Police say they will let public safety guide their actions this weekend as a convoy protesting vaccine mandates rolls into Ottawa.
Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said that while organizers say the protest, which as of Friday night did not have a permit, will be a weekend event, “the option of [it] going into the week is also still on the table.”
Sloly said any decision to bring the protest to a close early or continue past the weekend will be based on public safety concerns. He also said a breakdown in communication with protest organizers could lead to it being shut down early.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa’s officers will be backed up by other police and national security forces, who are preparing to deal with any threats that could erupt from extremists who have latched on to a massive Freedom Convoy.
Mendicino said Friday that there have been signs of “flagrant extremism” among some protesters, including the equating of vaccine mandates to the fascist regime of Nazi Germany and inciting people to overthrow the government through violence.
That is “not about freedom. And it’s certainly not about truckers,” he told guest host Nil Köksal on CBC’s Power & Politics.
The Ottawa Police Service said it will be augmented with officers from Toronto, London, York and Durham regions, and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Organizers urge calm
One of the protest’s key organizers on Friday warned participants to protest peacefully.
“We cannot achieve our goals if there are threats or acts of violence,” said B.J. Dicher. “This movement is a peaceful protest and we do not condone any acts of violence.”
He warned protesters not to enter government buildings, disrespect police officers act in a way the escalates tense situations and not to make “any type of threat.”
Dicher ran as a candidate for the Conservatives — in Jack Layton’s old riding of Toronto–Danforth — in the 2015 federal election, finishing third behind the Liberals and NDP with just over 5,000 votes.
On Twitter he regularly rails against public health measures to fight COVID-19, major media organizations, socialism and established political parties.
He and Alberta resident Tamara Lich started a GoFundMe campaign for the convoy which has raised more than $7.5 million.
As the convoy moved across Canada, Lich has posted regular video updates from the cab of one of the trucks. She says her parents own a trucking company which is part of what motivated her to organize the protest. Lich was involved with the Western separatist Maverick Party in the past and is still listed as its secretary on the party’s website.
She has said many times in her Facebook videos that the trucks and demonstrators won’t leave Ottawa until they get what they want, while urging people to obey the law and not cause trouble.