The mayor of Ottawa has declared a state of emergency to help deal with an unprecedented 10-day occupation by protesting truckers that has shut down much of the core of the Canadian capital.
“(This) 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,” Jim Watson said in a statement.
Demonstrations over vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions by Canadian truckers started in Ottawa, in what many have described as a week-long occupation of the capital, and have since spread across the country.
Mr Watson, who earlier complained that the protesters outnumbered police and controlled the situation, did not give details of what measures he might impose.
The “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a Canadian vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers but it has since turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
Earlier on Sunday, a former US ambassador hit out at groups from the US for interfering in the Canada protests as GoFundMe closed a fundraising page set up by groups in the US to help support the truckers’ rallies.
The page raised millions of dollars for the demonstrators before the page was pulled and GoFundMe said it would issue refunds or redirect the donations to other charities.
The move drew criticism from US Republicans, including Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, who tweeted that it is “fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9m in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing”.
It is a fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing.
I will work with @AGAshleyMoody to investigate these deceptive practices — these donors should be given a refund.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) February 5, 2022
Ottawa police relocated some protesters and put up new barricades on Sunday after residents’ anger over the lack of official response.
Officers said they are “collecting financial, digital, vehicle registration… and other evidence that will be used in criminal prosecutions”.
Police also announced they would clamp down on people attempting to bring in canisters to refuel the hundreds of large trucks blocking most roads in the city centre.
Protests over the past nine days have disabled downtown Ottawa, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and some saying they want to dissolve Canada’s government.
Convoy organisers claim they will not leave until the vaccine mandates are ended.
But Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government would not back down on the issue.
“We put the question of vaccines and vaccine mandates on the ballot… in the (2021) election and we’re simply carrying out the promise that we made with the support of the vast majority of Canadians,” he said on CBC television.
The well-organised blockade has partly relied on financial help from US sympathisers, according to police, while former US President Donald Trump and Tesla boss Elon Musk have praised the truckers.
Four people have so far been charged with hate crimes and police said they were investigating threats against public figures jointly with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr Trudeau, who is currently isolating after testing positive for COVID last week, has ruled out using the military to stop the protests.
He and his family left their downtown home last weekend due to security reasons and his location has not been disclosed. He has said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” and the government would not be intimidated.