The crowds of thousands had dwindled somewhat in Ottawa by Monday morning, but most of the downtown core remains in a forced lockdown as a convoy of Canadians demanding an end to all COVID-19 restrictions continues its stranglehold on the capital city.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to address Canadians Monday afternoon, following three days of unrest that has brought the divisive arguments about vaccine mandates and public health restrictions soaring back to the top of the agenda.
Trudeau is certain to face questions about the roaming crowds and ear-splitting truck horns outside on Wellington Street, and just how long the protest will be allowed to continue.
Trudeau, who said on Twitter Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, remains in isolation in an undisclosed location with his family because of concerns for his safety.
He will speak and take questions from the media remotely.
The House of Commons is also resuming Monday for the first time since December.
Alexandra Maheux, a spokeswoman for government House leader Mark Holland, said MPs can choose whether to attend in person. The hybrid rules due to COVID-19 remain in effect until June.
“Some MPs will be in the chamber on Monday and beyond, and others will participate virtually,” Maheux said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview last week that Holland was working with other party House leaders over the weekend to discuss the reopening of Parliament amid the protests.
A memo circulated Sunday by Patrick McDonell, the House sergeant-at-arms, said security plans were being developed to ensure personal safety. Holland has scheduled an afternoon news conference in Parliament’s West Block to discuss the sitting.
Maheux said the ongoing protest is not interfering with parliamentary business.
But for people who live and work in downtown Ottawa, life is not as usual.
“Police are aware that many demonstrators have announced their intention to stay in place,” said a Sunday statement issued by the Ottawa Police Service.
“This will continue to cause major traffic, noise and safety issues in the downtown core.”
The force estimated the cost of the massive policing effort at more than $800,000 per day and has asked city residents to avoid downtown for a fourth day Monday.
At least one elementary school and two city-run daycares are closed. So are coffee shops and restaurants on the Sparks Street pedestrian mall, one block south of Parliament Hill.
Those restaurants are supposed to be able to reopen for in-person dining today, as Ontario lifts restrictions imposed a month ago to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Instead, they’re now closed for both in-person dining and takeout.
Rideau Centre, which is one of the city’s biggest shopping malls and sits at the edge of the parliamentary district, is also closed for a third day. The mall closed early Saturday after unmasked protesters descended inside.
Canada Unity, the primary group behind the truck convoy, suggested the demonstrators will do so again Monday, flouting public health rules. Their website also says speeches are to take place today at Confederation Park, just south of the parliamentary precinct.
There are some signs the massive numbers that descended on Ottawa over the weekend have receded, with smaller groups of protesters now standing sporadically around the area.
Multiple commercial trucks still line Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, blaring horns constantly, and there are many who say they aren’t going anywhere soon.
Truck driver Erik Mueller, who arrived Saturday from Alberta, parked his rig on Wellington Street, just east of the Parliament Buildings, and hasn’t moved since.
Mueller said he’ll stay “as long as it takes” to get a response from the government.
“We have to do something, and if Ottawa is crazy right now for the next one or two weeks we have to do it,” Mueller said, adding he believes the demonstrators have the support of local residents.
The demands from many who live downtown for police and governments to do more to disperse the loud, disruptive protest were high.
The protest has been “exceptionally disruptive” for people who live downtown, said Catherine McKenney, a city councillor who represents Ottawa’s core.
Many residents resigned themselves to the overwhelming noise from honking trucks and road blockages, but by Sunday morning people were fed up, said McKenney, who fielded complaints about demonstrators urinating and defecating on lawns.
“I understand to a large extent why emergency services, police services both local and national, would not want to incite this crowd,” McKenney said.
“However, at some point, we need assurances that we’re not going to allow our city and our downtown to be seized and to push out others and make people frightened to live and move about in their own neighbourhoods.”
At the National War Memorial, flowers have been laid and the site cleaned up after some protesters urinated on it and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the weekend.
Just south of the memorial, Michelle Kloet, 47, of Canmore, Alta., had an armful of empty liquor bottles and discarded beer cans as she attempted to clean up some of the mess left by the crowds. She said there aren’t very many garbage bins and said she has asked police to provide some.
“So I went out and bought some garbage bags,” she said. “I’ve been tying up garbage bags all throughout the area. And whenever I’m walking the streets, I just pick up whatever I see.
Kloet said she is in Ottawa because she thinks all COVID-19 restrictions need to end.
“It’s time for Canada and the rest of the world to find other ways to deal with this virus,” she said.
Several criminal investigations are underway into actions — including the desecration of monuments — during the ongoing protest of vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, Ottawa police said Sunday.
Protesters are typically encouraged to get a permit from the city before staging a demonstration in the capital, though it’s not mandatory as the right to peacefully demonstrate is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Such an application would allow the city to coordinate services and road closures, and give officials a sense of when the protest might end.
Canada Unity opted not to apply for a permit, leaving the city more or less in the dark as to the group’s plans.
The group was created in 2019 during the last convoy of trucks to Ottawa, which at that time involved demands to build more pipelines and scrap the national carbon price. It morphed into an anti-COVID restrictions protest after the pandemic began. Multiple smaller convoys have pushed their demands at events in Ottawa for months before this larger protest began to take shape.
In mid-January, when new mandates from both the United States and Canada took effect requiring commercial truckers to be vaccinated to cross the border, it threw gasoline on a simmering fire and led to this weekend’s larger event.
A memo being pushed by Canada Unity unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate force federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. It does not mention truckers, and was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.