19 February 2022

Canadian police clear parliament’s streets to end siege

19 February 2022

Hundreds of police in riot gear swept through the streets of Canada’s besieged capital on Saturday, arresting or driving out protesters, towing away their lorries and finally retaking control of the streets in front of the country’s parliament buildings.

With protesters in clear retreat under the increasing pressure of one of the largest police operations in Canada’s history, authorities’ hopes were rising for an end to the three-week protest against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and the government of prime minister Justin Trudeau.

By the end of the day, protesters were gone from the street in front of Parliament Hill, the collection of government offices that includes the Parliament buildings, which had been the heart of the protests.

It had been occupied by protesters and their lorries since late last month, turning into a carnival at weekends.

“They are trying to push us all away,” said one protester, Jeremy Glass of Shelburne, Ontario, as authorities forced the crowds to move further from the Parliament buildings.

Police move in to clear protesters (Justin Tang /The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

“The main camp is seized now. We’re no longer in possession of it.”

Canadian authorities also announced they had used emergency powers to seize 76 bank accounts connected to protesters, totalling roughly 3.2 million Canadian dollars (£1.8 million).

On Saturday, they also closed a bridge into the nation’s capital from Quebec to prevent a renewed influx of protesters.

Police said protesters remained aggressive, and pepper spray had been used to protect officers.

Around midday, protest organisers said they had ordered lorry drivers to move away from Parliament Hill, calling the police’s actions “abuses of power”.

“To move the trucks will require time,” organisers said in a statement. “We hope that (police) will show judicious restraint.”

Earlier, Ottawa police addressed the protesters in a tweet: “We told you to leave. We gave you time to leave. We were slow and methodical, yet you were assaultive and aggressive with officers and the horses. Based on your behaviour, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety.”

Police said one protester launched a gas canister and was arrested as they advanced.

At least 47 people were arrested Saturday, police said. More than 100 were arrested Friday, mostly on mischief charges, and nearly two dozen vehicles had been towed away, including all of those blocking one of the city’s major streets, authorities said.

One officer had a minor injury, but no protesters were hurt, interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell said.

Canada’s capital was besieged (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

Those arrested included four protest leaders. One received bail while the others remained in custody.

Tow truck operators wearing neon-green ski masks, with their companies’ logos taped over on their lorries to conceal their identities, arrived under police escort and started removing hundreds of big rigs, campers and other vehicles parked shoulder to shoulder near parliament.

Police smashed through the door of at least one camper before hauling it away.

The crackdown on the self-styled Freedom Convoy began Friday, when hundreds of police, some in riot gear and some carrying automatic weapons, descended into the protest zone and began leading demonstrators away in handcuffs through the snowy streets as drivers blared their horns.

The capital and its paralysed streets represented the movement’s last stronghold after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the US and created one of the most serious tests yet for Mr Trudeau.

Police wearing riot helmets (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

They also shook Canada’s reputation for civility, with some blaming the US’s influence.

The Freedom Convoy demonstrations initially focused on Canada’s vaccine requirement for lorry drivers entering the country but soon morphed into a broad attack on Covid-19 precautions and Mr Trudeau’s government.

Ottawa residents complained of being harassed and intimidated by the drivers and obtained a court injunction to stop their incessant honking.

Mr Trudeau portrayed the protesters as members of a “fringe” element.

Canadians have largely embraced the country’s Cocid-19 restrictions, with the vast majority vaccinated, including an estimated 90% of the nation’s lorry drivers.

Some of the vaccine and mask mandates imposed by the provinces are already falling away rapidly.

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