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Montreal (AFP) – The ongoing truckers’ protest in Canada’s capital is “out of control,” Ottawa’s mayor said on Sunday, announcing a state of emergency as downtown remained jammed by opponents of anti-Covid measures.
Protesters, who first reached the capital on January 29, parked their large trucks on city streets and set up temporary tents and shacks, paralyzing the capital to the dismay of officials and growing frustration of many inhabitants.
Mayor Jim Watson announced a state of emergency that “reflects the grave danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing protests and underscores the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” a statement from the city said.
Earlier in the day, Watson had described the situation as “completely out of control”, adding that protesters “have a lot more people than we have police”.
“Obviously we’re outnumbered and we’re losing this battle,” he told CFRA radio. “This needs to be reversed; we need to get our city back.”
Watson called the truckers “insensitive”, as they continued “to honk horns, sirens and fireworks, and make a party of it”.
The protests began with protests by truckers unhappy with vaccine requirements when crossing the US-Canada border, but escalated into broader protests against Covid-19 health restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. .
Residents complained of the incessant sound of car horns and being harassed, insulted or blocked by protesters.
Truckers and their supporters dug in, however, saying protests would continue until Covid-related restrictions are lifted.
Police announced new measures on Sunday to prevent people from helping protesters maintain their sit-in.
“Anyone attempting to bring material support (gas etc.) to protesters could be subject to arrest,” the force tweeted.
Similar, albeit smaller, protests hit the cities of Toronto, Quebec and Winnipeg on Saturday. Quebec police said about 30 large trucks were blocking a major thoroughfare and had been warned they would face fines if they did not move soon.
During an emergency meeting Saturday with Ottawa officials, Police Chief Peter Sloly complained he lacked the resources to end what he called a “siege” and demanded reinforcements.
The Ottawa police should soon be reinforced by some 250 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal force.
“This group is a threat to our democracy,” city council member Diane Deans said of the protesters on Saturday. “What we’re seeing is bigger than just a City of Ottawa problem, it’s a national insurrection. It’s madness.”
Police said on Sunday they had issued some 450 tickets since Saturday morning, for a variety of mostly minor offenses including excessive noise and the use of fireworks, although a truck that crashed was found to have been stolen was seized.
They said “extremely disruptive” protesters had in some cases endangered public safety, causing “unacceptable distress” to local residents.
Police opened 97 investigations into possible criminal offences, the statement said.
In addition, he added, police are “actively working with Canadian, US and international security agencies/authorities to investigate email threats against public officials.”
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