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Canada ‘Freedom Convoy’: Ottawa police set up hate crime hotline despite admitting protests remain peaceful

Ottawa, Canada, police is launching a “hate crime” hotline Tuesday despite its chief admitting that the first four days of anti-vaccine-mandate protests ushered into the capital by a “Freedom Convoy” of truckers have remained largely peaceful and have resulted in no riots, injuries or deaths. 

At a virtual press conference Monday evening, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly lamented the “massive traffic chaos and gridlock” that have persisted since Friday when tens of thousands of people flooded into the downtown corridor to protest the latest requirement for truckers returning to Canada from the U.S. to show proof of vaccination, as well as other grievances over coronavirus-related restrictions. 

“This is a demonstration unique in nature, massive in scale, polarizing in context, dangerous in literally every aspect of the event itself,” Sloly said. “This started on the west coast of Canada and spread across the country. It has been fluid, ever-changing and increasingly more difficult to manage.” 

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In thanking law enforcement for operating as thousands of vehicles clogged highways and bridges outside the city, the chief stressed that there have been no riots or injuries linked to the demonstrations. Sloly said emergency services were delayed amid the large crowds but reports of denial of service were not true. 

“They have been an incredible group of individuals who’ve kept this city safe during a situation that could have become riotous, it could have led to significant and severe injuries, and it could have led to the loss of life,” Sloly said. “None of that has occurred over the last four days.”

The chief warned that though negotiations with leaders of the protests continue, enforcement also remained “on the table” until crowds leave Ottawa. Sloly said several criminal investigations are ongoing for bribery, threats, assaults and dangerous operation of vehicles. 

He also warned that drivers participating in the protests with license plates from other provinces could still be tracked down and prosecuted once leaving the capital. 

“Within the next 24 hours we are going to be creating a hotline for hate incidents – hate crimes, any offenses directly related to the demonstrations, including criminal offenses, threats, assaults, hate-related crimes, mischiefs, anything that any member of the community, any visitor, any demonstrator has faced in terms of criminal activity,” he said, “A hotline will be established to receive those reports. There will be an immediate investigation until we have resolved it by way of charge and prosecution.” 

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Sloly added: “We have continued our working relationship with the Crown’s Office, we have the intelligence officers and the investigative officers and multijurisdictional support from British Columbia to St. John’s to Nunavut to GTA to make sure no matter where you live, no matter where your vehicle is registered, if you have come here and committed a crime, if you have committed a hate crime, you will be investigated. We will look for you, we will charge you, if necessary, we will arrest you. And we will pursue prosecutions against you.”

Photos of crowds seen in Ottawa showed people carrying mostly Canadian flags. But Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said there have also been instances of people displaying swastikas or Confederate flags. 

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“We’ve witnessed the desecration of cherished monuments, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Terry Fox Statue, displays of hate symbols, like the Confederate flag and the swastika, and all types of bad behavior that have taken away the freedom of our residents to live without fear,” Watson said. “Many residents have not slept for days due to the noise and disruptions. Many have been shut in by the crowds – a lockdown imposed by the protest itself.”

“The protests have been incredibly disruptive and continue to impact the safety and well-being of our residents,” the mayor said. “People have had the opportunity to voice their frustration against government policy, but, as the old saying goes, they’ve worn out their welcome.” 

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