Law enforcement prepares for violence as far-right groups join truckers protest
Police say they are planning for the arrival of between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators on Jan. 29, but say the situation is "fluid" and changing by the hour.
A convoy of truckers set to descend upon Ottawa to protest mandatory vaccinations is prompting police to prepare for violence and politicians to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration.
Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told a police services board meeting on Jan. 26 that officers had been in been in contact with protest leaders who he said have been co-operative and shared their plans.
But Deputy Chief Steve Bell voiced concern about “parallel groups” that intelligence suggests will also turn up to the protest. The police are trying to reach these groups — as well as counter-protesters — to discuss their aims.
At the meeting, police disclosed they are preparing for a range of scenarios including the potential for violence. Police say they are planning for the arrival of between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators on Jan. 29, but say the situation is “fluid” and changing by the hour.
Sloly told the board and councillors that he is working with the RCMP and intelligence bodies to prepare for the protests.
While police support the right to peaceful protest, officers would be prepared to move protesters out of the demonstration zone should the situation become violent or threatening, he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was a “small fringe minority who are on the way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views.”
Speaking at a news conference on Jan. 26, the prime minister said the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated.
“What we are hearing from some people associated with this convoy is completely unacceptable,” he added.
The federal government ended the truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate on Jan. 15, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19 before crossing into Canada.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It has strongly denounced any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges and has urged all truckers to get inoculated.
Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he is “concerned about the small number of far-right, vocal opposition that is polluting much of our political debate.”