15 February 2022

Ottawa police chief resigns amid criticism over handling of Covid protests

15 February 2022

Ottawa’s police chief has resigned amid criticism of his department’s inaction against the trucker protests that have paralysed Canada’s capital for more than two weeks, a federal government official said.

The bumper-to-bumper demonstration by hundreds of truck drivers against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions — and the failure of Police Chief Peter Sloly to break the siege early on — have infuriated many Ottawa residents.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked extraordinary emergency powers to try to end the occupation there and elsewhere around the country. Across Canada and beyond, the question in the coming days will be whether it will work.

Justin Trudeau (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press/AP) (AP)

Public safety minister Marco Mendicino said it is time for police to begin using their broad authority conferred under Canada’s Emergencies Act, which allows the government to ban the blockades and begin towing away trucks.

“We need law enforcement to take the reins, to utilise the Emergencies Act and to enforce,” he said late on Monday after Mr Trudeau announced he was invoking the law. “We have given new powers to police and we need them to do the job now.”

Government leaders have not indicated when or where the crackdowns on the self-styled Freedom Convoy will begin. Mr Mendicino said they were still working out the final details on where the prohibited zones will be.

The government will be able to ban blockades at border crossings, airports and in Ottawa; freeze truckers’ personal and corporate bank accounts and suspend their licences; and target crowd-funding sites being used to support the blockades.

It also can force tow trucks to move the big rigs out of intersections and neighbourhoods. Up to now, some towing companies have been reluctant to co-operate because of their support for the truckers or fears of violence.

A truck convoy blocks the highway at the US border crossing in Coutts, Alberta (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press/AP) (AP)

Since late January, protesters in trucks and other vehicles have jammed the streets of the capital and obstructed border crossings, condemning vaccine mandates for truckers and other Covid-19 precautions and condemning Mr Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The premier’s decision came amid growing frustration with government inaction and a day after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 11 people at the blockaded border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, opposite Montana, and seized a cache of guns and ammunition.

“What the operation revealed is that you’ve got a very small, hardened core driven by ideology,” Mr Mendicino said, adding that the nation can no longer tolerate the disruptions and threats.

“We have been fortunate thus far there has not been mass violence,” he said.

Ontario premier Doug Ford, whose province includes Ottawa and Windsor, the site of a now-disbanded blockade at the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, said: “Hopefully the police in the next few days, hopefully sooner, can move.”

Children play in front of a truck blocking a street in Ottawa (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press/AP) (AP)

He said the siege in Ottawa is complicated by the presence of children in the protest. “They have kids there. We don’t want anything to happen to kids. Bring your kids home,” he said.

The busiest and most important border crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, was reopened on Sunday after police arrested dozens of demonstrators. The nearly week-long siege had disrupted car production in both countries.

One of the protest organisers in the capital vowed on Monday not to back down in the face of pressure from the government. “There are no threats that will frighten us. We will hold the line,” Tamara Lich said.

The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists in Canada and have been cheered on in the US by Fox News personalities and conservatives such as Donald Trump.

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