Halifax Regional Police are warning the public about what they expect to be a “large disruption” Saturday afternoon, when a protest convoy against COVID-19 mandates is expected to take place.
“We’re planning to take what steps are necessary to minimize those disruptions as best we can,” spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
MacLeod said he could not provide specifics about the protest, but a post circulating around social media indicates a number of groups are expected to leave different parts of the province on Saturday, with plans to arrive at Peace and Friendship Park in downtown Halifax in the afternoon.
A counter protest is also scheduled to begin at the park before the convoy is due to arrive.
MacLeod said he could not give more details about police’s operational deployments, such as whether or not they plan to barricade roads, similar to what happened Friday during a protest in Fredericton.
“But what I can tell you is that we will be monitoring the events throughout the day,” he said.
MacLeod is asking people to avoid unnecessary travel on Saturday, as well as “for everyone’s co-operation and patience as we respond to tomorrow’s events.”
He also reminded members of the public to follow the rules and regulations, whether they are related to COVID-19 emergency measures, the Motor Vehicle Act, or other rules.
Last week, Nova Scotia issued a directive under the Emergency Management Act “prohibiting protesters from blockading or disrupting traffic on any road, street or highway in Nova Scotia.”
MacLeod also said anyone who attends the protest must make room for emergency vehicles to pass through. “Emergency vehicles must not be slowed down by any participants. Doing so risks lives.”
In a statement, Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said the police agency is “aware of protest action planned for the weekend in communities across Nova Scotia.”
“Our members will be present to promote public safety. Motorists should be prepared for possible delays,” it said.
“As with any demonstrations, our role is to keep the peace while maintaining order, always with public and officer safety as the priority. The RCMP supports the right to hold a peaceful demonstration but it must be done so in a lawful and safe manner. Public safety is our top priority.”
‘We’re not going to let people block streets’
This is the second weekend in a row with planned anti-mandate protests in Halifax. Demonstrators held a “slow roll” on Sunday, tying up traffic in parts of the city.
A video of the event circulated online appears to show a protest participant driving into a counter protester standing in a crosswalk. MacLeod said that matter is under investigation.
He also said summary offence tickets were issued to two parties during Sunday’s event: one was issued to a driver under the Motor Vehicle Act, and one was issued to a pedestrian.
Tensions have been high amid growing protests against COVID-19 restrictions, including the ongoing trucker convoy outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Across Canada, hospitals have been warning staff to take precautions to avoid harassment from protesters. In some cases, workers have been told to avoid wearing their scrubs in public.
In a release Friday, Nova Scotia’s health authority said it is working with its partners at Emergency Health Services, the RCMP and local police “to reduce the possibility of access to our facilities being disrupted.”
“We hope these protests will be peaceful and respectful and remind all participants to allow clear access to hospitals for paramedics, patients and health care workers,” Nova Scotia Health said. “The health and safety of all Nova Scotians needs to remain a priority for everyone.”
On Thursday, the province announced that its legislative building will shut down in light of “specific and non-specific” threats against Province House and nearby locations in downtown Halifax.
During Friday’s news conference, MacLeod said police continue to investigate the packages sent in the Halifax area.
“They’re still being looked at to determine what may be in the packages themselves and what relevance they may have to any investigation,” he said.
In an interview Friday, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage discouraged people from traveling in downtown Halifax “unless they absolutely have to.”
He said the province has granted the municipality “extra powers,” referencing the new directive making it illegal to block roads.
“We’re not going to let people block streets or block traffic,” he said.
“If people come and make their point and leave, that’s fine. If not, then obviously other measures will be taken.”
Savage said everyone who plans to attend either the protest or the counter protest to “keep in mind the end goal here is that we all need to live in this city.”
“People can protest, but they can’t stop a city from functioning,” he said.