The City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency on Sunday as anti-mandate protests in the city’s downtown core entered their 10th day. Mayor Jim Watson described the peaceful protests as “the most serious emergency our city has ever faced” while Ottawa police threatened to arrest anyone supplying Freedom Convoy truckers with fuel. In a statement, the city said the declaration “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.”
The state of emergency declaration will not give more power to Ottawa police. An emergency declaration only allows Mayor Watson to make orders “not contrary to law to implement the emergency plan of the municipality and to protect property and the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the emergency area.”
Watson said the state of emergency will help Ottawa Police get the supplies and equipment faster. “The state of emergency gives our staff and our city a few extra tools to speed up things like procurement,” the mayor said in an interview with CBC News Network on Sunday. “We’re in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced, and we need to cut the red tape to get these supplies available to our police officers and to our public works staff.”
Pro-mandate politicians have used extreme rhetoric to describe the protests, which have been almost entirely peaceful. Ontario Premier Rob Ford has referred to them as an “occupation” while Ottawa City Council member Diane Deans referred to the protests as an “insurrection” during an emergency meeting. “We are on day eight of this occupation. Our city is under siege,” Sears said on Friday. “This is madness. We need a concrete plan to put an end to this.”
Sears also called the protests a “threat to our democracy” and asked whether the police could declare an unlawful assembly. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly agreed with her portrayal of the protests. Sloly said law enforcement was “never intended to deal with a city under siege” and asked for more resources. Earlier in the weekend, the police chief called for the implementation of a “surge and contain” strategy in order to break up the protests. Sloly also threatened to criminally charge police officers who provide the protesters with support.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Ottawa Police Service announced they would be cracking down on those providing “material aid,” such as fuel, to protesters. “Anyone attempting to bring material supports (gas, etc.) to the demonstrators could be subject to arrest. Enforcement is underway,” wrote the Ottawa Police Service in a tweet.
— Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice) February 6, 2022
The Ottawa Justice Centre — which is representing the Freedom Convoy — said the police service would be breaking the law if they attempted to enforce this measure. “People who bring food, water, gasoline or other supplies to peacefully protesting truckers are not breaking any law. There is no basis for this police threat, that was issued by Twitter this morning,” said Justice Centre lawyer Nicholas Wansbutter. “In a free and democratic society that is governed by the rule of law, citizens can freely associate with each other, including the giving and receiving of goods and gifts. There is no law that would allow the Ottawa Police to arrest people for giving fuel or food to another Canadian,” Wansbutter continued.
Sunday marked the 10th straight day of protests in Ottawa’s city center. Demonstrations have since spread to dozens of Canadian cities, including Toronto, Winnipeg and Quebec City. To date, the protesters have not been involved in any rioting, looting or acts of violence. However, four protesters were injured after a masked driver drove his car through a crowd in Winnipeg on Saturday night. Police arrested a suspect but have yet to release a name.