Canadian police clear Parliament Street to End Siege

OTTAWA (Ontario) — Hundreds of police officers in riot gear swept across Canada’s capital on Saturday. They seized control of streets surrounding Parliament buildings, and appeared to have ended the three-week-old protests.

Protesters, angry over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions and with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, retreated from the largest police operation in the country’s history, with police arresting or driving out demonstrators and towing away their trucks.

In Ottawa, Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said that some smaller protests continued but “this unlawful occupation is over. We will continue with our mission until it is complete.”

While some protesters vowed to stay on Ottawa’s streets, one organizer told reporters they had “decided to peacefully withdraw.”

“We will simply regroup as a grassroots movement,” Tom Marazzo said at a press conference.

Police had been brought in from across the country to help in the clearance operation, Bell said, adding that 170 people were arrested Friday and Saturday and multiple investigations had been launched because of weapons seizures.

“We’re not going anywhere until you have your streets back,” he said at a press conference, vowing to go after protesters who don’t disperse with “financial sanctions and criminal charges.”

By early Saturday afternoon, protesters were gone from the street in front of Parliament Hill, the collection of government offices that includes the Parliament buildings, which had the heart of the protests. The street had been taken over by protesters with their trucks since the end of last month and turned into a party on 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. “The main camp has been seized. We’re no longer in possession of it.”

Police said protesters remained “aggressive and assaultive” and that pepper spray had been used to protect officers. Authorities also said children had been brought right to the police lines, saying it was “putting the children at risk.”

Canadian authorities also announced they had used emergency powers to seize 76 bank accounts connected to protesters, totaling roughly $3.2 million ($2.5 million U.S.). On Saturday, authorities also shut down a bridge connecting the capital to Quebec in an effort to stop protesters returning.

Around midday, protest organizers said they had ordered truckers to move away from Parliament Hill, decrying the police’s actions as “abuses of power.”

“To move the trucks will require time,” organizers 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. You were given time to go. While we were methodical and slow, you were aggressive and violent with the officers and horses. Based on your behavior, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety.”

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

Earlier, Bell said most of the arrests were for mischief charges and that no protesters had been hurt. He said that one officer sustained a minor injury.

Four protest leaders were among those who were arrested. Four protest leaders were arrested. One was released on bail, while others were still in jail.

Tow trucks operators in neon-green ski masks with decals from their companies taped to their trucks for concealment of their identities arrived at the station under police surveillance and began to remove hundreds of large rigs and campers parked side by side near Parliament. At least one camper was robbed by police on Friday, before it was taken away. The crackdown against the Freedom Convoy started Friday morning when hundreds of police officers, many in riot gear, and others with automatic weapons entered the protest zone. They began to lead demonstrators in handcuffs down the streets, while truckers shouted their horns.

The capital and its paralyzed streets represented the movement’s last major 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 Trudeau. Some blamed America for the damage to Canada’s civility.

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.

But even though things are getting calmer in Ottawa the Canadian border agency advised that the operation at the key truck crossing between western Canada and the United States was being slowed down by protesters. They recommended travelers find another route. Officials said that the crossing was still open near Surrey, although further information wasn’t available.

The protests have been cheered on and received donations from conservatives in the U.S.

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Gillies reported from Toronto.

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