Police close Hospital Row, set up barricades around Queen’s Park as convoy rolls into Toronto

Footage from the CityNews chopper shows tractors and trucks begin to congregate in downtown Toronto ahead of the anti-mandate protest tomorrow.

The convoy expected to roll into Toronto on Saturday for a protest near Queen’s Park began arriving early on Friday.

Just before 4 p.m. several tractors and trucks were already blaring their horns and parking along the north and southbound lanes of Queen’s Park Crescent, just south of Bloor Street.

Earlier police set up barricades using cruisers and buses to block vehicles from reaching the Legislature.

Fears that the convoy of truckers and their supporters will impact the many hospitals in close proximity to Queen’s Park prompted Toronto police to close University Avenue to “normal traffic and any convoys.”

Police said in a bid to protect Hospital Row, University Avenue was closed between College and Queen streets, and from College and Yonge streets, starting at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

The closure will be in effect all weekend and police say they will “continue to assess the situation and make any adjustments where needed.”

“Hospital staff, workers, patients, family and people collecting patients will have access,” police tweeted.

The protest convoy began arriving in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 4, 2020. Mark Douglas/CityNews

In an update later Friday, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer hinted at somewhat ominous intelligence that’s led police to hatch a widespread security plan.

“Based on the intelligence information we are receiving from our partners across the province, we are trying to …make sure that we protect the public, we protect our emergency services, we protect our hospitals. And given some of the information that we’ve received, we feel that these steps are appropriate.”

Ramer did not elaborate on what that information is but said investigators are “examining social media” for any possible threats.

Aside from road closures and parking restrictions, Toronto police are also deploying more officers to the downtown area and installing more CCTV security cameras.

Ramer also said Toronto police have been in discussions with protest organizers to designate specific areas where protest vehicles can park with “minimal disruption.” Ramer did not reveal where the staged areas will be, saying the details are forthcoming.

The Chief stressed that vehicles will not be allowed to congregate at Queen’s Park, and he doesn’t expect a protest to linger on for days as it has in Ottawa.

“Our intention is that these areas will not be used for people to encamp or stay permanently for any duration of time.”

Hospital appointments to proceed, but delays possible

On Thursday, Toronto police advised Mt. Sinai Hospital staff to wear street clothes instead of their hospital garb to avoid being identified by protesters angry about vaccine mandates.

“Toronto Police Services is advising that street clothes should be worn versus identifiable hospital apparel …” the hospital revealed in a statement.

Mt. Sinai says scheduled diagnostic imaging and surgeries are proceeding this weekend, but it’s warning patients to expect delays when travelling to the hospital and advises ambulatory clinics to “possibly re-schedule non-urgent care.”

University Hospital Network (UHN) spokesperson Gillian Howard said it is contacting patients with appointments Saturday to give them a heads up about the protest in the area, but said appointments are not being cancelled at this point.

“We have appointments tomorrow and through the weekend and will be going ahead,” she confirmed.

On Thursday, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that while it’s up to local police forces to “keep their communities safe,” the province is “ready to provide additional support if necessary.”

“In particular, I want to reiterate that blocking access to emergency medical services, including paramedic services and hospitals, is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Toronto must ‘do everything we can’ to prevent Ottawa situation: Mayor Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory has stressed he doesn’t want the situation in the nation’s capital to repeat itself in Toronto.

Tory said he met with Chief Ramer on Thursday morning and made it clear “that we must do everything we can to avoid the type of situation currently faced by Ottawa residents and businesses.”

City Councillors united for a joint statement, saying that while people do have a fundamental right to protest, “hate speech and hate symbols are unacceptable.”

“… As soon as this protest crosses a line where there is hate speech or symbols, harassment, or interferes with hospital and health care operations or access to healthcare it cannot be tolerated,” councillors said. “Our city has a duty to protect those who live and work here.”

Ottawa has been inundated with truckers and their supporters since last Saturday when up to 15,000 people descended on Parliament Hill to protest vaccine mandates and other perceived erosions of personal freedoms.

The majority have since left, but several hundred trucks remain.

Ottawa officials painted a grim picture of the fallout from the protests, saying they’ve cost the city millions of dollars to police, impacted local businesses, and turned parts of the city into a “living hell” for fed-up residents.

Online flyers for the “Convoy for Freedom Toronto” rally call for truckers and supporters to meet at various locations in Southern Ontario before driving to Queen’s Park at noon on Saturday.

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