OTTAWA — The Trudeau government drew links Wednesday between the convoy protests in Ottawa and extremist groups in advance of an expected crackdown that police warned would unfold “in the coming hours and days.”
“It will take time to do this right,” Ottawa police said in a statement to the public, saying they have ways to remove people who refuse to leave, and have Children’s Aid workers on hand to ensure the safety of any children caught up in the policing operation.
At a midday news conference, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino drew connections between gun seizures and arrests of protesters charged in Coutts, Alta., with conspiracy to murder police, and hard-right extremists tied to the protesters in Ottawa.
“Several of the individuals at Coutts have strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” said Mendicino. “We’re talking about a group that is organized, agile, more knowledgeable and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right.”
Pressed to identify which group and individuals he was referring to and what evidence he had, Mendicino referred specific questions to the police, but said the protests in various parts of the country have included “similar rhetoric” and “rallying calls” to overturn the government.
“This is completely contrary to our democratic values,” the minister said, adding later, “At times on Wellington (Street) it’s appeared completely lawless.”
His office later pointed to a video on social media of Jeremy MacKenzie, a far-right activist known online as the “Raging Dissident,” who says he “knows” the people arrested in Alberta “are not bad people.”
Mendicino distinguished between regular debate and disagreements and “the kind of behaviour and the kind of frankly, disturbing criminal conduct that we’re seeing in Coutts, Emerson, in Surrey, and in Windsor, and yes, here in Ottawa. And so we just have to be very clear eyed about exactly what this group is trying to advance and more importantly, why they’re trying to advance it.”
The Liberal government released a package of documents late Wednesday that outlined for the Commons the background and reasons for declaring a public order emergency.
“The situation across the country remains concerning, volatile and unpredictable,” it said.
For the first time, the Liberal government said “threats were also made to block railway lines, which would result in significant disruptions” to trade corridors that carry $310 billion in goods each year.
It signalled the overall threat has not ended.
“The protests have become a rallying point for anti-government and anti-authority, anti-vaccination, conspiracy theory and white supremacist groups throughout Canada and other Western countries. The protesters have varying ideological grievances, with demands ranging from an end to all public health restrictions to the overthrow of the elected government.”
Describing the chaos in Ottawa, it cited the resignation of Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly “in response to criticism of the police’s response to the protests.” But insisted the new powers aren’t meant to supplant local police decisions, but to enhance their authorities.
It cited the hack of crowdfunding website GiveSendGo and a CBC analysis that showed 55 per cent of donations made public were made by donors in the U.S compared to 39 per cent of donors located in Canada.
“Ideologically motivated violent extremism adherents may feel empowered by the level of disorder resulting from the protests. Violent online rhetoric, increased threats against public officials and the physical presence of ideological extremists at protests also indicate that there is a risk of serious violence and the potential for lone actor attackers to conduct terrorism attacks.”
Ottawa police officers delivered two formal warnings Wednesday to convoy participants in the street in front of Parliament Hill: get out now, or else.
At a special meeting of Ottawa’s city council late Wednesday afternoon, interim police chief Steve Bell — who took the reins from Sloly after the latter’s resignation Tuesday — said residents would be “hearing and seeing” evidence of a crackdown in the coming hours and days.
“Some of the techniques we are lawfully able and prepared to use are not what we’re used to seeing in Ottawa,” Bell said, “but we are prepared to use them and whatever means necessary to bring about the safest outcome and restore order.”
A day after the Ottawa police board let chief Sloly go, councillor Diane Deans was shown the door as chair of the police services board, removed by her fellow councillors in a 15-9 vote.
Police delivered printed flyers citing Criminal Code violations and new emergency powers the federal and provincial governments have invoked.
“You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking [of] streets, are [sic] committing a criminal offence and you may be facing charges,” the flyers read.
“Charges and/or convictions related to unlawful activity associated with the demonstration may lead to denial in crossing the USA border.”
A subsequent notice posted online Wednesday evening warned that vehicles and other property may be seized, drivers’ licences and commercial operators’ permits could be revoked, and personal bank accounts could be restricted.
On Day 20 of the ongoing blockade in the nation’s capital, protesters met the distribution of the two-sided bilingual leaflets with scorn.
Under the growing threat of police action, drivers honked horns up and down the street outside the Prime Minister’s Office. As the sun set, trucks idled and music blared on loudspeakers as protesters danced.
“Let ’em come,” Nova Scotia trucker Guy Meister said of the impending police action. “I’m more afraid of my wife.”
Meister scoffed when asked about the threat of being arrested or losing his commercial licence, saying that politicians were just “making laws up.”
Speaking from a downtown Ottawa hotel, three convoy representatives — all former law enforcement or military officers — called for more supporters to descend on the capital in the coming days “to exercise their legal right of assembly and protest.”
Daniel Bulford, a former RCMP officer who says he was once part of Trudeau’s security detail, said Canadians “cannot allow” police to use force against citizens — who he said were “peacefully demonstrating” — and told supporters they were free to bring children to the protest as long as they did not engage in violent or disruptive behaviour.
Under the new orders, minors are prohibited from participating in or travelling near any assembly deemed unlawful — which is how various government officials have described the occupation of Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill.
“I’d just like to say anyone that can get here, whether it’s by car, or foot, please come. Your country needs you, and we need your support,” said Eddie Cornell, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran.
By Wednesday evening, some trucks were seen driving away from the protest site in front of Parliament Hill, although many remained parked along nearby streets.
After a national caucus meeting, the Conservatives declared Wednesday they oppose the use of the Emergency Act.
Interim Leader Candice Bergen accused the prime minister of failing to listen to truckers opposed to vaccine mandates, and blamed Trudeau for escalating tensions.
Bergen said the Emergency Act is a “massive sledgehammer, unprecedented, (and) has the potential to be very dangerous.”
While NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had previously said he would back the use of the act, he said Wednesday his party was “very reluctant” about providing its support.
The Bloc Québécois also opposes the use of emergency measures, saying the government’s move is simply a “coverup” for the Trudeau government’s failures.
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