Speed Reads

Under Pressure

'It has to stop': Canada's Justin Trudeau returns to Parliament for Ottawa blockade emergency session

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday night that the "Freedom Convoy" that has ensnarled Ottawa's business district with hundreds of parked big-rig trucks for a dozen days is "trying to blockade our economy, our democracy. and our fellow citizens' daily lives. It has to stop." The people of Ottawa, he added, "don't deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods."

Trudeau lambasted the protesters in a speech to an emergency session of the House of Commons, and it was his first public appearance since he tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 31, two days after the trucks rolled into Ottawa. Trudeau said all Canadians are tired of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the restrictions at the center of the protest won't last forever and the vast majority of Canadians support "science" and public health measures. "A few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are," he said.

In a letter Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asked Trudeau for 1,800 additional police officers to help the overwhelmed Ottawa Police Services dismantle what "has now turned into a siege of our downtown area." He also referred to it as an "insurrection." Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called the "Freedom Convoy" an "occupation."

Trudeau told Parliament "the federal government will be there with whatever resources the province and city need in this situation," but did not make any specific commitments. He said last week that sending in the military is "not in the cards."

The "Freedom Convoy" was a proximate response to Trudeau's order that cross-border truckers be vaccinated, one of the few public health measures the federal government instituted. (Most are enacted by provincial governments.) The protesters are now demanding an end to all vaccine requirements and COVID-19 restrictions, and the dissolution of Trudeau's recently re-elected government. 

The Ottawa police, who planned only for a three-day protest, have started tackling the supply lines to the entrenched protesters, including fuel, food, and money, much of it coming from the U.S. Physically removing the trucks has been ruled impractical. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra urged Ford to do more, suggesting the Ontario provincial government "begin suspending commercial licenses and also insurance of commercial owners of equipment blockading the streets for days on end."

Canadian officials have also hit back at Republican politicians in the U.S. who are encouraging the protest and trying to restore funding avenues.