OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will neither meet with nor be intimidated by the convoy of Canadians he says spent the last few days harassing local businesses, waving Nazi flags and stealing food from the homeless.

Speaking to Canadians from isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 Monday, Trudeau said "freedom of expression, assembly and association are cornerstones of democracy."

"But Nazi symbolism, racist imagery, and desecration of war memorials are not," he said. "It is an insult to memory and truth. Hate can never be the answer."

Trudeau and his family were moved to an undisclosed location Saturday as thousands of people converged all over Ottawa, including some near his official residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall.

He said Monday Canadians were "shocked and frankly disgusted" by some of the behaviour of individuals participating in a massive protest in Ottawa over the weekend, and that "it has to stop."

"I want to be very clear, we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse small business workers and steal food from the homeless," he said. "We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. We won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans."

While many participants have described the event as a party, some people within the crowd were seen waving confederate flags, sporting the swastika symbol of the Nazi party, and spouting other hateful rhetoric. Several local businesses and workers reported being intimidated by some participants, and many eventually locked their doors and closed for safety reasons.

The Ottawa Police Service has launched multiple criminal investigations into some of the actions of convoy participants including allegations of urinating on the National War Memorial. An Ottawa homeless shelter said Saturday one of its clients was assaulted by convoy participants, who also entered their facility and threatened and intimidated staff into serving them food.

Local residents reported witnessing convoy members defecating and urinating in their yards, and one said they came across a protester using their backyard for a bathroom while availing himself of their outdoor outlet to charge his phone.

Prime Minister Trudeau has these words for #Ottawa protesters: "We are not intimidated." #cdnpoli #ottawapolice #Ottawaconvoy #gohome

The crowds thinned considerably Monday, with a few hundred people outside Parliament Hill, but those that remain say they intend to stay until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. That includes vaccine passports and gathering limitations, almost all of which are the purview of provincial governments.

Michelle Kloet, 47, of Canmore, Alta., had an armful of empty liquor bottles and discarded beer cans as she attempted to clean up some of the mess left by the crowds. She said she was there because "it's time for Canada and the rest of the world to find other ways to deal with this virus."

The ongoing disturbance downtown forced many businesses to remain closed, even as the provincial government was easing restrictions Monday. Restaurants that have been only allowed to do takeout since early January, could have opened for some in-person dining today, but few in the district were open, for fear of the protesters.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said Monday nobody wants lockdown rules eased more than small-business owners but because of this protest, they are being forced to stay closed even when the government is finally allowing them to reopen.

"It is so disappointing to see," Kelly said.

Kelly said a downtown spa owner, who did not want to be identified, was despondent when up to 90 per cent of clients cancelled their bookings for this week out of fear of the protesters.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had remained silent about the events all weekend but Monday his office issued a statement saying he was disturbed by some of the reports out of Ottawa.

Ontario cabinet minister and Ottawa-area MPP Lisa MacLeod tweeted Monday that it's time for things to end.

"The residents and families of Ottawa need to return to work and school," she wrote. "To the protesters remaining — you’ve been heard — please go home."

Several MPs skirted the protest to attend the first sitting of the House of Commons since mid-December Monday, though most MPs are still participating virtually because of COVID-19.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault looked stricken as he spoke of the harassment and intimidation people felt over the weekend. NDP MP Charlie Angus said Ottawa was being held hostage and Quebec Conservative Pierre Paul-Hus said he didn't like what had happened at the National War Memorial.

But Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said Trudeau was "gaslighting" the protesters, who deserve the chance to be heard.

Trudeau is not meeting with anyone involved. He said he has attended protests on the Hill in the past, including taking a knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. But he said he attends when he agrees with a cause or supports their right to express their concerns.

"I have also chosen to not go anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric, violence toward fellow citizens, and a disrespect not just of science, but of the front-line health workers and quite frankly, the 90 per cent of truckers who have been doing the right thing to keep Canadians safe, to put food on our tables," he said.

"Canadians know where I stand. This is a moment for responsible leaders to think carefully about where they stand and who they stand with."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.

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Bergen accusing the PM of gaslighting is so stupid that it's not even funny. The CPC chose to stand with the monkeys that threw poop around all week-end long and the stench is all over them now.

Oshkosh makes a great rough terrain fork lift of truly gargantuan size that would be just right for picking up freight liners and dumping them unceremoniously in the Ottawa River behind parliament hill. There ought to be a law.

This thing has blown the lid off of the CPC's thread bare credibility. They are now saying they have enough votes to oust O'Toole as early as Wednesday. That party is severely divided and in free fall.

You said it. Then again, CPC party that was even further right would means even fewer seats come the next election.

We've all seen this before. The worst Canadians dropped their brats off at the world's biggest outdoor daycare centre, and they didn't pick them up for three days.