Vimy MP calls for Ottawa’s Wellington St. to be closed permanently, following ‘Freedom Convoy’ crisis
During an anticipated Parliamentary investigation into the “Freedom Convoy” which occupied Parliament Hill for more than three weeks, Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis says she will be recommending that Ottawa’s Wellington Street be closed off permanently in front of the Parliament buildings to reinforce the safety of the country’s government and MPs.
“I would like to see Wellington shut down to the public, to be honest with you,” Koutrakis said in an interview with The Laval News earlier this week, as a consortium of police forces from several provinces were removing the last of the protesters and their trucks from a grid of streets occupied in central Ottawa by the Freedom Convoy since late January.
“Whether that becomes a pedestrian walk, whether that means there’s going to be checkpoints from a certain spot – I was thinking maybe from Elgin Street all the way down to Bank Street – we need to secure that area,” she said.
“Could you imagine this happening on Pennsylvania Avenue around the Capitol in Washington D.C.?” added Koutrakis, alluding to the events there on January 6 last year when Trump supporters stormed the seat of elected government in the U.S.
MPs needed protection
Although Koutrakis herself was working from home in Montreal during the time the siege of Ottawa’s downtown area was underway, she said many other parliamentarians who were in the nation’s capital over the past few weeks had to be escorted by special security through the chaos along Wellington St. in order to be able to take their seats in the House of Commons.
Koutrakis said MPs who planned to enter the Parliament buildings were advised to not wear their identifying parliamentary member’s lapel pin. She said they were also told not to wear protective face masks while passing through the crowds, since protesters were reported to have threatened people with face masks on. She said she respects the rights to free speech and to demonstrate publicly, but added that she is not happy about illegal aspects of the occupation.
“This turned out to be something very different,” she said. “There will be an investigation. And I am confident that once the investigation is over, we as Canadians are going to be very surprised and disappointed to see what factions were at play. I’m disappointed to see how, as Canadians, we could be so divided. I’m disappointed to see that people think that we have conquered Covid.
“Covid is still here. Yes, we have more tools now to deal with it, but we don’t resolve issues by, you know, going to Ottawa and disrupting people’s lives and saying that a democratically-elected government five months ago should step down and that the governor-general and three leaders of the convoy should step in. That’s not our democracy. That’s not the Canada that I know.”
Plan to take over capital
Regarding the emerging evidence that at least three of the Freedom Convoy’s senior organizers were former law enforcement officers and military intelligence veterans (including an ex-RCMP officer who was assigned to the Prime Minister’s bodyguard detail), Koutrakis said, “One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that this involved some very well thought-out, highly-organized planning to take over our capital. It’s very disturbing to find out.”
Concerning the Ottawa Police Service’s failure to deal effectively with the crisis even though this was its mandate, she said, “There’s no question that the Ottawa Police unfortunately were not prepared. I don’t know if they didn’t have the proper intelligence. And if they didn’t have the proper intelligence, it begs the question why nothing was done. Why were they not better prepared to shut it down?”
She suggested that if a need is seen for a new agency, on a more permanent basis, to make sure the Parliament Hill area is safe from serious threats, then the federal government should look into forming a new security unit with that specific mandate. “I don’t know how much if that is federal jurisdiction,” said Koutrakis.
“I would imagine, because of jurisdiction, it would be mostly the city which is a creation of the province. But one has to wonder: Where was the province, where was the city? There was a huge failure, a huge breakdown and I think that we need to really dig down deep to find out what happened.”