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Ontario declares state of emergency over trucker protests, calling the demonstrations an 'illegal occupation'

Jake Epstein,Grace Kay   

Ontario declares state of emergency over trucker protests, calling the demonstrations an 'illegal occupation'
  • Canada's Ontario province declared a state of emergency on Friday, following two weeks of trucker protests.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the Freedom Convoy protests that have spread to Ottawa, Windsor, and Sarnia an "illegal occupation."

Ontario declared a widespread state of emergency amid ongoing trucker protests on Friday.

Doug Ford, Ontario's premier, called the demonstrations against cross-border vaccine mandates an "illegal occupation."

"This is no longer a protest," Ford said at a press conference on Friday. "With a protest, you peacefully make your point and you go back home."

Ford said he will "use legal authorities to urgently enact orders," promising fines and jail time for non-compliance. To date, Ottawa police say they have made about 25 arrests and launched 60 criminal investigations into incidents, including "the desecration of the National War Memorial" as well as the appearance of Nazi and Confederate flags.

Canada can't "have people occupying cities, holding them hostage," Ford said, and urged demonstrators to go home.

Protestors — who call themselves the "Freedom Convoy" — have clogged city streets in Ottawa for over two weeks and recently blocked a vital bridge between Detroit and Canada, snarling international trade. Since, the protests have spread throughout the province into Windsor and Sarnia.

Earlier in the week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency. Watson said during a radio interview on Sunday that "the situation at this point is completely out of control" as hundreds of trucks and thousands of protesters filled the capital streets. Watson said the protesters greatly outnumber Ottawa police officers — many of whom have been working 18-hour shifts and haven't had a day off since the protests started.

On Thursday, an Ontario court froze funding for the Freedom Convoy by freezing $8.4 million in funds the group had raised on the Christian crowd-sourcing site GiveSendGo. The convoy had previously raised more than $10 million on GoFundMe until the platform shut the page down and refunded the money last week.

Since the protest began, the city of Ottawa has faced several difficulties as the gridlock led some local businesses to close over safety concerns. In a tweet on Thursday, Ottawa police said they were experiencing "a concerted effort" to flood 911 and the non-emergency policing reporting line. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said many of the calls came from US numbers.

A city planning livestream was also momentarily hacked on Thursday when a message flashed on the screen that said "OTTAWA POLICE HAS FAILED ITS CITIZENS, Jim Watson has failed us, Sloly has failed us, Trudeau has failed us."

The Freedom Convoy has garnered support from many right-wing political figures in the US, including former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Ben Shapiro.

"We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way," Trump said last week, during a rally in Texas. He criticized US President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for truckers and added that the Canadian protestors were "doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far."

US and Canadian public officials have warned that the protest could cause significant economic harm. General Motors, Toyota, and Ford said on Thursday that they have been forced to halt production at some North American plants due to shortages of Canadian-made parts.

Canada's vaccine mandate for truckers went into effect on January 15. The new rules require US truckers to present proof of vaccination to cross the border and unvaccinated Canadian truckers to get a COVID-19 test and quarantine when they reenter from the US. The US imposed a similar mandate on January 22.