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Covid News: Ottawa Declares State of Emergency Over Protests

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Demonstrations that began with truckers critical of vaccine mandates continued for a second straight weekend, as thousands across Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec City protested for a number of political causes.CreditCredit…Geoff Robins/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

OTTAWA — More than a week after a trucker-led protest against pandemic restrictions effectively shut down the city center in Canada’s capital, the mayor declared a state of emergency on Sunday.

The city of Ottawa said in a statement that the move by Jim Watson, the mayor, “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.”

The measure is, however, largely symbolic. It did not give the city’s police any additional power to move several hundred trucks and personal vehicles off the streets near Parliament, and provincial regulations limit the city to acting within its current laws when dealing with the demonstration.

It came after protesters in Ottawa and other cities across Canada took to the streets on Saturday for the second weekend in a row to continue demonstrations against pandemic restrictions. The demonstrations that began with truckers critical of vaccine mandates have grown to include a range of other political causes, including opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While the police and officials braced for rowdy crowds and potential violence, the atmosphere of the demonstrations by midday Saturday, though loud, remained mostly peaceful and festive.

In Ottawa, despite frigid temperatures, a band performed on the street in front of Parliament Hill underneath a Canadian flag dangling from a large construction crane. Nearby, several inflatable bouncy castles were set up, and makeshift canteens throughout downtown dispensed food. At a municipal baseball stadium parking lot that truckers were using for staging and camping, three saunas were brought in.

On the streets, many people walking to the protest greeted one another with raised fists and shouts of “freedom.”

While the demonstrations have not devolved into serious physical violence, they have nevertheless paralyzed Ottawa’s downtown core with traffic, noise and repeated complaints of harassment.

“I’m receiving hundreds — and I’m not exaggerating — hundreds of emails telling me: ‘I went out to get groceries, I got yelled at, I got harassed. I got followed down the street, I’m so afraid that I can’t go out,’” Catherine McKenney, the city councilor for the area, said Thursday afternoon.

Throughout the area, many businesses have been closed for the past week, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost sales. Those that have remained opened have struggled to enforce provincial mask rules.

About 200 to 250 trucks remained downtown from last Saturday’s demonstration, their drivers frequently honking their air horns. Supporters have been delivering diesel fuel to the truckers, who have stacked firewood in parks and built a small wooden canteen building next to a canal that serves as a popular skating rink in the winter.

On Sunday, the Ottawa Police said on Twitter that they had begun arresting people bringing jerrycans of diesel fuel to truckers.

In Toronto, dozens of cars, pickup trucks and heavy trucks were parked along the city’s high-end shopping district downtown by midday, north of the closed-off legislature building area, with sounds of horns and shouts of “freedom” ringing out. Protesters held up signs of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and used hockey sticks as flagpoles for Canadian flags and Gadsden flags. People scaled a dump truck, and one man climbed into a tree near the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Toronto Police announced that they had arrested one man for assault with a weapon, and told the public to steer clear of the demonstrations.

Through GoFundMe, some of the organizers raised 10 million Canadian dollars, about $7.8 million, but the online service has only turned over about 1 million dollars of that. On Friday evening, the platform said in a statement that after speaking with the police, it would not release any more of the money.

“We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity,” GoFundMe said.

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