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Canadian officials weigh how they can respond to the truck protests

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been a weekend of huge disruptive demonstrations across Canada as protesters demanding an end to COVID-19 public health mandates used large vehicles to block streets in several cities. In the Canadian capital of Ottawa, vehicles have occupied downtown for more than a week. Reporter Emma Jacobs has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORNS BLARING)

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: This was the sound in downtown Ottawa Saturday evening, the ninth day residents who live in the center of the Canadian capital have lived with a constant barrage of horns, truck engines and nightly fireworks. Into the early hours, demonstrators blared music, drank and fed bonfires in downtown streets. Mayor Jim Watson spoke with CFRA local radio this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM WATSON: Well, the situation at this point is completely out of control because the individuals with the protest are calling the shots. They have far more people than we have police officers.

JACOBS: Hundreds of members of a convoy of large trucks and other vehicles that arrived last weekend have remained encamped around the heart of the city and national government and have appeared increasingly dug in, putting up tents, wooden structures, even bouncy castles. Convoy supporters have also been storing and freely carrying large numbers of cans of fuel for vehicles and propane tanks for their barbecue grills around residential streets and city and federal buildings. Police Chief Peter Sloly has repeatedly noted the protests is unlike any other to take place in the Canadian capital. He spoke to an emergency meeting of the Police Services Board over the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER SLOLY: This is a siege. It is something that is different in our democracy than I've ever experienced in my life.

JACOBS: Based on Ottawa's experience, other cities seemed more prepared for convoys of small and large vehicles that converged in cities across Canada this weekend, including Vancouver, Quebec City and in Toronto, where tractors occupied a major roadway and police said protesters in vehicles impeded ambulances trying to reach downtown hospitals.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Freedom.

JACOBS: Polling shows Canadians as a whole becoming more supportive of lifting some public health measures, which generally have been stricter across Canada than much of the United States. But that doesn't equal support for protesters' methods or some of the other far-right causes of the organizers in Ottawa. Many residents and employees of Ottawa businesses have reported harassment and vandalism by convoy supporters. Paul Champ, an Ottawa human rights lawyer who filed a class-action lawsuit Friday on behalf of downtown residents, said in an online forum over the weekend he initially felt conflicted about taking legal action against demonstrators.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL CHAMP: I know that they're very angry and they feel like, you know, the state is imposing on them and all that. And, you know, they're entitled to their opinion, and I can be sympathetic to that. But they're harming other people.

JACOBS: He said he hopes an injunction could push police to take more forceful action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by reporters Thursday about the possibility of deploying the military in addition to members of the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Trudeau currently has COVID and spoke virtually.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military in situations engaging Canadians. It is not something that anyone should enter into lightly. But as of now, there have been no requests, and that is not in the cards right now.

JACOBS: Members of the Conservative Party have been split on the issue, with some posing for photos with demonstrators. Over the weekend, growing numbers of American Republican politicians began voicing support for the convoy after GoFundMe suspended a fundraiser that had raised millions of dollars from Canadian and international donors over violations to its terms of service. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.