Toronto police barricaded off a large chunk of the downtown yesterday to stop people angry about pandemic restrictions from protesting too close to a cluster of major hospitals.
The demonstration planned for this weekend is an offshoot of the trucker convoy protest that has settled in central Ottawa and disrupted life and commerce in the capital for the past week.
“We will make every attempt to facilitate peaceful assembly, but at the same time we want to make sure that we protect the public, we protect our emergency services, we protect our hospitals,” Toronto police Chief James Ramer told a Friday afternoon briefing.
“It’s very much a fluid and very dynamic situation, and what I will say to you is that it requires us to be nimble and agile and we have to adapt … and we will try our very best to address public safety and have minimal disruption to the entire city.”
Police were planning to beef up the officer presence in Toronto, but declined to be specific about the total. They have also installed additional closed-circuit cameras in the protest area and are instructing officers to keep their body cameras on.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who on Friday slammed the Ottawa protest as “an occupation,” said he has offered the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa assurances that the provincial government will provide any additional resources that are needed.
“Any harassment, or acts of hatred, or acts of violence, we will have zero tolerance, absolutely zero tolerance,” he said after a virtual meeting of the country’s premiers.
In a statement, Toronto’s three downtown councillors said that police will remove any hate symbols displayed at the protest.
Online posts are encouraging people to gather Saturday at a number of locations in suburban Toronto. The different groups are expected to then converge on Queen’s Park. The police force plans to encourage demonstrators to leave their vehicles away from the area and protest on foot, Chief Ramer said.
Preparations against vehicle intrusion were well under way Friday. Buses and other vehicles were being used to block roads, and large planters limiting vehicular access were installed on the grounds of Queen’s Park. The sergeant-at-arms for the legislature warned those working there Saturday against parking on-site.
“We cannot guarantee your ability to leave,” read part of her memo. “Walking in to the site is most likely to guarantee your access.”
Immediately to the south and south-east of Queen’s Park are a number of hospitals that the police barricades are intended to protect. In anticipation of possible harassment, some health care workers were encouraged by their hospitals not to wear clothing that would identify their profession.
“It’s a really deeply, deeply alarming sign about the aggression that’s emerging in our society,” said Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association.
Although police intend to stop the protestors from setting up right outside the hospitals, there remain concerns about the impact they could have. Residents in Ottawa have complained that the demonstration there has been marked by incessant air-horn honking, a sound that can easily carry for blocks.
“If you’re in hospital … you need to be focusing on rest and recovery, and the prospect of an ongoing cacophony of car and truck horns is obviously not only not in keeping with that, but it will make it impossible for those patients to get the kind of quality of care that they should,” Mr. Dale said.
Also potentially affected by the protest are numerous restaurants and stores in the area, from chain outlets to mom-and-pop operations.
“Small firms have been through enough, and I’m just hoping that those that are protesting, and they have every right to do so, that they find a pathway to do that without causing further damage to one of the groups that they say that they want to help,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“We’re not at all certain whether or not there’s going to be anything on the size and scale of what we’ve seen in Ottawa, but we have been hearing from a lot of Ottawa small firms that it is brutal right now.”
With reports from Justine Hunter and Jeff Gray
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