Ottawa police issue new warning amid convoy blockade: ‘leave the area now’

Click to play video: 'More details on Emergencies Act rules and power'
More details on Emergencies Act rules and power
Wednesday night all eyes were on Ottawa as new measures were put in place to remove protesters from the capital. Earlier in the day, police were warning protesters they faced arrest, if they continued their occupation next to Parliament Hill. Catherine Urquhart has the latest on the ongoing situation. – Feb 17, 2022

People still participating in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” blockade of downtown Ottawa are being warned by police to “leave the area now” as questions heat up about when police will act to remove the demonstrators who have paralyzed the nation’s capital for 20 days.

The police warning came as Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino urged anyone thinking of coming to the city on the weekend not to do so, and said that “extremist” leaders are now on the ground in Ottawa.

“You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking streets, are committing a criminal offence and you may be arrested. You must immediately cease further unlawful activity or you will face charges,” reads a notice issued by Ottawa police on Wednesday morning.

“The people of Ottawa are being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property and you are causing businesses to close. That is mischief under the Criminal Code.”

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Click to play video: 'Protesters are ‘organized, driven by extremist ideology,’ says public safety minister following arrests'
Protesters are ‘organized, driven by extremist ideology,’ says public safety minister following arrests

Mendicino said during a press conference that Canadians need to resist the urge to look at the blockades as isolated incidents.

“We need to be clear-eyed about the seriousness of these incidents. Indeed, several of the individuals at Coutts have strong ties to a far-right, extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” he said.

“We’re talking about a group that is organized, agile, knowledgeable, and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right. And this is completely contrary to our democratic values.”

Mendicino did not name any particular group or individual.

Also on Wednesday morning, an Ontario Superior Court justice in Ottawa granted a 60-day extension to the injunction issued last week which banned the use of air horns and train horns by the convoy.

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That injunction had initially been granted for just 10-days and was set to expire.

Click to play video: 'Debates over Emergencies Act to ensue amid concerns of government overreach'
Debates over Emergencies Act to ensue amid concerns of government overreach

Both the injunction extension and the new warning to convoy participants come after the federal government invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act on Monday amid intense frustration and anger among Ottawa residents over police handling of the convoy so far.

Peter Sloly resigned as chief of the Ottawa Police Service on Tuesday, and federal officials have for days offered increasingly clear rhetoric that the blockades are now “illegal,” and that police must end them.

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Yet demonstrators have remained defiant in the face of the Emergencies Act, with hundreds still parked in blockades along residential streets of downtown Ottawa and vowing to remain.

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Some appeared to be moving from parked locations around Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill, on Wednesday afternoon. But in other areas of the city, streets remained blocked with vehicles, with only small changes in the positions of the trucks over the course of recent days.

One of the busiest north-south routes in the core is Kent Street, which continued to be packed with parked vehicles all the way from Cooper Street to Wellington Street — a stretch of eight city blocks.

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The convoy organizers originally said they wanted to force elected officials out and force an end to all public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, most of which are under provincial — not federal — jurisdiction.

Organizers later removed references to calls to remove elected officials from their websites, and have since claimed they never called for such action.

Some of the convoy organizers have ties to white nationalism and histories of racist rhetoric.

In the order invoking the Emergencies Act, the federal government explicitly warned about fears of “serious violence” from blockade participants motivated by political or ideological goals.

While the order did not use the word “terrorism,” that language mirrors the Criminal Code definition of terrorist activity, and convoy organizers removed a journalist from a press conference this week for asking whether they are aware of any firearms among participants.

Click to play video: 'Weapons and ammunition seized at border blockade in Coutts, Alberta'
Weapons and ammunition seized at border blockade in Coutts, Alberta

Earlier in the week, RCMP arrested 13 people and seized more than a dozen long guns, hand guns, ammunition and body armour from what they described as a small organized group within the larger Coutts border blockade in Alberta.

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“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” RCMP said in a news release.

Click to play video: 'Ottawa police chief resigns as convoy rolls on'
Ottawa police chief resigns as convoy rolls on

The police notice issued on Wednesday reiterated that any interference with critical infrastructure is prohibited, including interference with 400-series highways, railways, airports and border crossings. Those prohibitions also ban anyone from travelling to or from walkways, bridges or other highways.

“It also prohibits someone from seriously interfering with the safety, health or well-being of members of the public,” the notice added.

Under the terms of the Emergencies Act, police warned that people are also prohibited from coming to Ottawa in order to join the demonstration, and that police can seize any vehicles taking part in it.

“Anyone who commits these illegal actions could face fines or be required to appear in court,” the notice continued.

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“Commercial vehicle drivers’ licences and private drivers’ licences can be suspended or revoked.”

Bringing children to the demonstrations is also prohibited, with a potential fine of $5,000 or up to five years in prison as a result. That provision of the new emergency powers came after Ottawa police said roughly 25 per cent of the vehicles in the blockades have children in them.

Child welfare authorities have been involved, police said, and on Wednesday the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa issued a warning to parents.

“The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) is urging parents at the demonstration in Ottawa to make the necessary alternate care arrangements should they become unable to care for their children following potential police action,” said the society in a statement.

“CASO has a mandate to protect a child when their parent becomes unavailable to exercise their custodial rights over the child and the parent has not made adequate provision for the child’s care and custody,” the statement continued.

“If parents and children are separated following police efforts in ending the demonstration in the downtown core, CASO will work to reunite families as soon as possible.”

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A spokesperson for the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa did not say whether there are any active investigations into the welfare of children whose parents have brought them to the blockade.

“I can only say that there have been ongoing reports regarding child welfare concerns, and that we consider all information received to determine the best response,” said a spokesperson.

Convoy is a 'stain on our city,' says councillor

With police handing out notices to convoy supporters, members of city council are thankful that some action is being taken.

“We don’t know the reasons anything wasn’t happening before, we were told it was because there wasn’t enough police officers on the ground, but now there’s no excuses,” said Theresa Kavanagh, city councilor for Bay Ward.

When asked about timelines, Kavanagh said she was hearing through the grapevine that police action towards convoy supporters could begin and conclude by the end of the week.

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“It does have to happen quickly, I’ve heard they’re talking about that having it cleared out by the end of the week,” she said. “You can’t give out these notices without having a tactical plan.”

Kavanagh added that convoy’s occupation of Ottawa needs to end and that the longer it carries on, the worse it looks on the city and leaders.

“This has been a real stain on our city, on our nation that it was allowed to come in in the first place and settle — they’ve practically put down roots … I want it to be over,” she said.

While Kavanagh is hopeful that change is imminent, others are supporting interim Chief Steve Bell, who took over the reins of the force following former Chief Peter Sloly’s resignation on Tuesday.

“(I am) supportive of Chief Bell and know he has the support of the men and women of the OPS to get our city back. He is an action-oriented leader focused on results,” wrote Councillor Allan Hubley in an emailed statement to Global News.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday morning he would not be using force against the demonstrations and that any decisions about how to respond were in the hands of police.

Bill Blair, the federal emergency preparedness minister, said the additional measures granted under the Emergencies Act are “targeted, temporary and proportionate to the threat that exist in our country.”

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— with files from Global’s Abigail Bimman and Craig Lord.

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