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Military response to Ottawa protest ‘not in the cards,’ Trudeau says, urging caution

PM says any formal requests for assistance from the City of Ottawa or Ontario will be considered

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is playing down the notion of a military response to the ongoing Ottawa protest against COVID-19 measures, saying that sending in troops is “not in the cards right now.”

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said Wednesday that all options are on the table, including calling in the military, to end the ongoing demonstration that some city councillors have deemed an “occupation.”

One must be “very, very cautious” about deploying troops on Canadian soil in such cases, Trudeau said at a news conference Thursday. “It is not something that anyone should enter in lightly.”

In any event, there has been no such request to the federal government, Trudeau added. He said any formal requests for assistance from the City of Ottawa or Ontario will be considered.

“There are constitutional requirements on how we intervene in local jurisdictions. And that’s why we are there to provide support as necessary, with the RCMP, with intelligence services.”

The federal priority remains “being there for the citizens of Ottawa,” he said.

Trudeau, who is harshly critical of the disruptions caused by the protesters, says it is time to give the people of Ottawa their neighbourhoods back.

Downtown streets were still clogged with trucks of all sizes Thursday and the steady drone of honking vehicles could be heard near Parliament Hill.

When asked if his government would be willing to sit down and negotiate with the protesters, Trudeau said the Liberals were elected on commitments to science and to protect people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government is a non-starter in a responsible democracy,” he said.

“This is a time for responsible leadership, as well, for all politicians from all parties to tell these protesters, as I have, that it’s time to get back to normal in the City of Ottawa.”

Ottawa’s mayor called on several Conservative MPs and a senator from Saskatchewan to apologize for praising the protest that has brought the capital’s downtown to a standstill for close to a week.

A photo shows MPs Warren Steinley, Kevin Waugh, Andrew Scheer, Fraser Tolmie, Rosemarie Falk and Sen. Denise Batters grinning — some giving the thumbs-up — in front of one of the protest trucks, which have been barricading roads and honking horns in the city almost non-stop since Saturday.

On Twitter, Waugh said a few of Saskatchewan caucus members “went to show their appreciation for the hardworking, patriotic truckers who have kept our supply chains healthy and grocery shelves stocked for the past two years.”

He added, “it’s great to see Canadians championing freedom on Parliament Hill.”

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.

Tamara Lich, a protest organizer, said during a news conference Thursday the demonstrators “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.”

The news conference ended abruptly after only two questions from reporters.

Some protesters were busy Thursday building a wooden structure in Confederation Park, just southeast of Parliament Hill, to store food. They also had areas to stockpile fuel and firewood.

As residents grow more frustrated and weary from the ongoing presence of noisy protesters, discussions about staging counter-movements are taking place.

Ottawa resident Mackenzie Demers is organizing a counter-protest slated to take place Saturday. The time and location of the gathering have not yet been shared due to safety concerns, he said in a post online.

Jeremy Owen, creator of the petition on stating that “Ottawa police must evict freedom convoy,” posted an update to signatories that “an action” was planned for Saturday on Elgin Street, south of the parliamentary precinct. As of late Thursday, the petition had received over 29,000 signatures.

Ottawa police said in a statement Thursday they had issued 30 traffic tickets and patrolled areas in the downtown and nearby neighbourhoods, adding that this enforcement will “continue daily.”

Police said they also laid eight charges for unnecessary noise related to the honking of horns, and charges for other offences including driving the wrong way in one-way traffic, speeding and running a stop sign. One person was charged for driving while criminally prohibited.

Police estimate they have already spent more than $3 million to manage the protest and respond to emergencies. In comparison, the Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in 2017 cost Ottawa police about $1.5 million.

There have been calls for the more than $10 million raised by protest organizers on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to go toward the costs of policing the demonstrators and reparations for their behaviour.

GoFundMe says it has paused and is reviewing the fundraising campaign to ensure it complies with its terms of service.

Lich said Thursday a lawyer for the organizers has sent GoFundMe “all the details that they have asked for.”

“I am hoping to hear from GoFundMe soon so that we can get the money to the truckers and keep our protest for freedom moving forward.”

— Jim Bronskill and Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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