OTTAWA, Ontario — Police arrested scores of demonstrators and towed away vehicles Friday in Canada’s besieged capital, and a stream of trucks started leaving under the pressure, raising authorities’ hopes for an end to the three-week protest against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
By evening, at least 100 people had been arrested, mostly on mischief charges, and nearly two dozen vehicles had been towed, including all of those blocking one of the city’s major streets, authorities said. Steve Bell, interim Ottawa Police chief, stated that one officer sustained minor injuries but there were no other protestors.
Police “continue to push forward to take control of our streets,” he said, adding: “We will work day and night until this is completed.”
Those arrested included four protest leaders. The one who was released on bail was the leader of the protest group, while others were still in jail.
The crackdown against the Freedom Convoy started in the morning. Hundreds of officers, some wearing riot gear, and others with automatic weapons entered the demonstration zone . They began to lead demonstrators in handcuffs down the streets, while truckers shouted their horns.
Tow truck drivers — dressed in neon-green ski masks and with decals from their respective companies taped to their trucks, to hide their identities — were escorted by police and began removing hundreds of large rigs and campers parked near Parliament. The police broke through at least one RV-camper’s door before taking it away.
Scuffles broke out in places, and police repeatedly went nose-to-nose with the protesters and pushed the crowd back amid cries of “Freedom!” and the singing of the national anthem, “O Canada.” Later police on horses were used to push back the crowd for a time.
Police stated that the protestors had attacked officers and attempted to steal their guns late in afternoon. They began to dismantle equipment on a stage they’d been playing music for several weeks.
Many protesters stood firm in face of one the largest police enforcement actions in Canada’s history. Officers from all over the country were involved.
“Freedom was never free,” said trucker Kevin Homaund, of Montreal. They put handcuffs on our hands and put us in prison But a steady stream of trucks started leaving Parliament Hill that afternoon.
“There have been signs that we’re beginning to make progress,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated.
The police would not reveal how many people or vehicles were still downtown. There were indications that the police would continue to work into the weekend in order to clean up the area.
The capital and its paralyzed streets represented the movement’s last stronghold after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the U.S. and created one of the most serious tests yet for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Some blame America for the damage to Canada’s civility reputation.
Authorities had hesitated to move against the protests, in part because of fears of violence. Right-wing extremists, veterans and some armed protestors took part in the demonstrations. With police and government being accused of allowing the protests to get outof control, Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act on Monday. This gave the law enforcement unprecedented authority to tow trucks and arrest drivers, as well as to suspend their licenses, freeze their accounts, and declare the blockades illegal. Two key leaders of the protest were arrested by the Ottawa Police late on Thursday. To stop outsiders from helping the protesters, they also closed off large stretches of downtown.
The emergency act enabled law enforcement authorities to compel tow truck companies to assist. Ottawa police stated earlier that tow truck drivers were not willing to assist because they sympathized or fear reprisal.
As police tried to end the siege of Ottawa, Pat King (one of the protest leaders) told the truckers to “Please remain peaceful” while also threating the livelihoods and security of tow truck drivers.
” You are doing career suicide,” warned King on Facebook. “We know where the trucks came from.”
King himself was later arrested by officers who surrounded him in his car.
Ottawa officers had been making it clear that they would retake the streets for several days. Even as the operation was in progress, Ottawa police sent out another round via loudspeaker and social media warning protestors that they were ready to retake the streets.
Some locked arms instead as officers formed a line to push them back.
Dan Holland from London Ontario packed his car and fled as the police approached. He said, “I don’t want to be beat up by these police.”
Children stood among the crowd, bundled in coats and hats. The police claimed that the youth were being pushed into the melee by the protestors.
The Freedom Convoy demonstrations initially focused on Canada’s vaccine requirement for truckers entering the country but soon morphed into a broad attack on COVID-19 precautions and Trudeau’s government.
Ottawa residents reported being intimidated and harassed by truckers. They obtained a court order to end their constant honking.
Trudeau portrayed the protesters as members of a “fringe” element. Canadians have largely embraced the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, with the vast majority vaccinated, including an estimated 90% of the nation’s truckers. Many of the mandates for vaccines and masks that were imposed by provinces are rapidly falling apart.
The largest border blockade was at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. It disrupted traffic between both countries, and caused the industry to reduce production. After dozens of protestors were arrested, authorities lifted the siege.
The final blockade at the Manitoba border, which is across from North Dakota was lifted peacefully Wednesday.
Gillies reported from Toronto. John Seewer, an Associated Press journalist from Toledo, Ohio contributed.