Not ‘intimidated’ by protesters: Trudeau says he will not meet with trucker convoy organizers

‘Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked, and frankly, disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,’ Trudeau said

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OTTAWA – Tensions over the trucker convoy protests continued to rise in Ottawa and spilled into the halls of Parliament Monday, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coming out swinging against rowdy participants while Conservatives accused him of sowing division.

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Speaking from his Harrington Lake cottage Monday for the first time since the beginning of the protests, Trudeau said Canadians were not “intimidated” by members of the trucker protest who “hurl insults and abuse” workers or “steal food from the homeless” over the weekend.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked, and frankly, disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau said, pointing out the fact objects were put on a Terry Fox statue or that some protesters were seen dancing and even urinating on the National War Memorial.

“We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We will not give in to those who fly racist flags. We will not cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans. ”

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He told reporters he had no intention of meeting any protest participants and then took a shot at Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who met with truckers as they drove into Ottawa and later issued a statement condemning those who danced on the National War Memorial.

“I think Erin O’Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he’s walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers,” Trudeau said.

Trucks and other vehicles still clogged parts of downtown Ottawa around Parliament Hill on Monday, marking the third straight day of protests against a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-US border that has since expanded to include all COVID-19 public health measures.

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The protests have sparked significant condemnation due to the presence of racist and Nazi symbols or “threatening”, “illegal” and “intimidating” behavior. A local homeless shelter said its staff and volunteers were harassed or assaulted by protesters looking for meals.

Trudeau has repeatedly said his government will not repeal the trucker vaccine mandate right away (the US also has a similar measure in place).

But Monday, Trudeau also did not shut the door on expanding the vaccine mandate for truckers to include interprovincial travel, simply saying that he did not want to discuss “hypothetical situations” when asked about it by reporters.

“We are bringing concrete measures that will continue to protect Canadians,” Trudeau said. “We’re going to focus on current measures and not hypothetical theories on next steps that may be necessary or may not be,” he said.

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While truck and car horns filled the downtown air, the volume also rose significantly in the House of Commons Monday during the first question period since parliamentarians returned from their Christmas break.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Deputy Leader Candice Bergen took turns admonishing Trudeau for demonizing protesters because of the actions of “a few” that have sparked outrage during the protests.

“All Canadians want to see a leader who will work to heal rifts, not further divide. A leader who will listen even to those voices who might not agree with. A leader who will work to understand, not dismiss, name call and gaslight, ”Bergen said, earning thunderous applause from her caucus colleagues.

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Unlike Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who held press conferences and took reporters’ questions, O’Toole then took to a live video on Facebook to respond to the prime minister and did not speak to journalists.

He criticized Trudeau for “demonizing” those who are “worried” and “stoking” division.

“What would motivate tens of thousands of people to drive to their nation’s capital? Yes, there is anger. But underpinning that is fear. Fear that the world is changing, fear that they will be left behind, fear that they have no voice in this society. Fear that life will never return to normal, ”O’Toole said about this weekend’s protesters.

“Despite the fear of mongering, we only saw a handful of unacceptable incidents this weekend. I unequivocally condemn them.”

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Others were far less understanding that O’Toole vis-à-vis the trucker convoy still clogging downtown Ottawa streets Monday. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he exhorted them to leave, saying they had their 15 minutes and that they had now “worn out their welcome”.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters that officers had discovered “arms and weapons” were “brought into the national capital region.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also told truckers it was time to pack up and leave Ottawa, noting that the impact of their lingering presence on the city’s residents was “absolutely wrong.”

To date, protest organizers have refused the city and police’s requests to leave the city and clear the streets. Speaking to crowds Sunday, they said they would not leave until “all” COVID-19 mandates were abolished.

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In Alberta, a different convoy of over 100 vehicles parked along a Southern Alberta Highway and cutting off both access to the border and a small village ignored RCMP warnings to clear out.

Officers first tried to clear the area on Sunday night but were ignored by protestors, meaning the 250-person village of Coutts remained cut off from the rest of Canada for a third day in a row Monday.

“Protesters have not been receptive to our attempts to bring this back into the realm of a lawful protest and they’re continuing to block the roads,” RCMP Media relations officer Cpl. Curtis Peter said Monday.

-With additional reporting by Jake Edmiston.

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