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Ottawa protesters employ gas can subterfuge to frustrate police


Ottawa deputy police chief says a quarter of blockaded truckers have children with them

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Ottawa — Water-filled gas cans are being used by “Freedom Convoy” protesters as part of a cat-and mouse game with police.

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The efforts to frustrate police come as federal officials refuse to say when — or if — Ottawa would get the 1,800 extra officers it says it needs to end the demonstration.

With no end in sight for the entrenched protest, Ottawa police announced on Sunday they would be cracking down by arresting anyone giving “material aid” — such as fuel — to the protesters.

But on Tuesday, police revealed that demonstrators were trying to subvert officers by filling jerry cans with water, or just leaving them empty.

“It does provide a layer of logistical complexity to us,” said Steve Bell, Ottawa deputy police chief.

He said the increasing number of gas cans being delivered to protesters presented challenges to conducting stop and searches.

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“It identified a level of sophistication and a level of ability of this group to try and subvert police efforts,” he said.

Bell told reporters that there had also been confrontations with police and there were fears for the health and welfare of children with the truckers.

”While attempting to seize fuel from demonstrators, multiple officers were swarmed by these same demonstrators,” said Bell.

No officers had been seriously injured, but it made it difficult to enforce the rules, he added.

Some of the smaller vehicles in the core have had their wheels removed and some big trucks have been immobilized, Bell said.

Crowds at the protest surge at weekends and tend to be in smaller numbers during the week. Bell said removing the protesters would be difficult, not only because tow operators have been reluctant to tow vehicles, but because children are present in many of the vehicles.

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“Almost 25 per cent of the 418 trucks encamped in our city have children in them, children who could be at risk during a police operation,” he said. “It is an important factor that complicates and makes this an even more challenging operation.”

Temperatures in Ottawa are relatively mild now, but at times during the protest they have been below minus 20C.

Bell said the request for 1,800 officers, which is a number larger than the complete roster of Ottawa Police, was needed to bring the protest to an end.

“We are absolutely committed to ending this and that is why we have made the large ask we have so we can have the presence we need to successfully, expeditiously and judiciously end this occupation.”

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Ottawa is getting a muddy response from federal officials on its request for more officers.

The city’s mayor, Jim Watson, wrote the prime minister and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino on Monday to ask for 1,800 police officers to clear the trucker protest which has clogged downtown streets since Jan. 29.

Watson said the local police force was unable to regain control.

“We must do everything in our power to take back the streets of Ottawa, and our parliamentary precinct, from the criminal activity and hooliganism that has transpired over the last nine days,” read the letter. “We can contain the occupation, but we cannot end it without your support.”

Mendocino said he met with the mayor within hours of receiving the letter requesting support and was considering the request. He highlighted the 275 officers the RCMP had already provided to help clear the convoy.

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“Since the very beginning, the federal government has been there to provide whatever tools, whatever resources that we can to support law enforcement and the OPS. We need to see a fast and peaceful resolution to the convoy,” he said.

He did not respond when asked if the federal government would be able to provide all or part of the 1,800 officers the city requested. The city has also asked the Ontario government for more officers.

“We are working on this day and night. There are good lines of communication across all levels of government and with all levels of law enforcement to bring about the fastest and most peaceful resolution to the conflict,” he said.

The request for more officers comes as there are two other blockades in the country, one at the Coutts border crossing in Alberta and another, which began on Monday at the Ambassador Bridge separating Windsor and Detroit.

People stand next to vehicles blocking the route leading from the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, on February 8, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
People stand next to vehicles blocking the route leading from the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, on February 8, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Mendocino said the government knew how vital that crossing was to the economy and was working with local officials to end the protest.

“The Ambassador Bridge is one of the most important border crossings in the world and it carries with it a significant proportion of all trade between Canada and the United States.”

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