The mayor of Ottawa says the city has the capacity to deal with the so-called trucker ‘freedom rally’ convoy if it grows and extends beyond the weekend, though he hopes the protesters will simply go home Saturday night.
Trucks jammed Ottawa streets and crowds packed Parliament Hill to protest the federal Liberal government, vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.
Hundreds more vehicles from Western Canada, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces were expected to arrive throughout the day Saturday to join those already in the capital.
Speaking to a special edition of The Rob Snow Show on Saturday afternoon, Mayor Jim Watson said there is a strong police presence in the area of the protest – Ottawa’s downtown core – but the number of officers can be increased if the situation requires.
“Well, we have a number of resources, as you know, from other police services from around the province, the OPP and so on,” said Watson. “And we have the capacity for that to grow. Obviously, if the situation gets more tense and more difficult, but we have a good police presence, as you pointed out, and the last briefing I received has been no major incident of any kind, which is great.
“But at some point this has to end. And people have to be allowed to go back and whether it's visit the Parliament buildings or shop in the stores on Sparks Street, or get on with their life.”
Watson expressed satisfaction with the peaceful nature of the demonstration, though he did point to a few issues that needed to be addressed.
Several cars parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial cenotaph early Saturday morning. They have since been cleared.
And protesters added a flag and an anti-mask poster to a Terry Fox statue. The mayor has asked that those be taken down.
Ottawa Police have confirmed cars parked on the grounds of the national Cenotaph have been removed. Parking on this sacred ground that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sign of complete disrespect.— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) January 29, 2022
The bigger issue for the mayor: where to put all the vehicles that keep rolling into the downtown area.
“We don't need to be dealing with a whole bunch of trucks blocking roads, blocking pedestrians, blocking buses getting in and out of the downtown,” he said.
“A lot of these are big trucks or you know, an 18-wheeler’s probably the equivalent of parking three cars, and there's no more space on Wellington. We have to keep – and they've been respectful enough to recognize – we need to keep one lane of traffic open for paramedics and so on.
“And the Hill is, you know, it's lost about a third of its ground space because of the renovations. So, it's packed there now, and I don't know how many more people can get into the Hill itself.”
Watson also shared his concern with what appears to be a lack of public-health guidelines being respected by the protesters.
“My concern is most of the people I've seen on the media coverage are not wearing masks,” he said. “You would hope they would, but they're not. And is this going to become a super spreader where our residents are affected because of this kind of irresponsible behavior?
“What's going to happen tonight when a lot of these folks want some place to stay and they refuse to wear their masks?”
The mayor of Ottawa repeated that while he wants the protesters to have their say, he also wants them to leave peacefully – and promptly – once they’ve voiced those concerns.
“I suspect most of them will want to go back,” said Watson. “They've come from B.C.; they've been away for five or six days.
“At some point, the organizers – if we can call them that – have to say, ‘all right, it's time to move on and allow the people of Ottawa to get back to some sense of normalcy.’”
It’s one heck of a crowd. Very tight going trying to get on actual parliament grounds. pic.twitter.com/akPmbJob2Y— Xiaoli Li / 李肖黎 (@Xiaoli_3000) January 29, 2022
More folks arriving at parliament. pic.twitter.com/t8Hiv5BFE9— Xiaoli Li / 李肖黎 (@Xiaoli_3000) January 29, 2022