Ottawa’s police chief says the “evolving nature” of the convoy protest descending on the capital has led him to request a “significantly” larger presence of cops, national security officials and emergency services.
With thousands of protesters arriving in Ottawa Friday, Chief Peter Sloly told a news conference the demonstrations will be “unique, fluid, risky and significant.”
“The organizers have advised us that this will be a peaceful demonstration. They have confirmed that there will be a large number of trucks and participants, and that the main planned demonstrations will take place on Saturday and Sunday,” Sloly told reporters.
“With demonstrations of this scale, there are significant risks to be mitigated, but that we cannot fully eliminate.”
Sources tell Global News that federal national security officials have held multiple briefings with local law enforcement officials ahead of Saturday’s planned demonstrations, which are expected to include well-known white supremacist and far-right personalities.
While Sloly said Ottawa police have been in contact with the demonstrations’ main organizers, he warned police expect a number of “parallel demonstrators” that they have not been able to “engage fully with.”
“There are also social media actors locally, nationally and internationally. Actors who may or may not actually come to the city to participate in the demonstrations, but who are nonetheless inciting hate, violence and, in some cases, criminality to take place in our city,” Sloly said.
National security and law enforcement agencies have been at pains to remind Canadians that they do not investigate peaceful protests, or interrogate Canadians for exercising Charter-protected rights to demonstrate.
But after days of media coverage suggesting the convoy was protesting a joint Canada-U.S. requirement for cross-border truckers to be vaccinated, it’s become clear that the primary objective of protest organizers is to force an end to all vaccine mandates and public health measures related to COVID-19 — and ultimately to force the Trudeau government to resign.
One Canadian intelligence source told Global News that there are concerns that “multi-issue extremist and fringe elements … that are outside the main and majority group of truckers” will seek to “hijack the event to their purposes.”
There is no indication that the majority of the protesters harbor extremist beliefs. But white nationalist and other extremist figures have been live-broadcasting their participation in the convoy on YouTube — not exactly making their enthusiasm for the protest secret.
On Friday, a number of big rigs already began blocking off Wellington Street in Ottawa’s downtown core, in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings.
The protest is expected to begin in earnest on Saturday morning, continuing through the weekend. Sloly told reporters that Ottawa police have no indication how long the protests will last.
“We do not know all the parallel demonstrations that may occur, and/or the lone wolf individuals who may insert themselves into the mix for various reasons,” Sloly said.
— with a file from Sam Cooper.