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Military response not in cards for COVID protest, Trudeau says

Says one must be ‘very, very cautious’ about deploying troops on Canadian soil

Protesters demonstrated against vaccine mandates at the provincial legislature in Edmonton Alberta, Jan. 29, 2022.Amber Bracken/NYT

OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday a military response to the ongoing Ottawa protest against COVID-19 measures is “not in the cards right now.”

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said this week that all options are on the table, including calling in the military, to end the ongoing demonstration that was being called an “occupation” by some on the city council.

Thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital last weekend, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill. Police estimate about 250 remain.

Trudeau said one must be “very, very cautious” about deploying troops on Canadian soil, adding there has been no such request to the federal government. He said any formal requests for assistance from the City of Ottawa or Ontario will be considered.

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Organizers, including one who has espoused white supremacist views, had raised millions for the cross-country “freedom truck convoy” against vaccine mandates and other restrictions.

It has attracted support from former president Donald Trump.

Ottawa’s mayor, meanwhile, is calling on several opposition Conservative lawmakers to apologize for praising the protesters and posing with them.

A photo posted by one of the lawmakers shows some of them giving the thumbs-up in front of one of the protest trucks, which have been barricading roads and honking horns in the city almost nonstop since Saturday.

Mayor Jim Watson responded on Twitter by calling the action an “absolute disgrace,” saying residents have been harassed by protesters and businesses have been forced to close.

“We have no intent to stay one day longer than necessary. Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right, ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms,” Tamara Lich, one of the protest organizers, said in a statement. “Our movement is growing in Canada and across the world because common people are tired of the mandates and restrictions in their lives that now seem to be doing more harm than good.”

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Lich declined to take questions.

The protesters are also calling for the removal of Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments. A protest is planned in the provincial capital of Toronto on Saturday. The Ontario legislature is in close proximity to many along University Avenue.

“If you have trucks rolling in downtown Toronto and you have kids recovering from surgery in Sick Kids hospital in downtown Toronto and they can’t recover from their cancer surgery because there are trucks blaring their horns outside, this movement, whatever support they had from the public, will evaporate overnight,” former Conservative Cabinet minister James Moore told CTV news.

In Parliament Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland condemned “the desecration of national monuments and display of hateful symbols.”

Many Canadians were outraged after some protesters urinated and parked on the National War Memorial. One danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas.

Police in Alberta, meanwhile, said a second blockade on a highway leading to the main United States border crossing in Alberta has choked off traffic. “Protesters have stopped traffic from going southbound on Highway 4,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Curtis Peters said.

Protesters agreed Wednesday to open a lane on each side of the highway at the crossing in Coutts, Alberta., where there has been a blockade since Saturday. But since then, there has been no stream of vehicles crossing the border.

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The new blockade is about 12 miles north of Coutts and, although numbers have decreased since Wednesday night, there was still a large presence Thursday morning with semitrailers, heavy equipment, and trucks blocking access.