Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday implored protesters to end their demonstration that has blocked roads and disrupted life across the country for more than a week.
“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy, and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop,” Trudeau said in parliament, his first public appearance since testing positive for Covid-19.
Sparked by truckers who drove into the heart of Ottawa on January 29 to protest new coronavirus vaccine and testing rules, more demonstrations with trucks left idling in roads sprouted over the weekend.
The demonstrations began as an objection to a vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to either be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. Other protesters then joined to rail against mask mandates, lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and other Covid-19 preventative efforts.
“The whole event has gone beyond just vaccines, and it is now about the entire ordeal,” protester James MacDonald told CNN, adding he’s been in Ottawa since last weekend and has no plan to leave until health measures are dropped.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with about 4 in every 5 Canadians fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
More than 60 criminal investigations
In Toronto, trucks blocked a major intersection for hours, impeding emergency responders. Protests also erupted in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Quebec City.
On Monday, traffic at the busiest US-Canada border crossing was interrupted. Canada’s Windsor Police were advising travelers to avoid the Ambassador Bridge crossing and use the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel or Blue Water Bridge instead.
Earlier Monday, Windsor Police posted a photo to its Twitter account showing a long line of trucks appearing to be at a standstill.
Trucks and hundreds of protesters on Monday still occupied the downtown core in Ottawa, where fuel is banned from entering the protest “red zone” in front of parliament.
Adding to the turmoil is criminal behavior. Of more than 60 criminal investigations underway in the capital, most involve alleged hate crimes, property damage, thefts and mischief, police there said.
Ottawa’s city council was set to meet Monday, a day after Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency because of the “Freedom Convoy” protests. Most businesses in downtown Ottawa have been closed for more than a week or have reduced hours, with owners complaining of financial losses as customers dwindle.
The police department has asked the mayor for a “significant increase” in resources to deal with the unrest, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said Monday.
“We have been 100% full out on this for the last 10 days straight, and we will not rest until it’s done, but we need more help,” Sloly said.
The chief has been “advocating for all three levels of government to bring whatever they can bring to bear on the permanent, sustainable, lawful, safe resolution of this demonstration,” he said.
Many in the city are at their “breaking point,” Sloly said.
“This is crushing for those residents and their businesses,” he said. “It has to stop, and we are doing everything we can possibly do to stop it. We need more help; we’re asking for that help; and we’re starting to receive that help, but we need more to get this done.”
Watson sent letters to Trudeau, Canada’s minister of safety and Ontario’s premier and solicitor general, asking them to “help the City secure 1800 officers to quell the insurrection that the Ottawa Police Service is not able to contain.”
“People are living in fear and are terrified,” Watson wrote, adding the constant honking of large trucks over nine days “is tantamount to psychological warfare.”
“Our hope is that your department can help coordinate a response that matches the scale of the challenge we are facing,” Watson wrote.
Ottawa police investigating potential hate crimes
Ottawa’s hate-motivated crime hotline – established after reports of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic acts at the Covid-19 protests – has gotten more than 200 calls, according to police.
“We already have a number of hate-related incidents that we’re investigating,” Chief Sloly said last week. “We encourage anyone who’s been the victim of a hate crime or think they may have been the victim of a hate crime or exposed to hate incidents to contact us.”
At least seven arrests were made Sunday in the city and at least 450 citations issued since Saturday morning, the Ottawa Police Service said, including for excessive honking, driving the wrong way or on a sidewalk, not wearing a seat belt, having alcohol readily available and having the improper class of driving license.
Demonstrators “exhibited extremely disruptive and unlawful behaviour,” police said in a statement, which created “risks to public safety and unacceptable distress” for residents.
Police have repeatedly advised demonstrators to “not enter Ottawa, and go home.”
Vehicles and fuel have been seized, police said, and they are advising “anyone found bringing fuel to the demonstration trucks in red zone could be subject to arrest and charges.” Officers have responded to more than 650 calls for service in relation to the demonstrations since they began, police said Sunday.
A weekend of arrests and protests
In Vancouver, several hundred vehicles traveled through the city en route to a demonstration there, police said. Five people were arrested Saturday amid reports of “rocks and eggs being thrown, cars being kicked, and nails being strewn on roadways,” police said. The five were taken to jail and released, police said.
Among them was a 29-year-old US citizen from Washington state who was arrested after officers saw him wearing a balaclava and pulling a wagon full of egg cartons, police said. The man had a knife in a sheath tied to his belt, and two eggs in his jacket pocket, they said.
“Everyone has the right to peacefully assemble and express their views, and the Vancouver Police Department is committed to providing a safe environment for lawful protest,” said police Sgt. Steve Addison. “Today’s protests attracted thousands of people who feel passionately about their causes. While most protesters were peaceful, some had to be arrested for violent behavior and unlawful conduct.”
CNN’s Paradise Afshar, Joe Sutton, Keith Allen, Laura James, Melissa Alonso, Caroline Kucera, Caroll Alvarado, Eric Levenson and Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this report.