Canada Braced for Third Weekend of Freedom Convoy as Police Warn Protesters

The Canadian capital of Ottawa is bracing for a third straight weekend of protests against a vaccine mandate by truckers in the so-called Freedom Convoy as a state of emergency takes effect in the city.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly promised "more boots on the ground" in remarks and Friday and urged protesters not to come to Ottawa but he did not share details about potential police deployments.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the Canadian province on Friday and both he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned of "consequences" for protesters.

Sloly told reporters on Friday that intelligence suggested that the protest this weekend could be as large as last week, which saw around 5,000 protesters and 1,000 trucks in the city.

"Our message to you is do not come," Sloly said to potential protesters.

"And if you do commit unlawful acts, there will be consequences," he said.

The police chief added: "These unlawful demonstrators are executing a very complex, very fluid, very sophisticated operation."

Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell also urged potential demonstrators not to come to city and warned of consequences for any illegal activity.

"Don't come. You're not welcome here," Bell said. "There will be consequences for any illegal activity. Our residents are frustrated and angry, they're fed up with the unlawful occupation and are demanding action. Unlawful activity—from spitting on the sidewalk to hate crimes—will be strictly enforced."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson spoke to CNN on Friday night and suggested that demonstrators had turned the protest area into a "dump" that would need to be cleaned out.

"Clearly they're not making any progress. They're just annoying people," Watson said.

When he was asked about forcibly removing the protesters, Watson said that option was "on the table" but it was "what we don't want to do."

"But the bottom line—we would like to see a de-escalation and a civil way of leaving, a safe way of leaving the site because we have to go in and clean up," the mayor said.

"It's turned into a bit of a dump where they've got porta potties and bonfires and barbecues and everything else," he said.

Watson added: "You know what, you've made your point, it's time to move on."

The mayor declared a state of emergency in the city on February 6. On Friday, Ontario Premier Ford warned that consequences would be "severe" and could include fines of up to 100,000 Canadian dollars (around $78,500), up to a year in prison and losing their drivers' licenses.

A court on Friday issued an injunction against protesters blocking the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan—a key international crossing—and ordered them to vacate the bridge by 7 p.m. local time. However, demonstrators have remained at the bridge.

Other Canadian cities such as Toronto and Edmonton were also preparing for potential protests on Saturday.

The protests began in January in opposition to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers. The demonstrations have disrupted international trade between Canada and the U.S., while effectively shutting down the center of the Canadian capital.

Protesters Gather in Downtown Ottawa
Hundreds of truck drivers and their supporters gather to block the streets of downtown Ottawa as part of a convoy of truck protesters against Covid vaccine mandates in Canada on February 11, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario. Police have urged potential protesters not to come to the city on Saturday. Spencer Platt/Getty Images