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Officials in Ottawa aim to end the rowdy protests that have paralyzed the city

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

How to put an end to the raucous demonstrations in downtown Ottawa, Canada? That was the question before a special meeting of the Ottawa City Council yesterday. For more than 11 days, a convoy of trucks and hundreds of protesters have sown chaos in Canada's capital city, blaring horns, blocking streets and disrupting businesses. They're protesting vaccine mandates and other pandemic rules. Ottawa City Councilor Matthew Luloff was at the meeting yesterday, and he joins us now. Good morning.

MATTHEW LULOFF: Good morning.

FADEL: So could you paint a picture of what's going on in your downtown right now?

LULOFF: Certainly. So this began, I suppose, two Fridays ago. It was ostensibly a protest against the curtailing of civil liberties to fight this pandemic. It is a - it was a large trucker convoy that began in British Columbia, on the other side of the country, made its way through the prairies and then to the nation's capital. Along the way, it picked up quite a few people with different grievances with the government. And what began as, you know, this demonstration has morphed into something much uglier and much more difficult to manage than any regular protest that we may have seen in the nation's capital.

FADEL: Now, I understand you went down there yesterday morning. What did you hear from demonstrators?

LULOFF: So I went down relatively early in the morning, you know, 10 o'clock, and we stuck around for about an hour and a half. You know, we spoke with a couple of people. Most of them - or the ones that we spoke to, anyway - are looking for the government to step down. They want to speak with the prime minister, and they want the prime minister to leave his post. We just had an election in the fall. So it's discouraging when people don't, you know, have their voices heard during the democratic process. And then, you know, what we're seeing in our downtown core right now is fundamentally undemocratic and very disruptive to the people that live there.

FADEL: Let's talk about that. You described it morphing into something much more ugly. When you say ugly, describe that to me.

LULOFF: Certainly. So some of the most well-known radicals in this country have now descended upon the capital. Some of them are calling for violence. Some of them are threatening individual politicians. There have been, you know, threats against life and limb. And it's incredibly discouraging. We've seen some hate symbols. We've seen flyers distributed that are acutely anti-Semitic. Now, at the same time, there are people within this group that are demonstrating downtown with legitimate concerns, but you don't have a productive conversation at the business end of a gun or the grill of a semitruck. You know, when you're upset about something and you want to have your voice heard, you don't, you know, pull your vehicle up onto someone's lawn and blare your horn 24 hours a day. So it's been a very difficult 11 days, especially for the residents of our upper downtown core and center town.

FADEL: Among some of the demands by the protesters is that the vaccine mandates end nationwide. Will the prime minister give in to these demands?

LULOFF: I don't believe so. So there are two sets of mandates that are occurring here. One of those is for the general public. And there are no vaccine mandates, how - you know, for the province of Ontario, except in health care and other critical sectors. The prime minister has aligned our vaccination policy with the United States so that cross-border truckers are required to be vaccinated. The United States is our largest trading partner, and it is important that on policy matters like this that we are aligned to ensure the proper flow of goods. And so, essentially, it's the municipality that is paying for the grievances that these truckers and other miscreants, frankly, have with the federal government.

FADEL: The protests have gone on a long time. Why? I know that a state of emergency was declared by the Ottawa mayor. How come it's gone on so long?

LULOFF: These large big-rigs are embedded in our downtown core and very difficult to move at this time. So it's quite a situation.

FADEL: That was Ottawa City Councilor Matthew Luloff. He joined us by Skype. Thank you so much for joining us.

LULOFF: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 7, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous web introduction to this report misspelled Matthew Luloff's first name as Mathew.
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