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Canada pushes back against GOP support for COVID protests

People gather against COVID-19 mandates in Canada
People gather in protest against COVID-19 mandates Saturday in Ottawa.
(Jason Franson / Associated Press)
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Canada’s public safety minister said Monday that U.S. officials should stay out of his country’s domestic affairs, joining other Canadian leaders in pushing back against prominent Republicans who have offered support for protests of COVID-19 restrictions that have besieged downtown Ottawa for more than a week.

A day after the city declared a state of emergency, the mayor pleaded for almost 2,000 extra police officers to help quell the raucous nightly demonstrations staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy, which has used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze the Canadian capital’s business district. The protests have infuriated people who live around downtown, including neighborhoods near Parliament Hill, the seat of the federal government.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly called the demonstration an “unprecedented protest never seen in Canada” and acknowledged that authorities failed to plan for it to last more than three days.

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Many members of the GOP have made comments supporting the demonstrations, including former President Trump, who called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “far-left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.”

Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccination mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Trudeau’s government — though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

Prominent Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton complained after the crowdfunding site GoFundMe said it would refund most of the millions of dollars raised by demonstrators. The site said it cut off funding for protest organizers after determining that their efforts violated the site’s terms of service by engaging in unlawful activity.

In response, Paxton tweeted: “Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers’ worthy cause.” And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said on Fox News that “government doesn’t have the right to force you to comply to their arbitrary mandates.”

Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino shot back: “It is certainly not the concern of the Texas attorney general as to how we in Canada go about our daily lives in accordance with the rule of law.

“We need to be vigilant about potential foreign interference. ... Whatever statements may have been made by some foreign official are neither here nor there. We’re Canadian. We have our own set of laws. We will follow them,” Mendicino said.

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Dominic LeBlanc, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, blamed GOP interference for inciting disorderly conduct and helping to fund entities that are not respecting Canadian law. Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Paxton was wrong for commenting on it.

Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said groups in the U.S. need to stop funding and interfering in the domestic affairs of America’s neighbor.

In a letter to Trudeau and the public safety minister, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said that “what was initially described as a peaceful protest has now turned into a siege of our downtown area,” with 400 to 500 trucks. Watson asked for 1,800 additional police officers; this would nearly double the size of the Ottawa Police Service, which has 2,100 police and civilian members.

On the street in front of Parliament Hill were thousands of signs with messages such as “No more mandates,” “Freedom of choice,” “Truck you Trudeau” and “The pandemic destroyed our freedoms.”

Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe,” but he faces calls by the opposition Conservative party to extend an “olive branch” to them. Some Conservative lawmakers, including one running to lead the party, have met and posted for pictures with the protesters.

Police moved to cut off the protesters’ fuel supply late Sunday.

“We are turning up the heat in every way we can possibly can,” Sloly said.

LeBlanc said the prime minister has been clear that it is the civilian police force’s responsibility to deal with the protesters. Trudeau last week ruled out sending in the army.

Meanwhile, Ottawa police were investigating a fire at an apartment building that was apparently set by protesters. Matias Muñoz, who lives in the building south of Parliament Hill, said residents were already at their wits’ end Saturday as the noise of the protest blared through their homes for the ninth night in a row.

When he came downstairs Sunday morning, Muñoz said, the carpet and floor were charred, and there were blackened fire-starter bricks strewn across the lobby.

Surveillance video showed two men lighting a package of the bricks in the lobby and taping or tying the front door handles together before leaving through a side door before dawn. The video showed a different man entering the building a short while later and putting the fire out, Muñoz said.

“Somebody trying to do something as insidious as taping the door shut so people can’t leave if there’s a fire in the main lobby — it’s terror, is what it is,” Muñoz said.

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Ottawa police declined to release details, citing the ongoing investigation.

In other developments, Ontario Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean granted a 10-day injunction to prevent truckers parked on streets in downtown Ottawa from honking their horns.

Gillies reported from Toronto.

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