OTTAWA — Police cleared the central area of a sprawling protest in Ottawa on Saturday, moving from truck to truck and arresting protesters as they continued to rein in the occupation that has plagued Canada’s capital for weeks.
From around 10 a.m., police advanced on trucks that were parked on Wellington Street, the thoroughfare in front of the Parliament Building, firing guns at some vehicles and knocking on doors as they searched for people at inside. They arrested several while other demonstrators shouted “Shame on you! Proximity. In the heart of the main camp on Saturday, police pushed people back with batons and irritant sprays and made further arrests.
One protester, David Paisley, an HVAC technician who spent the protest broadcasting updates from a fishing shack in the back of a flatbed truck known as ‘the shed’, described the moment when an officer entered the vehicle to arrest him.
‘He had a big military rifle, he pointed right at my chest, he yelled at me to get down,’ said Mr Paisley, 33, who captured the moment of his arrest during a broadcast live recorded. “It was like a scene from a movie.”
A recording broadcast in French and English, as the police advanced. “You have to go,” he said. “Anyone found in the area will be arrested.
The police operation came as a final salvo in the government’s belated efforts to break the occupation. Over the past few weeks, the protests, which began with truckers rallying against vaccination mandates, have drawn a variety of protesters expressing grievances about pandemic restrictions, allegations of government overreach and the country’s handling. by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
By mid-morning, police had cleared protesters from what had been the heart of the occupation, Wellington Street, and set up barricades. Ottawa police say as of Saturday evening, 170 people have been arrested and 46 vehicles removed. Police declined to discuss their tactics, but in a tweet On Saturday, they asked the public to stop calling emergency hotlines ‘to express their dissatisfaction with the action of the police’ to end the protest, noting that making unnecessary calls to 911 was a crime .
Although significantly strangled, the protest was not completely disbanded. As police drove protesters away from Parliament, some gathered in side streets as police warned there were children in the crowd. “We are seeing young children being brought to the forefront of the police operation,” Ottawa Police said on Twitter. “It’s dangerous and it puts children at risk.”
The protests had blocked traffic on major downtown streets, disrupted business and tormented residents with incessant honking. But they were on the whole non-violent. Organizers inflated bouncy castles in the street and people brought young children and dogs. DJs played music from a flatbed truck that turned into a stage. At one point people soaked in a hot tub erected in front of the Parliament building.
The demonstrators condemned the show of force against their occupation. “It’s awful,” Dagny Pawlak, a spokesperson for the truckers, said in a text message on Saturday. “A dark moment in Canadian history.
As the protesters grew more entrenched, criticism of the government’s failure to remove the occupation grew across the country — and especially among many Ottawa residents.
Kathryn Moore, an administrator at the University of Ottawa, said she lives close enough to downtown to hear truckers honk when the wind blows in her direction. “I lost patience after week 2,” she said.
The counterfeit protests, including the blockade of a vital international trade route between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, have cost millions in lost revenue. And others, as far away as France and New Zealand, have drawn the world’s attention to the disruption in Ottawa, caused by a small but vocal minority, in a country with one of the highest vaccination rates. raised in the world.
Efforts to rout protesters began a stalemate on Friday where police and protesters stood at loggerheads for more than five hours, a stalemate punctuated by the sudden appearance of a mounted unit towering over the crowd. After warning that the jostled protesters were attacking the police, law enforcement then deployed the officers on horseback, who charged parallel across the fault line between the two groups, trying to separate them. In the process, the animals knocked down some protesters and stepped on at least one person. Police said they “did not know” if anyone was injured in the scuffle.
Throughout the protest, public opinion showed that pandemic fatigue is high here, in a country that has frequently put in place strict coronavirus restrictions. In opinion polls, some have expressed sympathy for truckers’ motives, but not for their methods. Yet as the horns blared incessantly – a hallmark of the protest, even after a judge banned it – many Canadians, especially locals, lost their tolerance for the occupiers.
Some of the convoy’s self-proclaimed leaders had a background of right-wing organizing, including Tamara Lich, a former member of a fringe party that advocated secession from the western provinces. Trump, QAnon and Confederate flags have started appearing in some of the trucker protests across the country. Police arrested a group of people involved in a blockade in Alberta and seized a cache of weapons.
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On Monday, Mr. Trudeau declared a national public order emergency – the first such declaration in half a century – giving the government the power to seize trucks and other vehicles used in the protests, cordon off the stronghold of the protest and to freeze anyone’s bank accounts. implied.
Invoking such sweeping new powers was “unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional”, said a representative of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which plans to sue the government over the move. Mr. Trudeau and members of his cabinet have repeatedly assured that the law will not be used to suspend “fundamental rights”.
In any case, many of the powers activated Monday by Mr. Trudeau had already been given to the police and the authorities under a state of emergency by the province of Ontario.
Among those arrested were some of the most prominent leaders of the protests: Daniel Bulford, a former police officer; Ms. Lich, a right-wing activist; Pat King, a prominent online protest champion; and Chris Barber, trucker and official spokesperson for the movement.
On Friday, BJ Dichter, a spokesperson for the convoy, tweeted that it was time for protesters to leave, saying police smashed the windows of a driver’s truck. But some of those who remained near the parliament building said they had no plans to return home yet, even as law enforcement closed in.
“We can’t stop them,” said Mike Marsh, 48, nodding at police. “All we can do is slow them down.”