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Anti-Vaccine Mandate Protest Racks Up Costs to Ottawa Residents, Police, Businesses

February 2, 2022 7:03 AM | The Canadian Press

By Laura Osman and Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

Ottawa Protest

Trucks are parked on Metcalfe Street as a rally against COVID-19 restrictions, which began as a cross-country convoy protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truckers, continues in Ottawa, on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Ottawa residents are starting to wonder who will be left holding the bag when the anti-vaccine mandate protest that has seized the capital, shuttered businesses and racked up policing costs finally rolls out.

Crowds that first arrived Friday have thinned out considerably on Parliament Hill and the surrounding area, where anti-COVID-19 restriction demonstrators have been protesting, and honking loudly, for days.

But Ottawa remains at a standstill, as trucks and big rigs remain along major roads in the downtown core. Many businesses have remained closed since Friday over safety concerns. The Rideau Centre, a major shopping mall downtown, will remain closed through Sunday.

Robin Seguin made the difficult decision to close her 98-year-old barbershop on O’Connor Street, near Parliament Hill, ahead of the convoy’s arrival.

“I am angry and I’m frustrated,” she said after losing income for three days.

She said some others have suggested business owners should be entitled to some of the $9.7 million raised through a GoFundMe campaign for the convoy, but she’s doesn’t know how that would happen.

“Who do we sue?” she said.

She suggested governments could instead create a targeted fund to help and compensate businesses disrupted by the demonstrations.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday that the protesters have been heard, and now it is time for them to go home.

“These businesses that have been closed for, you know, a while now, the restaurants want to reopen. So, you know, I get it, I hear you. But we have to let the people of Ottawa live their lives,” Ford said.

The city councillor and the member of provincial parliament who represent the area have written to Ford to ask for financial assistance to clean up the mess left by demonstrators. They are also seeking support for the already struggling businesses that have been closed since the convoy arrived.

“Further to that, for the convoy protesters that still remain, we are asking for provincial support to investigate and fine all convoy protesters engaged in parking infractions, public health infractions, and workplace safety infractions,” Coun. Catherine McKenney and NDP MPP Joel Harden wrote Tuesday.

While the protests are ostensibly directed at the federal and provincial governments responsible for imposing vaccine mandates and COVID-19 health measures, Ottawa residents have borne the brunt of the impact, Mayor Jim Watson said Monday.

Police estimate they have spent roughly $800,000 per day to supervise the protest and respond to emergencies.

The Ottawa Police Service said late Tuesday it had arrested and charged two Ottawa men following demonstration-related investigations.

Police said in a release that Andre Lacasse, 37, was charged on Sunday with carrying a weapon to a public meeting.

The service said Matthew Dorken, 29, was charged with mischief under $5,000.

Police said mischief was caused to property on Saturday but a suspect wasn’t arrested at the time to avoid a larger confrontation.

Ottawa police also said the service received eight complaints to its hotline, including three that will be investigated by its Hate and Bias Crime Unit.

The mayor has already brought up the issue of recovering costs with the prime minister and the local Liberal MP, Yasir Naqvi. The mayor’s office said in a statement those requests for assistance have been well received.

Ottawa is a natural destination for protesters as the nations capital, which is why the federal government has a fund specifically to compensate the city for extra police costs.

The program sets aside $15 million over five years, and Ottawa can draw nearly $3 million every year, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s press secretary said in a statement Tuesday.

“We understand that the city is still assessing the total cost of these demonstrations and has yet to make a formal request, but resources are available and we will continue to work closely together in the days ahead,” press secretary Alexander Cohen wrote.

Canada Unity, the group behind the convoy, originated during the 2019 pro-pipeline convoy to Ottawa but morphed into an anti-COVID-19 restriction protest after the pandemic began.

Demonstrators have signalled they have no plans to go anywhere soon, and police have been hesitant to urge them out for fear of inciting violence.

“This is so much fun. We have all of Ottawa gridlocked right now,” said organizer Pat King in a video posted online early Tuesday.

Groups of demonstrators set up a lighthearted game of street hockey in the middle of Wellington Street in front of the Parliament buildings Tuesday. Nearby residents said the stress of living through the now five-day ordeal is starting to take its toll on them.

Gary Banham said he was harassed on the street by protesters for wearing a mask while out for a walk.

“It’s been difficult because we don’t even want to go outside,” he said.

Others describe hearing overwhelmingly loud truck horns late into the night and waking up to it every morning.

The Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region has seen an increase in the number of calls for support since the protest began, which are related to the lack of sleep from the constant noise and anxiety over safety.

“People are just really worried. They’re fearful for their safety. They’re fearful for what’s going to happen downtown if things keep getting worse,” said Leslie Scott, a spokesperson for the centre.

Politicians at all levels of government have urged protesters to leave.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said Tuesday what is happening in Ottawa is no longer a “legitimate protest.”

“When those protests appropriate symbols that are Nazi, appropriate symbols that are racist, call (for) violent acts towards the prime minister, result in people defecating on the doorsteps of people flying gay pride flags, rainbow flags, that goes too far,” Lametti said.

“We need to think about the fact that all rights are limited by limits that we find in free and democratic societies, and that’s what our charter does.”

On Tuesday, the House of Commons passed four unanimous consent motions introduced by the Liberals, including to condemn the use of Nazi and antisemitic symbols, anti-Muslim rhetoric and the waving of racist flags. The fourth motion effectively called on the House to declare there is nothing peaceful about the protests that harass residents of Ottawa, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ.

The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada agreed the protest has gone “too far,” infringing on other citizens’ rights, safety and ability to move freely and go to work.

The council suggested participants use some of the millions of dollars raised in support of the demonstration to make reparations for some of the disgraceful actions of participants. The organization cited the desecration of the National War Memorial and the Terry Fox statue downtown, as well as the harassment of servers and patrons of the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter.

“It would be a very nice gesture if you were to take some of the funds and make a donation to the Terry Fox Foundation, the Royal Canadian Legion as well as the Shepherds of Good Hope,” the council’s president Mike Millian said in a statement Tuesday.

Ottawa Public Health is monitoring for any potential uptick in COVID-19 cases as the situation with the protest develops and businesses reopen after public health restrictions eased on Monday.

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