A convoy of vehicles and protesters unhappy with government pandemic mandates, mainstream media, vaccines, and the Prime Minister descended on downtown Victoria once again.
For the fourth Saturday in a row, a large crowd gathered in front of the B.C. Legislature, where they waved flags, sang the national anthem on multiple occasions, chanted ‘freedom’ repeatedly and demanded an end to current COVID-19 restrictions. A smaller group of pr0-health supporters gathered on the west side of Government Street, facing the legislature building.
Unlike in previous weeks, VicPD blocked off Belleville Street between Menzies and Douglas streets, forcing honking vehicles to take other routes instead. There were also noticeable more officers present than last week.
The closure allowed protesters to gather and mingle along the blocked-off section of Belleville Street, where a handful of large commercial trucks parked right out front of the B.C. Legislature. One of those vehicles, a flatbed truck, was used as a makeshift stage where protesters gathered around and sang the national anthem and yelled “freedom” repeatedly. Others carried flags, some held signs demanding an end to the Emergencies Act and the removal of Trudeau.
At one point, a man carrying a sign that called for an end to the honking was swarmed by convoy protesters — some chanting “freedom” — and told to leave. Late Saturday afternoon, VicPD said a group of demonstrators were marching northbound on Government Street, and officers would be closing streets to keep everyone safe.
Since the so-called freedom convoy first began its march to Ottawa, countless other support convoys and protests have since sprouted up in cities nationwide and at border crossings. What first began as a demand to end a federal government vaccine mandate for truckers returning to Canada, has morphed into a broader protest against all other COVID-19 restrictions, mainstream media, and the government. The movement attracted a cross-section of people including alt-right groups and controversial figures.
Although B.C. has loosened some of its COVID-19 restrictions such as opening up nightclubs and dropping gathering limits, some of those attendance held signs protesting the vaccine card along with vaccine mandates.
Victoria’s protest comes police officers in Ottawa donned helmets, wielded batons and deployed pepper spray in that city’s downtown in an effort to clear out protesters who refuse to end their illegal occupation of the national capital.
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This is the scene out front of the B.C. Legislature.
VicPD has blocked off vehicle access on Belleville Street between Menzies and Douglas.
— Nicholas M. Pescod (@npescod) February 19, 2022
Ottawa’s interim police chief, Steve Bell said officers had little choice but to use greater force in the face of demonstrators who refused to heed repeated requests to clear the area they’ve occupied for nearly four weeks, adding protest participants have been aggressive toward police and assaulted them on multiple occasions.
“I have been at this podium for the last five days, imploring people to leave, asking them to get out of our streets,” Bell said at an afternoon news conference. “This occupation is over.”
The second, more acrimonious day of police enforcement operations came as members of parliament resumed debating the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in an effort to quell the demonstrations, which persisted in cities beyond Ottawa’s borders. At the same time, an Ontario judge reserved a bail decision for one of the protest movement’s key organizers, while another saw his case postponed to early next week.
In downtown Ottawa, lines of officers clad in riot gear massed along Wellington Street near the Prime Minister’s Office. Officers moved toward the protesters swinging batons at them, while the crowd pushed back amid shouts of “shame” and “freedom.”
Bell said the extra equipment was deemed necessary after protesters assaulted officers a day before and once tried to trip up a police horse. Pepper spray was also used to control the crowd and to ensure officer safety, he added.
Bell said police had made 47 arrests as of Saturday afternoon. Those included protesters wearing body armour and carrying “smoke grenades and miscellaneous fireworks,” according to a previous tweet from the Ottawa force.
By early afternoon, police said they had largely cleared part of Wellington Street of the protesters and trucks that had jammed the roadway for weeks.
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While I was there, a man holding signs that said no honking entered the area. Protesters went near him and eventually he left. pic.twitter.com/iguNCT8ygA
— Nicholas M. Pescod (@npescod) February 19, 2022
Tom Marazzo, a self-declared spokesperson for the Ottawa protest, told a news conference that truckers were prepared to leave if police would remove barriers that would allow them to refuel their rigs. He said police hadn’t responded to the request.
Speaking from an Ottawa hotel, Marazzo said truckers would “withdraw, regroup and decide the next course of action,” insisting protesters have been peaceful and accusing officers of violent conduct.
“As a movement, we’ve chosen to peacefully withdraw from the streets of Ottawa,” he said. “There is nothing to be gained by being brutalized by police, we will simply regroup as a grassroots movement.”
But that withdrawal did not appear to have taken effect by late afternoon when hundreds of protesters faced off against rows of armed officers south of Wellington Street. The crowd of drum-beating, flag-waving demonstrators were packed tightly against the police line.
The ongoing police operation prompted Parliamentary Protective Services to place the precinct under a hold and secure order on Saturday, limiting movement between buildings. The service noted the area is not under lockdown and staff are on hand to manage the situation.
In the West Block, where the House of Commons was up and running, MPs resumed their debate on the government’s historic invocation of the Emergencies Act that had to be paused Friday because of security concerns.
“I talked earlier about my frustration with the failure of Ottawa police, but what we saw yesterday was policing at its best in this country,” NDP MP Charlie Angus told the Commons on Saturday to a light smattering of applause.
Angus called for a public inquiry, saying it was needed to determine why Ottawa police let large trucks enter the national capital and set up a blockade that included bouncy castles while members of the freedom convoy harassed local residents and forced businesses to close.
He has also called for an inquiry into foreign funding of the so-called freedom convoy.
“We cannot be made to look like a failed state to the world,” he added.
Government House Leader Mark Holland has said MPs will vote early next week on the Emergencies Act motion.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, meanwhile, said the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act is giving police additional tools to restore order in downtown Ottawa.
“We will only use the Emergencies Act as long as it is necessary,” he told a virtual news conference.
Mendicino noted that authorities used the measure to freeze 76 bank accounts with $3.2 million attributed to the illegal blockades.
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This was the small group of people who showed up to support healthcare workers, vaccine mandates and other measures today in #YYJ.
— Nicholas M. Pescod (@npescod) February 20, 2022
The federal government announced Saturday that $20 million will be made available to downtown Ottawa businesses to help recover from the occupation, with individual eligible businesses able to get a maximum of $10,000.
Elsewhere Tamara Lich, one of the convoy organizers, appeared for a bail hearing in an Ottawa courtroom before Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois. She faces a charge of counselling to commit mischief.
Lich promised to give up her advocacy of the protest and return to Alberta, leaving Ottawa by vehicle. She told the judge she doesn’t have the required vaccine passport to travel by commercial air and her bank accounts are now frozen.
She pledged a $5,000 bond, saying that was all she could afford, while her husband, Wayne, pledged the same amount.
Under cross examination, Wayne Lich told the court that he flew to Ottawa on a private jet to meet his wife in early February. The $5,000 bill was paid for by a man he hardly knew.
He also questioned whether the Emergencies Act was invoked unlawfully by the current Liberal government, saying that people’s right to protest in Canada “was part of our first amendments.”
Bourgeois interjected: “First amendment? What’s that?”
Lich said he didn’t follow politics, and just wanted to make sure his wife was safe.
The judge reserved her bail decision on Lich. She will return to jail until a court appearance on Tuesday morning.
On Friday night, Bourgeois released another protest organizer, Chris Barber, on a $100,000 bond and conditions he leave Ontario by next Wednesday and not publicly endorse the convoy or have any contact with the other major protest organizers.
Another prominent protest organizer, Patrick King of Alberta, is expected to appear at a bail hearing early next week after he was arrested by police on Friday.
— Demboski's Skirt (@KarenFromEagle1) February 20, 2022
With files from the Canadian Press