Traffic disruptions in Ottawa's downtown core are expected to peak Saturday, with the main demonstration of the truck convoy and thousands of additional protesters having arrived in full force on Parliament Hill.
Originally planned against vaccine mandates in the trucking industry, the protest has attracted international attention and grown to become a wider demonstration against the federal government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Streets in downtown Ottawa have been clogged with hundreds of vehicles, many of them transport trucks, and thousands of pedestrians who are congregating on Parliament Hill.
At around 8 p.m. Saturday, the Ottawa Police Service said crowds were beginning to disperse, but gridlock remained. There had been no incidents of violence or injuries reported, the force said.
Ottawa police have said throughout their preparations for the protest they wouldn't know how the exact number of vehicles expected until they arrived, but Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson said the number is likely to be in the thousands.
"The numbers change, the numbers swell in a province and they shrink while they cross the provincial border. They swell as they go through cities, particularly large regions, and they drop off," said Chief Peter Sloly in a media briefing Friday.
Because of that "accordion effect," Sloly said police can't predict numbers until they're all in the city — and they're coming from all directions.
A large part of the convoy departed from an overnight stop in Arnprior, Ont., around 11 a.m. and arrived downtown Ottawa around noon, according to Ontario Provincial Police.
Police are also expecting around 5,000 pedestrians from Gatineau, Que. to make their way to Parliament Hill today.
Some bridges closed Saturday evening
Plans are in place for traffic disruption and parking, police said, as they have been in constant communication with the captains of the convoys.
Residents should expect downtown gridlock to cause disturbances across the city.
"The stated goal of demonstrators is to disrupt traffic, to bring attention to their cause," Ferguson said.
Protesters have been directed to use the Pinecrest Road entrance to the Highway 417, the Kent exit, and the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway, police say.
Ferguson said police will reduce the number of available lanes on certain streets, many in the downtown core.
In a Saturday afternoon press release, police said they were working to keep lanes for emergency vehicles open. Any vehicles parked on 400-series highways and on/off ramps will be towed, the force said, while people walking on highways and overpasses will be removed.
Ottawa police said Saturday evening that the interprovincial Portage and Alexandra bridges had been closed, the Macdonald-Cartier has lane reductions, and the Chaudière is accessible to health-care or essential workers only.
The Champlain Bridge remains open, the force said.
The City of Ottawa has an interactive traffic map where residents can check on lane and road closures here. Police have said pedestrians and cyclists may also be rerouted for safety reasons.
Traffic issues are expected to stretch into Sunday, police said.
Several businesses in the vicinity have also made the decision to shut for the weekend, while the Rideau Centre decided to close its doors early Saturday afternoon.
The fifth anniversary memorial vigil for victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, originally scheduled to take place in person in downtown Ottawa Sunday evening, has been moved online.
The organizer, Canadians United Against Hate, said it is concerned about safety downtown and will host the vigil over Zoom instead.
WATCH | Ottawa police warn people to avoid downtown core this weekend
Snow removal paused, bus routes shifted
The City of Ottawa has paused all snow removal and asks residents not to request routine snow removal. It says it intends to restart removal as soon as it makes sense to do so.
Waste collection services should not be interrupted, the city said.
OC Transpo said Saturday afternoon that bus service could not no longer make its way downtown and routes were being rerouted to the LRT.
Service disruptions can be found here.
Ottawa Public Health has also closed its vaccine clinic at the University of Ottawa this weekend due to the disruptions.
Residents should also expect to see more police and emergency crews this weekend.
Although the main demonstration is planned for Saturday, police aren't certain how long protesters will linger.
"We will certainly be extremely concerned should there still be a large set of demonstrations happening in the city of Ottawa, in the downtown core, as we resume a normal workweek," said Kim Ayotte, the general manager of emergency and protective services.
Police continue to ask residents to avoid the downtown core unless it's necessary.