With truck convoy set to arrive Saturday, Toronto scrambles to prepare for ‘disruption’

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Police and city officials mobilized Friday to prepare for the arrival of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” by shutting streets near Queen’s Park and across from Toronto’s hospital row in a move to prevent a repeat of the “occupation” that continues to seize downtown Ottawa with protesters and heavy trucks.

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This article was published 04/02/2022 (188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Police and city officials mobilized Friday to prepare for the arrival of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” by shutting streets near Queen’s Park and across from Toronto’s hospital row in a move to prevent a repeat of the “occupation” that continues to seize downtown Ottawa with protesters and heavy trucks.

While road closures may be disruptive, they are necessary, Toronto Mayor John Tory said at a Friday news conference describing the city’s plans. “All of these measures are focused on public safety,” he said.

“Vehicles will not be congregated around Queen’s Park,” police Chief James Ramer added.

Rick Madonik - Toronto Star TPS vehicles close of University Avenue just south of College Street in advance of the protest planned for tomorrow by anti-mandate citizens.

Toronto police could be seen closing University Avenue to regular traffic and protesters Friday afternoon, deploying buses and police cruisers to block access to both the Ontario legislature and several downtown hospitals through the weekend.

Hospital row, on University Avenue just south of Queen’s Park, includes Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto General and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre — facilities that are already under extreme strain due to the pandemic.

On Friday, a group of hospital workers announced they would hold a counterprotest to the truck convoy, describing themselves as “concerned doctors, nurses and other health care workers” who want to ensure protesters do not interfere with anyone trying to receive health care.

One day earlier, health workers had been warned against wearing hospital apparel on their way to work to avoid being targeted this weekend.

In Ottawa, the truck convoy protests have forced downtown businesses to close for days on end while the honking of heavy trucks, reports of harassment, and protesters’ display of racist symbols have left many residents feeling exhausted and concerned.

Ramer said police are looking to limit “disruption” as much as possible this weekend, saying protesters will be met by a large police presence in the downtown core. All officers have been directed to turn on their body cameras and additional CCTV cameras have been installed, he said.

While he did not speak to specific strategies, he said police are going to strongly encourage protesters to leave their vehicles where they will cause “limited disruption,” he said.

According to online flyers, protesters are planning to assemble at several locations across the GTA Saturday morning before making their way toward the legislature by midday.

By Friday afternoon, Toronto residents were already reporting loud processions of heavy trucks and tractors in the city.

Niko Stratis, 39, was taking her dog for a walk when she said she saw roughly a dozen tractors, snowplows and trucks turning from Dufferin Street onto Bloor Street. “They were all flying Canadian flags and honking incessantly,” Stratis said.

“I was angry,” said Todd Gordon, who saw the procession while walking on Montrose Avenue toward Bloor Street around 2:30 p.m.

Gordon, who teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University, said he planned to attend the counterprotest Saturday. It’s important that “those people who oppose creeping racism and white supremacy take a stand,” he said.

It’s been difficult for health care workers to watch what’s happening in Ottawa, said Dr. Meb Rashid, a faculty member in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto and an organizer of the counterrally.

He said he is concerned about the threat of violence toward health care staff, and about blocking patient access to important care. “What we’ve seen in Ottawa won’t work here. You can’t just be honking your horn, you can’t impede traffic or movement, you can’t stay for days,” he said.

“As health care workers, this is not something we want to see in our city.”

The health care group invites “all concerned Torontonians” to join them at King’s College Circle at the Medical Sciences Building at noon Saturday.

Businesses, including restaurants near hospital row, told the Star they are concerned about how the protest and the road closures will impact them.

“We depend on weekend diners, especially in downtown Toronto,” said Marco Franco, general manager of Adega Restaurante at Bay and Elm streets. “I’m not sure if the movement will affect us in any way, I truly hope not.”

If the protest is going to occur, Franco said it’s better it happens this weekend than next, which would risk disrupting Valentine’s Day dining.

Police in Ottawa are facing mounting criticism over their handling of what some are now calling an “occupation.”

Meanwhile, protest organizers have said they will not leave until the federal government repeals COVID-19 vaccine mandates that were put into place to mitigate the spread of the virus that can lead to hospitalization. The city is bracing for more protesters, expected to arrive this weekend.

At his Friday news conference, Tory emphasized that anyone who is not planning to protest peacefully should “stay home.”

According to police, University Avenue will remain closed from College Street to Queen Street. College Street will also be closed from University Avenue to Yonge Street, with the closures set to remain in place over the weekend.

Hospital staff, patients, family and those picking up patients will continue to have access.

Toronto police are asking the public to avoid the demonstration area as it may cause more delays.

Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: obowden@thestar.ca

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