Ottawa police vow crackdown on 'dangerous' trucker protest praised by Trump

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OTTAWA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Ottawa police vowed on Friday to crack down on an "increasingly dangerous" protest by hundreds of truckers who have shut down the center of the Canadian capital for eight days to demand an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The well-organized blockade, which police say has relied partly on funding from sympathizers in the United States, is unprecedented by Canadian standards. Hundreds more truckers planned to enter the city this weekend, Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said.

"This remains ... an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration," he told reporters.

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Protesters in the downtown core "remain highly organized, well-funded, extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstration safely," he added.

Some want an end to a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers while others insist Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau be deposed on the grounds he exceeded his authority by imposing restrictions to tackle the pandemic.

GoFundMe took down the Freedom Convoy's donation page on Friday, saying it was in violation of its terms of service.

"We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity," the website said in a statement.

It said donors had until Feb. 19 to request a full refund, then it will "work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe."

In the western province of Alberta, where truckers have been blocking a major border crossing with the United States in a similar protest, premier Jason Kenney said ministers would meet early next week to start lifting restrictions.

"We can, and must, get on with our lives, restore our freedoms, and live with joy, not fear," he wrote on Twitter.

Sloly, who said he and other top officials had received death threats, likened the protest to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in Washington when thousands of supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden's election victory.

Trump said the truckers were "peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates".

To the increasing fury of residents, Ottawa police have so far largely stood by and watched as some protesters smashed windows, threatened reporters and health care workers and abused racial minorities.

Sloly said police would put in place a "surge and contain" strategy, including reinforcements of 150 officers deployed downtown, to restore order.

"The hatred, the violence, the illegal acts that Ottawa residences and businesses have endured over the last week are unacceptable," he said.

Blockades are also planned in Quebec City and Toronto, where authorities closed off access to the city centers.

"We all want to do everything we can to avoid the situation we are seeing in Ottawa," said Toronto mayor John Tory.

The protest is dividing the official opposition Conservative Party, which this week ousted its leader amid complaints he had not sufficiently backed the truckers.

Interim Conservative chief Candice Bergen, in an email leaked to the Globe and Mail, said on Monday "we need to turn this into the PM's problem" and saw no need to ask the truckers to leave.

Bergen issued a statement on Friday asking Trudeau to provide a clear plan to end the blockade and urging the truck drivers to remain peaceful.

The party's public safety spokesman, Pierre Paul-Hus, tweeted on Friday that the blockade needed to end. Fellow legislator Dean Allison then tweeted that Paul-Hus was wrong.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis

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Thomson Reuters

Covers Canadian political, economic and general news as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and a winner of Reuters’ Treasury scoop of the year.