised it would provide the city with whatever resources needs.

The truckers’ campaign has garnered global headlines and appears to be spawning copycat protests, thrusting Canada into the unlikely position of a vanguard in the global anti-vax movement.

The demonstrations have also attracted more menacing elements, including the display of racist symbols and calls by organizers for a coup.

“This is a group of people that are trying to overthrow the government — they’ve made that really clear — and they’re being funded by many people from the States,” New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Monday. “Foreign money should not be going towards supporting a group that’s trying to replace elected officials. … These are some serious things and the prime minister hasn’t really shown that leadership.”

The convoy began as a movement for Canadians opposed to vaccine mandates imposed on truckers who cross the border from the U.S. But it quickly expanded into an well-organized, heavily funded crusade against Covid-19 restrictions in general, and Trudeau himself.

Locals have been subjected to constant blasts of truck horns, frequent night-time fireworks and harassment. Businesses have been forced to close their doors and residents have complained of public drinking, defecation and urination.

Authorities have even fenced off the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after individuals were filmed dancing on top of it. The protests have also surfaced in other major Canadian cities.

Dominic LeBlanc, Trudeau’s intergovernmental affairs minister, defended Monday the prime minister’s absence from the public’s view, saying he’s been “actively engaged every day” in briefings and in updates from senior national security and intelligence officials.

Asked whether Canadians needed to hear from Trudeau, Crown–Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller told a reporter that, “right now we’re going to let law enforcement do its job.”

During Monday night’s emergency meeting, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen accused Trudeau of dividing Canadians by politicizing vaccines and the pandemic.

“Does he regret calling people names who who didn’t take the vaccine?” asked Bergen, who took over as temporary opposition leader last week after Erin O’Toole was ousted by his own caucus. “We are at a crisis point, not only with what’s going on out the doors and across the country, but the country overall and so much of it is because of the things that he has said and done.”

Trudeau disagreed with Bergen and shot back by saying Canadians have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world because they have been looking out for each other.

Federal support has been sent to Ottawa. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for example, has dispatched 275 officers to backstop the local force. The Ontario government has also provided policing help.

But the Trudeau government is under pressure to explain why more hasn’t been done.

Bill Blair, the emergency preparedness minister, urged the city’s police force Monday to get control of the situation.

“Let me be clear, it is not the role of any government to direct law enforcement operations,” said Blair, who stressed the federal government has helped and will continue to offer support. “It is the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction, and in this case, the Ottawa police service to maintain public order and to uphold the rule of law.”

Sloly said Monday that law enforcement is starting to make a dent in the convoy, thanks in large part to reinforcements sent by the federal and provincial police forces. But he stressed there’s much more to be done.

Police, who were not enforcing bylaws at the outset due to a shortage of resources, have started cracking down on the protesters.

Over the weekend, Sloly said police issued more than 500 tickets and arrested and charged seven people and seized 1,000 liters of fuel and propane. He said they also cleared protesters out of an occupied park and removed an oil tanker as well as saunas and hot tubs that had been brought in by demonstrators.

It was only possible because of the support of other police forces, he said.

“We are stretched to the limit,” said Sloly, who has been criticized for the police department’s slow response to the convoy. “We cannot do it alone.”

Residents in the downtown area received some good news later Monday. A judge granted an interim injunction that aims to temporarily quiet the incessant truck horns that have consumed the downtown area and terrorized residents. The ruling is part of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the convoy.

Police have also being trying to cut off another lifeline for the convoy: cash.

Convoy organizers raised more than C$10 million on GoFundMe before the platform stopped the fundraiser Friday, noting that the protests had violated its terms of service: “the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”

But the movement has found other sources of money.

GiveSendGo, another platform, said the Freedom Convoy quickly become its largest campaign ever after raising more than C$5.7 million in less than 24 hours.

The Christian crowd-funding site said in a statement that convoy organizers have made assurances the money will be used to provide humanitarian aid and legal support “for the peaceful truckers and their families as they stand for freedom.”

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