Canadians awoke on Monday with their capital, Ottawa, under a state of emergency, as protesting truckers continued to occupy the country’s center of political power and calls were growing in some quarters for the government to take more drastic action to end the crisis.
With demonstrations snarling traffic and disrupting business and residential neighborhoods, Ottawa’s City Council was to meet Monday to try and find a way out of the upheaval.
The demonstrations, during which some protesters have desecrated national memorials and threatened local residents, have shaken a country known globally as a model for humanism, peace and serenity.
On Sunday afternoon, the mayor of Ottawa declared the emergency after 10 days of unrest that began with protests by truckers over vaccine mandates imposed by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The protests have since mushroomed into an occupation of Canada’s capital and broader demonstrations over pandemic restrictions that have spread well beyond the capital.
“Someone is going to get killed or seriously injured because of the irresponsible behavior of some of these people,” Jim Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, warned on Sunday. City officials and the chief of police said they were under “siege.”
One city councilor, Catherine McKenney, wrote last week to Mr. Trudeau and the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Brenda Lucki, asking that Canada’s national police force and the federal government take over operational control of Parliament Hill and the Parliamentary Precinct to allow Ottawa’s local police to refocus on keeping the peace in local neighborhoods.
Thousands turned out to protest in Toronto and Quebec City over the weekend. Truck convoys congregated near provincial legislatures in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. Downtown Ottawa, site of the country’s Parliament, was paralyzed as truckers parked their vehicles in intersections and across busy thoroughfares.
Early Monday morning in Ottawa, it was 14 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, and the thousands of weekend protesters were gone. The streets near Parliament were quiet without the honking horns of the weekend. But trucks still clogged the roads heading to Parliament Hill, and with a snowfall overnight, had become part of the snow scape. Most had license plates from Ontario or Quebec, with a few from Alberta, in the west of the country. Many were decorated with Canadian flags. Several bore anti-Covid restriction posters and signs.
Late Sunday night, heavily armed police seized a tanker truck with more than 3,000 liters of diesel fuel from a staging area used by the truckers, and arrested people in downtown Ottawa for transporting fuel.
Near Parliament, one of the protesters said the group was prepared in the event the police seized more diesel fuel or if their trucks were towed.
“What we are doing is within the law,” said Eric, a demonstrator from the Niagara region of Ontario who declined to give his full name. He was in a large delivery truck with a poppy painted on the side. Eric said he could not say specifically what he wanted from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that he needed to be “a man of the people.”
Throughout the pandemic, Canadians have been living under varying restrictions to combat the coronavirus. Although polls show that most Canadians support the measures, the protests are an expression of frustrations as the pandemic enters its third year.
The demonstrations were initially set off by Mr. Trudeau’s decision to require Covid vaccinations for truckers returning from the United States. But they have evolved into a more general protest against pandemic rules like vaccination mandates, shutdowns and rules requiring mask-wearing, as well as Mr. Trudeau’s stewardship of the country.
As the convoy rolled along, it was joined and ultimately outnumbered by supporters traveling in pickup trucks and cars. The group – loosely organized and without a single, clear leader – also expanded its demands, pressing Mr. Trudeau to end all Covid rules and restrictions in Canada, including those set by provinces and local governments.
Long before the first trucks began trickling into Ottawa on Jan. 28, Mr. Trudeau said he would not reverse the vaccine mandate. He has refused to meet with members of the groups, which he described as a “fringe minority.”