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Police investigate desecrations, threats as protest of COVID 19 restrictions unfolds


OTTAWA — Several criminal investigations are underway into actions — including the desecration of monuments — during an ongoing protest of government-imposed vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, Ottawa police confirmed Sunday.

A discordant symphony of truck horns blared across downtown Ottawa as demonstrators geared up for their second full day on local streets, but the effects of the protest were being felt far beyond Parliament Hill.

Residents of the national capital were again being told to avoid travelling downtown as trucks snarled numerous roads. Several city bus routes were redirected to avoid the area around the Hill, and the nearby Rideau Centre shopping mall remained closed after shutting down early on Saturday.

Ottawa police tweeted Sunday that they are looking into desecration of the National War Memorial and the Terry Fox statue near Parliament Hill that took place a day earlier.

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Protesters drew widespread condemnation for fastening an inverted Canadian flag and anti-vaccine sign to the statue of Fox, who braved illness to run cross-country to raise money for cancer research. A woman was seen standing and cheering on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial.

Police are also investigating threatening behaviour toward police city workers and other individuals, as well as damage to a city vehicle.

The Ottawa force says it has investigative and evidence-gathering teams in place for the demonstration.

There have been no reported incidents of physical violence during the demonstrations, but the defacement of prominent monuments was one of several incidents that drew public concern or condemnation.

One truck flew a Confederate flag Saturday, and Nazi symbols and slogans were seen in the crowds.

Deirdre Freiheit, president of Shepherds of Good Hope, said donations were pouring in after protesters allegedly harassed staff at an Ottawa soup kitchen.

The rally roiling the capital’s downtown has disrupted social services and blocked road access to their shelter, Freiheit said.

Several protesters showed up at the soup kitchen on Saturday and verbally abused staff and volunteers while demanding they be served, she alleged. Some protesters were given food to defuse the situation, but going forward meals will only be given to those who need them.

Since Shepherds of Good Hope tweeted about the incident, the organization has been overwhelmed with tens of thousands of dollars in donations, she added.

The protest has been “exceptionally disruptive” for people who live downtown, said Catherine McKenney, a city councillor who represents Ottawa’s core.

Many residents resigned themselves to the overwhelming noise from honking trucks and road blockages, but by Sunday morning people were fed up, said McKenney, who fielded complaints about demonstrators urinating and defecating on lawns.

“I understand to a large extent why emergency services, police services both local and national, would not want to incite this crowd,” McKenney said.

“However, at some point we need assurances that we’re not going to allow our city and our downtown to be seized and to push out others and make people frightened to live and move about in their own neighbourhoods.”

Mathieu Fleury, a city councillor who represents an area just east of Parliament Hill, tweeted that the people “intimidating our neighbours, blocking our streets, blaring noise & harassing our authorities & journalists have no place in our city. They must go.”

It’s not clear when the convoy of vehicles plans to end the park-in protest, as some participants have vowed not to move until all their demands are met.

Kathleen Biggar, one of the demonstrators, was wondering what would happen Monday. She said she would not want this protest in her backyard, and was picking up trash left behind on streets.

She planned to leave after Sunday. She suspects if the crowds stick around, it will deepen conflict with the locals.

“I don’t know the solution and that’s probably the point we’re all asking, where does this go?” Biggar said.

The demonstration was initially aimed at denouncing vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, but the movement has morphed into a protest against a variety of COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

A memo being pushed by Canada Unity, the primary group behind the convoy, unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate force federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. It does not mention truckers, and was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11.

The vast majority of truck drivers are vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has previously estimated about 10 per cent of drivers were affected when vaccinations became a requirement to cross the Canada-U.S. border earlier this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2022.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2022.