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Federal ministers blast Ottawa protesters seeking to join opposition 'coalition'

OTTAWA — People might be frustrated with COVID-19 but they don't share the extreme views of the anti-vaccine mandate protesters who have choked the national capital for over a week with large trucks, federal cabinet ministers said Tuesday.

OTTAWA — People might be frustrated with COVID-19 but they don't share the extreme views of the anti-vaccine mandate protesters who have choked the national capital for over a week with large trucks, federal cabinet ministers said Tuesday.

Canadians would be troubled with anyone who associates themselves with "the extreme statements that have been made by the purported leaders of this convoy that would seek to incite the overthrow of the government through violence," Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said.

"Most Canadians understand that there is a difference between being tired and fatigued with the pandemic, and then crossing into some other universe in which you're trying to set up a parallel structure."

Mendicino and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said during a news conference they acknowledge the exasperation of Canadians with the pandemic and its many restrictions. 

But Blair said that broader frustration is not the same as the "threats of violence, the intimidation, the symbols of hatred and intolerance that have been on display, even quite frankly some of the delusional pontifications of people who think that they are perhaps more fit to take over the government."

Tom Marazzo, a self-declared spokesman for the protest against COVID-19 measures clogging Ottawa, said late Monday night he wants to form a "coalition" with the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois.

Marazzo made the comments at a news conference at an Ottawa hotel that was streamed online and widely shared on social media. Marazzo did not explain how an unelected person could sit with elected lawmakers and form a democratic government.

Marazzo said he had "an ample amount of support and a lot of people that seem to want me here, and I'm not going home until the job is done," and that he was not advocating violence. But he added a firearm-related analogy, apparently directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "He's got a 22-calibre mind in a .357 world."

On Tuesday, organizing group Canada Unity issued a statement to withdraw a memo it has pushed that unlawfully demands Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate force federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates.

"Our sole desire with the (memorandum of understanding) was to have a document where Canadians could peacefully express their displeasure with current (COVID-19) mandates, and express their desire to be free. Canada Unity does not support or encourage any acts which tarnish democratic values held by Canadians," said the written statement.

"Canada Unity firmly supports the Constitution and democratic process. We remain committed to following lawful process and upholding freedom of choice," it adds.

The memo was initially sent to the Senate and Simon on Dec. 11 and did not mention truckers, despite the protest ostensibly being about a vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers.

Mendicino also made what appeared to be a thinly veiled warning at some Conservative politicians who have expressed support for the protesters. 

"I sincerely hope that we're all watching very carefully, those within our politics, who are embarking upon that because it is a very troubling path, one that I would discourage all of my colleagues to really … embrace," he said.

"What began as an interruption is now an occupation: flagrant expressions of hate or harassment, and even violence towards the residents of Ottawa."

Federal officials have been talking with City of Ottawa and provincial representatives to find solutions to end the protest that has immobilized downtown Ottawa, shutting businesses and antagonizing residents.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson sent a letter to Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday asking for another 1,800 police officers in addition to his current contingent of 2,100 police and civilian members to "quell the insurrection" in Ottawa.

Stephen Warner, a spokesman for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, said Watson's request for more officers had been shared with the Ontario Provincial Police, which would need to liaise with Ottawa police "to determine how exactly our policing partners can provide support based on available policing resources" and the proposed plan.

“We need to see a fast and peaceful resolution to the convoy, and we will continue to keep open lines of communication, working with the city, working within all levels of government to get that done," Mendicino said.

Demonstrations in the central core are costing Ottawa about $1.8 million to $2.2 million per day for police alone. Watson has said the city is keeping a tally of all extraordinary costs associated with the protest and will seek compensation from higher levels of government when the protest finally ends.

Ottawa city council voted Monday to formally petition the federal government to assume responsibility for public safety in the parliamentary precinct to free up Ottawa officers to return to protect residential neighbourhoods.

An Ontario judge granted a 10-day injunction Monday to prevent protesting truckers from honking their horns incessantly, which residents have argued is causing irreparable harm.

Ottawa police said they had made 23 arrests related to criminal charges and issued more than 1,300 tickets concerning the demonstrations as of late Tuesday afternoon, with 85 criminal investigations underway.

Still, Deputy Chief Steve Bell said demonstrators have been trying to subvert police efforts near Parliament Hill and on surrounding streets.

In some cases demonstrators have filled gas cans with water to distract officers trying to keep fuel away from idling trucks, he said. Officers trying to intercept fuel were swarmed Monday by demonstrators.

The 1,800 requested officers would help harden the perimeter around that zone, he said.

A Liberal MP called broke ranks with his government Tuesday for what he says is its divisive management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joël Lightbound told reporters that federal COVID-19 measures need to be re-evaluated and the public needs a clear road map for when restrictions will be fully lifted. He said that includes vaccination mandates for travellers and civil servants, 

Lightbound said he is worried the Liberal government under Trudeau has set a tone and policies that are divisive and risk undermining public trust. 

Blair, Mendicino and Liberal whip Steven MacKinnon declined to comment directly on Lightbound's remarks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.

— With files from Laura Osman

Mike Blanchfield and Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press