Police monitoring trucker convoy ahead of weekend rally in Ottawa

Ottawa Police, the RCMP and Parliamentary Protective Services are all preparing for a convoy of trucker’s upset about covid restrictions. Nigel Newlove reports.

Law enforcement in Ottawa and across Ontario are closely monitoring a convoy of hundreds of truckers that have arrived in the province after driving across the country in opposition to health mandates.

The rolling protest, dubbed the “freedom convoy,” arrived in Kenora last night as they make their way to Ottawa for a rally on the weekend. The drivers left B.C. on Sunday and are opposed to federal vaccine mandates for cross-border drivers.

Jessica Davis with Insight Threat Intelligence tells CityNews law enforcement would be monitoring any online chatter resembling extremist or violent rhetoric.

“Potentially monitoring individuals who are aspiring to maybe escalate a protest outside of the peaceful realm,” she explained.

“Preparations have to be made to make sure that there are emergency exit routes available so if there’s a fire or some sort of other incidents that occur in downtown Ottawa that people can safely evacuate.”

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told the police services board Wednesday that he is working with the RCMP and intelligence bodies to prepare for the protests against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.

Sloly said the convoy organizers have been co-operative in telling police about their plans for the protest, which he predicts could last several days, but the situation is evolving rapidly.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said police are “tracing parallel groups” that are preparing to join the truckers, as well as counter-protesters, and are monitoring social media.


Ottawa police estimate there could be up to 2,000 demonstrators, but this number is shifting quickly, and warn residents against travelling downtown during the event.

Sloly said while police support the right to peaceful protest, officers will be prepared to move protesters out of the demonstration zone should the situation become violent or threatening.

The RCMP National Division, which is responsible for protecting dignitaries like the prime minister and governor-general, says it’s constantly reviewing security measures based on risk assessments, adding it’s always ready to adapt.

The polarizing convoy has attracted its share of extremist rhetoric online, with some suggesting an overthrowing of the government on social media. One of the convoy’s organizers posted to Facebook, telling supporters to take down the license and truck numbers of any drivers hinting at violence.

“Nobody in this convoy will be inciting violence or uttering threats,” said organizer Tamara Lich. “That is not what we are here to do.”

The group is expected to drive through the GTA on Thursday before travelling to the nation’s capital for a demonstration at Parliament Hill on Saturday.

The truckers have been greeted by supporters along their journey, with local drivers joining the group along the way. The Regina Police Service estimated around 1,200 trucks went through the city on Monday night.

The federal government’s new vaccine mandate means truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19 before crossing into Canada.

Drivers are arguing the mandate violates their freedom, prevents them from making a living and slows down the delivery of food and other products to parts of Canada.

Some politicians have expressed support for the convoy. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he is working with governors in the U.S. to put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden to lift the mandate. Kenney tweeted photos of empty grocery store shelves earlier this week.

The head of one of Canada’s largest grocery chains argues that vaccine mandates for truckers are not affecting the shipment of goods despite contributing to rising shipping costs. Metro President Eric Lafleche says the biggest impact on supply is worker absenteeism due to COVID-19.

“We felt an immediate increase in the transportation costs for that,” La Fleche said. “But I can’t say that we have huge shipping issues affecting delivery of goods to our stores.”

“There’s certainly less variety than there should be and we’re not as full as we’d like to be. But we’re not missing food out there.”

Controversial Ontario independent MPP Randy Hillier has called for the RCMP to investigate Justin Trudeau, claiming the prime minister is preventing food and other needed supplies from reaching Canadians.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is calling on Twitter to remove a recent tweet from Hillier who labelled federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra a “terrorist.”

Hillier tweeted “a terrorist speaks out to condemn Canadians to starvation in the name of being safe.”

Mendicino says Hillier’s post is “a flagrantly abusive, offensive and Islamophobic.”

In a statement on Saturday, the CTA said it “strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges.”

“The Government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski over the weekend.

“The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated.”

The federal government and the CTA released a join statement on Tuesday, acknowledging supply chain restraints and labour shortages the trucking industry is facing but encouraging vaccination.

“The government of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance both agree that vaccination, used in combination with preventive public health measures, is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health,” reads the statement.

The trucking industry was caught off guard earlier this month when the federal government appeared to flip-flop on whether unvaccinated truck drivers would be exempt from the cross-border vaccine mandate that went into effect on Jan. 15.

On Jan. 12, Canada Border Services Agency sent out a statement saying that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated truck drivers crossing into Canada from the United States would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate. They reversed the decision the next day with a statement that said the information shared the day before had been sent “in error.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates that 85 per cent of the approximately 120,000 Canadian truckers who regularly cross the border are vaccinated. That leaves more than 15,000 drivers that could be affected by the new rules.

American truckers are also being turned away at the Canadian border unless they have been fully vaccinated. Last Saturday the U.S. barred unvaccinated Canadian drivers from entering the country, mirroring Canada’s border filter.

With files from CityNews reporters Kevin Misener, Cormac Mac Sweeney, HanaMae Nassar and the Canadian Press

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