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Police form a ring around protesters who were building a tent structure on Wellington Street, on the 15th day of a protest against COVID-19 measures that has grown into a broader anti-government protest, in Ottawa, on Feb. 11.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The Ottawa mayor’s office says it has reached an agreement with protest organizers to move the trucks that have clogged traffic and residential neighbourhoods in the capital’s downtown core for 2½ weeks to protest COVID-19 public-health measures, though an organizer later cast doubt on whether there was such a deal.

In a letter to Mayor Jim Watson, one of the organizers of the convoy agreed to relocate some of the roughly 400 trucks away from residential areas, and to concentrate protest activity to Wellington Street, which runs along the Parliament buildings.

“We need some relief for the people who have been put through hell,” said Mr. Watson, who said that, in exchange, he agreed to a sit-down with the protesters.

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Where exactly all the trucks will go is still being finalized, Mr. Watson said Sunday. Wellington Street is already jammed for several blocks with tractor-trailers and tents. The mayor suggested one option might involve the group negotiating with private landowners for space and then shuttling protesters downtown to the demonstrate.

Another uncertainty is whether the drivers in trucks lining residential streets will cede to the request to move, although Mr. Watson said organizers believed the majority of them would agree to do so. But he admitted, “now they have to convince their members because they don’t speak for every group. There are many different factions.”

Even if most of the trucks relocate – a process that was to begin Monday and will take days – the agreement will not end the protest, the mayor conceded. “I’m under no illusions. This is not going to solve 100 per cent of the problem.” But, he said, it might take “at least some of the pressure off how we deal with the rest of the issue in the days ahead.”

The agreement, Mr. Watson said, was brokered by a third party, familiar to both sides, who had signalled to the mayor’s office that the protesters might be open to a negotiation. The presence of the trucks has been particular hard on Centretown residents, who have been subjected to long spells of loud honking and the smell of diesel fuel.

In his letter to the protesters, dated Saturday, Mr. Watson said he would meet with them to discuss their concerns if he had “clear evidence” of the 400 trucks moving by Monday noon.

“Our residents are exhausted and on edge, and our small businesses impacted by your blockades are teetering on the brink of permanent closure,” he wrote.

A response signed by Tamara Lich, who has identified herself as an organizer of the protest and launched the now-defunct GoFundMe fundraising campaign, said the protesters would start “repositioning their trucks on Monday.” She said she would work to get buy-in from them.

However, a message posted to her Twitter account late Sunday said there was no deal, which she described as a lie by the media. She did not immediately respond to a message seeking more details.

Moving the trucks may not fully alleviate the concerns of many residents, who have complained of verbal and even physical confrontations with protesters for wearing masks.

Ottawa’s police force has been criticized for its failure to crack down on the protesters camped out in the downtown core, who have lit bonfires on streets, and, for the first 10 days of the protest especially, were circling through neighbourhoods in their trucks, honking their horns for long hours of the day and evening.

Despite a court injunction granted last week that banned honking, drivers continued to sound off their horns well into the evening Saturday and throughout Sunday afternoon. On Wellington, where tractor-trailers are already wedged in together, the protest continued this weekend, with speeches and music, a bouncy house and pickup hockey – even a hot tub.

On CTV’s Question Period Sunday, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair criticized the lack of police response in Ottawa and said the federal government had discussed invoking emergency powers to address the protests.

But Mayor Watson defended the police service, saying it was “a question of resources” and not having enough officer backup.

As of Saturday morning, according to a statement, Ottawa Police said they had made 26 arrests related to criminal charges, and issued more than 2,600 tickets. In the statement, the police service said it has a plan to “end this unlawful occupation” and is awaiting reinforcements.

Residents, meanwhile, had taken matters into their own hands on Sunday, staging a counter-protest about five kilometres from Parliament Hill to block a convoy of trucks trying to get downtown.

Megan Davis, a Centretown resident who spent hours in the cold blocking the convoy, said abusive comments targeted at people wearing masks had made her feel unsafe walking in her own neighbourhood. “We need to send a message that we not going to tolerate this anymore,” she said.

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