Ottawa’s police deployed “all available resources” to “put an end to unlawful demonstration” in the downtown core on Saturday, but to hear the protestors tell it, the cops haven’t made a dent.
Demonstrators from the so-called “freedom convoy,” meanwhile, continue to clog downtown city streets, packed so tightly in front of Parliament Hill that it can be difficult to move a single block. With music blasting from an LED stage, barbeques grilling meat for hungry protestors, and expletive-laden flags slamming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as far as the eye can see, the demonstration is showing no signs of ending anytime soon.
Cale Kerkhof was part of the crowd on Wellington St. on Saturday, his third visit in as many weekends. He said the police have been “amazing every weekend so far.”
“Police are supposed to be here to keep the peace. They’re here to serve the people and protect,” Kerkof said.
“I hope they continue to do that.”
Police, meanwhile, say they’ve been ramping up enforcement against the protestors. They’ve issued repeated notices warning the public that they plan to arrest anyone bringing fuel to convoy participants, and will clamp down on those blocking city streets.
In a Saturday statement, they said they’ve deployed all their resources “to put an end to the unlawful demonstration in the downtown core.”
“Overnight, demonstrators exhibited aggressive behaviour towards law enforcement including refusing to follow directions, overwhelming officers, and otherwise subverting enforcement efforts,” the police said. “We have a plan to end this unlawful occupation and await the necessary reinforcements to do so.”
However, many remain critical of the police response to date. Global News has documented protestors continuing to refuel trucks despite the police promise to crack down. The crowd in the downtown core swells with fresh faces and new infrastructure every weekend, despite police warnings that blockaders can be arrested.
“We are hearing over and over again that enforcement is taking place but that is clearly, and verifiably, a lie,” said Ottawa City Councillor Shawn Menard in a tweet on Saturday.
The police have pushed back on these criticisms. They say they’re doing everything they can, but they need more manpower from the federal government.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, raised the stakes on Friday when he announced a State of Emergency in the province. This move gives police new powers to slap severe penalties on anyone impeding movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure. The fine carries a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment.
But for Roy Crowe, who was demonstrating in front of Parliament Hill, on Saturday, the fine isn’t a concern.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told Global News.
“We’re watching the police’s back, they’re watching our back. It’s just a wonderful thing to see.”
Justin, who was sitting in one of the convoy trucks parked on Wellington St. and refused to say his last name, said the police have been “awesome.”
“We don’t care about scare tactics. The police are not going to do nothing because it’s peaceful. There’s families,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
These comments come as police move in on the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-U.S. border, where another blockade is entering its sixth straight day. The bridge is one of the busiest land border crossings in the country, and it sees roughly $700 million in two-way trade every single day, according to Ford.
Police began clearing the bridge on Saturday, but faced with resistance from the demonstrators, police have yet to succeed in re-opening the border crossing.
Some protestors watched the developments from Ottawa, while others tuned it out.
Ben Wice is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who says he “will not comply” after he just received his final warning to get vaccinated. He said the protest in Ottawa has kept him busy, so he hasn’t been able to keep updated on developments in Windsor.
Crowe, however, stood on the streets of Ottawa and said the police were right to move in on the Windsor-Detroit crossing.
“I understand what had to happen there. The supply chain was hurting and they had to go. But they had to make their point,” he said. “I don’t know any of them there, I can’t be responsible for them, but I know here we’re peacefully protesting.”
Kerkof was supportive.
“Ambassador Bridge is just one of many people coming together to say we’re done with the mandates, and we’re done with the restrictions,” he said.