Canadian police start arresting protesters in Ottawa
Canadian police began arresting protesters on Friday in a bid to break up a nearly three-week protest against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.
Officers were seen going door to door along a line of trucks, campers and other vehicles parked on Ottawa’s snow-covered streets.
Some protesters surrendered and were taken into custody, police said. Some were led away in handcuffs. One person being taken away carried a sign that read “Mandate Freedom”.
Many of the truckers remained defiant.
“Freedom was never free,” said trucker Kevin Homaund, of Montreal. “So what if they put the handcuffs on us and they put us in jail?”
Police made their first move to end the occupation late on Thursday with the arrest of two key protest leaders.
They also sealed off much of the downtown area to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of the self-styled Freedom Convoy protesters.
The capital represented the movement’s last stronghold after three weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the US, caused economic damage to both countries and created a political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
On Monday, Mr Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, giving law enforcement extraordinary authority to declare the blockades illegal, tow away trucks, arrest the drivers, suspend their licences and freeze their bank accounts.
Ottawa police made it clear on Thursday they were preparing to end the protest and remove the more than 300 trucks, with the city’s interim police chief warning: “Action is imminent.”
The operation on Friday in Ottawa began in the morning with police methodically arresting protesters a few blocks from Parliament Hill, the heart of the protest zone, where trucks were parked shoulder to shoulder.
Some officers carried automatic weapons and wore tactical unit uniforms.
The two protest leaders under arrest were due in court on Friday. Among the charges: mischief and obstructing police.
The bumper-to-bumper occupation infuriated many Ottawa residents, who complained of being harassed and intimidated on the streets and obtained a court injunction to stop the truckers’ incessant honking of their horns.
The demonstrations around the country by protesters in trucks, tractors and motor homes initially focused on Canada’s vaccine requirement for truckers entering the country but soon morphed into a broad attack on Covid-19 precautions and Mr Trudeau’s government.
The biggest border blockade, at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, disrupted the flow of auto parts between the two countries and forced the industry to curtail production.
Authorities lifted the siege last weekend after arresting dozens of protesters.
The final border blockade, in Manitoba, across from North Dakota, ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The protests have been cheered on and received donations from conservatives in the US.
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