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Ottawa police warn ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters to ‘leave the area now’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/16/2022 Amanda Coletta, Maite Fernández Simon, Miriam Berger, Ellen Francis
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OTTAWA — Police on Wednesday sought to turn up the heat on the demonstrators who have paralyzed Canada’s capital, handing them fliers in English and French with a simple message: It’s time to hit the road — or face arrest.

“You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking [of] streets, is committing a criminal offense, and you may be arrested,” the flier said. “You must immediately cease further unlawful activity or you will face charges.”

Police also warned that participants in the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” who are convicted of crimes could be barred from entering the United States.

The warning could portend more aggressive action from law enforcement authorities to clear the blockades — now in their third week — that also spread to several U.S.-Canada border crossings and prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week to become the first Canadian leader to invoke the country’s Emergencies Act.

Officials say the border crossings have been cleared. But the demonstrators in Ottawa are dug in.

What is the Emergencies Act, which Trudeau invoked against Canada’s trucker protests?

Canadian officials indicated this week that they do not want a fourth raucous weekend of protests against coronavirus restrictions and Trudeau’s government. The weekend is when demonstrators who are encamped in downtown Ottawa are joined by thousands of reinforcements from elsewhere. Monday is a holiday in much of Canada, making it a long weekend.

“No one wants to see another weekend like the last three on Wellington Street,” said Marco Mendicino, Canada’s public safety minister. The thoroughfare in front of Parliament is jammed with big rigs. Jerrycans of fuel are a common sight and bouncy castles have been inflated on weekends.

Mendicino, who has faced questions about whether Trudeau needed to invoke emergency powers, told reporters on Wednesday that some demonstrators want to topple the prime minister.

“What we’re beginning to see emerge now are the hallmarks of a sophisticated and capable organization of a small number of individuals, but with a steel resolve driven by an extreme ideology that would seek to overthrow the existing government and create some kind of parallel structure,” he said.

Mendicino warned about links between some protesters and far-right groups. He cited the seizure this week of a cache of weapons and ammunition at the Coutts border crossing in Alberta. Four members of the blockade were charged this week with conspiracy to murder police officers.

“Several of the individuals at Coutts have strong ties to a far-right, extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” he said. “We’re talking about a group that is organized, agile, knowledgeable and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right. That is completely contrary to our democratic values.”

He declined to name the group.

Ottawa police presence grows as chief vows to ‘take back’ city from ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters

Despite the looming specter of police enforcement, few demonstrators gave any indication that they were considering packing it up.

Matt McKenzie kept the pamphlet ordering him to leave tucked in the door handle of his blue truck on Wellington Street. McKenzie, 36, of Whitney, Ontario, he has been living out of the vehicle since the convoy first rolled into the city in late January. He said he wasn’t going anywhere “until they drop the mandates and restore Canadians’ freedoms.”

“I’m impressed that they used colored ink,” he said, dismissively, as he played loud music from the truck.

Andreas Alexopoulous, of Montreal, said he saw no reason to go after hearing that Parliament had voted against Trudeau’s invocation of emergency powers. Told that this was not the case, he was unfazed.

“The general message that’s being spread around is that it’s just another fear tactic,” he said.

An Ontario judge extended an injunction Wednesday prohibiting people from sounding air and train horns for 60 more days. The injunction was sought this month by an Ottawa resident who complained about the noise levels generated by protesters’ horns, but it hasn’t always been respected.

A man poses with a flier handed out by Ottawa police Wednesday warning protesters to leave. © Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images A man poses with a flier handed out by Ottawa police Wednesday warning protesters to leave.

In the blockaded streets around Canada’s Parliament, truckers and their supporters defiantly blared horns and music Wednesday. They roasted a pig on a spit and openly carried jerrycans, which are topped up at local gas stations and distributed around to the convoys.

A DJ told those gathered around his stage that he had prepared a 27-hour-long playlist of Canadian tunes as a rebuttal to Trudeau. One man headed with several friends to a Canadian Tire store to buy a mat of fake grass to put as a lawn for outside his vehicle.

A distrust of outsiders is growing. One truck driver asked two reporters from The Washington Post if they were undercover police officers. He said he was instructed by organizers to ask the question. He declined to say which leader issued the instruction.

Daniel Bulford, a former officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who is among the convoy’s organizers, urged Canadians to join the protest.

“The more Canadians that come to Ottawa will make it harder for the government to get the police to follow their illegal order,” he said at a news conference. The session ended abruptly when its organizers — each with law enforcement or military experience — objected to the questions being asked.

Canadian truck drivers distance themselves from ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests

Officials said the Emergencies Act gives police the authority to declare certain areas, including Parliament and critical infrastructure, off-limits for protests that “breach the peace.” The RCMP will be empowered to enforce local laws and tow truck firms may be compelled to tow vehicles.

The act may also be used to choke off the millions of dollars raised for the convoy by bringing crowdfunding sites under Canada’s money laundering and terrorism financing laws. Banks and other financial institutions may freeze accounts of those participating in the demonstrations, without a court order.

The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa on Wednesday urged parents at the city’s demonstrations to make child care arrangements in case they are arrested. Police have estimated that one-quarter of the nearly 400 vehicles encamped in the city contain children.

“Should police action be taken, we will work to reunite families as soon as possible,” it said.

Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.

Read more:

Voices of Ottawa: Protesters vow to stay. Ottawans say it’s time they go.

‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada inspires vaccine-mandate protests from France to New Zealand

Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act against Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ trucker protest

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