Canada’s capital city declared a state of emergency Sunday as police struggled to rein in protests against vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who declared the emergency, said that increasingly rowdy demonstrations posed a “serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents.” Hundreds of trucks continue to occupy the downtown area near Canada’s parliament with no sign that the protesters plan to leave.
Truckers and their supporters have been stockpiling jerry cans of diesel and other necessities. They built a wood shed as a kitchen and set up logistics centers in a downtown park and the parking lot of a baseball stadium.
But on Sunday, police fenced off the park and showed up at the stadium location to seize fuel cans, propane cannisters and vehicles. A total of seven people were arrested as part of investigations related to the protests, according to a statement from the Ottawa Police Service. It said there are more the 60 active criminal investigations, primarily for mischief, thefts, hate crimes and property damage.
The protests started in reaction to Canadian and U.S. laws that went into effect in January, requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated. They’ve since morphed into a rally against Covid restrictions more broadly. Demonstrators have been camped out in the capital since Jan. 28.
The Canadian protest, which expanded to cities across the country this weekend, was championed by the likes of Fox News and by podcaster Joe Rogan, Tesla Inc. billionaire Elon Musk and former U.S. President Donald Trump.
In Ottawa, the truckers’ blockade of streets and use of air horns for days — sometimes deep into the night — has angered residents. The city’s police force warned people that they could be arrested for bringing “material supports,” including fuel, to the protest zone.
“The situation at this point is completely out of control because the individuals with the protest are calling the shots,” Watson said early Sunday in an interview with CFRA, a local radio station. “They have far more people than we have police officers.”
The state of emergency “highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” the city said Sunday night. It was unclear to what extent Ottawa would receive outside help.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to rule out using the army to disperse the protesters, but the demonstrations have intensified since then. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government, which has ultimate responsibility over local policing, has given Ottawa city hall “everything they have asked for and will continue to provide whatever support they request.”
The nerves of local Ottawa residents are “frayed beyond belief” and they’re suffering as protesters blare horns and ignite fireworks, Watson said. Additional officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are being brought in from other parts of the province, he said.
“Clearly, we’re outnumbered and we’re losing this battle right now,” Watson said. “This has to be reversed. We have to get our city back.”
Protests in other Canadian cities went off over the weekend with mostly minor incidents. Toronto police arrested a 22-year-old man after he set off a smoke bomb. In Winnipeg, police arrested a 42-year-old man who drove through a group of protesters downtown, injuring four.
In Vancouver, police arrested five people amid reports of cars being kicked and nails being thrown on roadways. One of them, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen from Washington state, was caught wearing a balaclava and pulling a wagon full of egg cartons. He had a knife in a sheath tied to his belt and two eggs in his jacket pocket, police said.