Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he still has no sense of when demonstrations in the nation’s capital will end after nearly two weeks of disruption and as protesters show no signs of leaving.
In downtown Ottawa, there are reminders of how long protesters have been here. In front of Parliament, a makeshift clothesline hangs between two pylons. Signs say “hold the line,” and some people talk of demonstrators leaving and coming back.
Peter Ravensbergen, a flowers and plants farmer, who The Globe and Mail spoke to nearly two weeks ago, said he left his truck with his cousins at the protest to return home for a big time of year in his line of work: Valentine’s Day. He said he knows a lot of protesters who have been in and out of Ottawa, and he plans to return the following weekend.
Benjamin Dichter, one of the convoy organizers, said at a news conference that was shared on social media that truckers are extremely patient and he believes the government is “drastically underestimating” their resolve.
Earlier, Mr. Watson said what takes place at such news conferences is like something out of a “Monty Python sketch,” such as a call for a meeting with the Governor-General. (Mr. Dichter claimed on Wednesday that, apart from top police brass, the rank-and-file officers are “very much in support of us,” and that the police are in a difficult position because they understand “we’re fighting for their freedom.”)
Mr. Watson said: “They’re living in a parallel universe that just does not make any sense. They’re embarrassing themselves. I think they should get on their way; go back to their homes and give back our city to its people.”
Mr. Watson also said he has every confidence that additional officers will be working on weekends, which have been the most difficult times, particularly around Parliament Hill and nearby neighborhoods.
For the past two weekends, thousands of protesters have flooded downtown. Earlier this week, Mr. Watson asked the province and the federal government for an additional 1,800 officers. Ottawa police said on Wednesday that they are giving notice to demonstrators that anyone blocking streets and helping others do so may be committing a criminal offence. The force said they could be arrested without a warrant.
Mr. Watson said federal officials understand that city resources have reached their limit. He said staff are working on timing and numbers for the additional officers.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said police are making progress in the capital city.
“We have started to see a restoration of life that looks somewhat more normal in Ottawa,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
But the streets surrounding Parliament Hill are still lined with big trucks, and major intersections are clogged. Vehicles on Metcalfe Street, near Parliament Hill, mostly cars and pickup trucks with Canada and U.S. flags, have taken up two lanes, leaving one open. Closer to the Hill on the same street, a tent is set up with propane, food and cooking supplies.
Federal ministers said they had some discussions with their counterparts in Ontario on Wednesday, but before then, the province had not participated in the trilateral table the federal government launched on Monday.
“The federal government has always been there,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said. “But we also need the co-operation of all levels of government.”
Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, said the minister has been in regular contact with Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair and Mr. Mendicino, and “has indicated that our focus is on ensuring Ottawa has the operational resources they need to keep their community safe.”
Mr. Warner said all three levels of government have been working together, and Ms. Jones spoke with Mr. Watson on Wednesday.
In addition to disruptions in Ottawa’s downtown core, protesters have set up at other locations such as federal land south of Carleton University and at a baseball stadium in the city’s east end.
Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos said it has been a challenge to get vehicles into locations where they would cause less disruption and to prevent drivers from parking “wherever they want.”
He said, for example, trucks have parked at one of the major intersections of the city, Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, even though police tried to direct them elsewhere.
“The trucks are here,” he said. “They are not leaving. And they’re choosing to stay. If they’re going to stay, we’re trying to mitigate, as much as possible, the disruption.”
Mr. Kanellakos also said tow-truck companies are reluctant to help clear the vehicles due to concerns they would lose business if they did.
He said the city will need tow trucks at some point, such as if the demonstration is ended by law enforcement. He added that alternatives are being explored, but could not say what.
The Ottawa Police Service and the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) issued a joint statement on Wednesday noting reports of child-welfare concerns at the protest. They said they will work to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth at the demonstration in the downtown core. On Wednesday, few children were outside.
Mr. Dichter was asked about children’s welfare and said a lot of trucks are like second homes for people and many take their family on the road. He also said people in Ottawa and Quebec have offered beds for truckers and their families.
On Wellington Street in front of Parliament, colourful play blocks are stacked for kids. And last week, there were bouncy castles.
With a report from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.