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Ottawa police expect COVID protest to ramp up again

Demonstrators gathered during a protest against vaccine mandates outside the parliament buildings in Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2022.David Kawai/Bloomberg

Police in Canada’s capital said Friday about 150 extra police officers will be deployed to the areas of Ottawa most affected by the protest against COVID-19 mandates that has been going on for days.

Embattled Police Chief Peter Sloly gave no indication when the protest would end and police expect it to ramp up again this weekend.

The “freedom truck convoy” has attracted support from former US President Donald Trump and the opposition Conservative party in Canada but one Conservative party lawmaker broke with his party and said the protest needs to end.

“I spent the week undergoing the Siege of Ottawa,” Conservative lawmaker Pierre Paul-Hus tweeted. “I ask that we clear the streets and that we stop this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups.”

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Sloly acknowledged “trust has been impacted" as Ottawa residents are furious with the blaring horns, traffic gridlock and harassment they've faced. Many complain police have done little and they call it an occupation.

“We've have not seen this level of protest that has seeped into our residential neighborhoods ever before, and 20/20 hindsight, if we knew that it was going to seep into the neighborhoods we would have deployed more resources into those neighborhoods," Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell said. "We've listened to our community. They are upset, they are fearful."

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 but Bell said they expect 300 to 400 more trucks this weekend and more than 1,000 protesters on foot. He said up to 1,000 counter protesters are expected as well.

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. Some compared vaccine mandates to fascism.

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Protesters have said they won’t leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are gone. They 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.

Late Thursday, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had approved the mayor's request for the national police force to support city police.

Organizers, including ones who have espoused racist and white supremacist views, had raised millions for the cross-country “freedom truck convoy” against vaccine mandates and other restrictions. Protests are planned for Toronto and Quebec City as well.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation representing truckers across the country, has estimated that 85 percent of truckers in Canada are vaccinated. It opposes the protest.

Some of the demonstrators are protesting a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The US has the same rule for truckers entering the US so if the Canadian government removed it, it would make no difference.