OTTAWA — Canadian police officers advanced on trucks sometimes at gunpoint, smashing truck windows and arresting protesters in front of the country’s Parliament building, an aggressive escalation in the government’s effort to finally end the protests that have roiled the nation’s capital for three weeks.
Officers in riot gear, brandishing batons and rifles, pushed to regain the area around Parliament, expanding an operation that began on Friday to remove parked trucks that have blocked the city’s downtown core.
The police advanced with batons to push people back and toppled over a table showing doubtful information about vaccine injury. They advanced methodically truck by truck, shoving protesters back, some people getting pushed over by the police, as demonstrators shouted, “Shame on you!”
As the police advanced, a recording was played in English and French. “You must leave,” it said. “Anyone found in the zone will be arrested.”
By midmorning, police had cleared all demonstrators from what had been the occupation’s core, Wellington Street, in front of the house of Parliament, and set up barricades. Most of the trucks that had been parked there for the last three weeks fled when the advance began. However, a few abandoned vehicles remained.
“We’re in control of the situation on the ground, and continue to push forward to clear our streets,” Steve Bell, the interim police chief, said on Friday. “We will work day and night until this is completed.”
On Saturday morning, police reported that at least 100 protesters had been detained.
The police operation appeared to be a final salvo in the government’s belated effort to break up the occupation, which began as a convoy of truckers angry about a federal vaccine requirement, but snowballed into a larger movement. Soon the demonstrations attracted a variety of protesters airing grievances about pandemic restrictions, claims of government overreach and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stewardship of the country.
The protests were mostly peaceful and evoked the atmosphere of a carnival. But they caused chaos in the capital and disrupted business. They also annoyed residents with their constant honking. The organizers set up bouncy castles and allowed people to bring small children and dogs. D.J.s played music from flatbed trucks, which were turned into stages. People used to soak in the hot tub located in front of Parliament.
“It’s horrific,” said Dagny Pawlak, a spokeswoman for the truckers, said in a text message on Saturday. “A dark moment in Canadian history.” She added: “Never in my life would I have believed anyone if they told me that our own P.M. would refuse dialogue and choose violence against peaceful protesters instead.”
While the protesters grew ever more entrenched, criticism of the government’s failure to remove the occupation built across the country — and especially among many Ottawa residents.
Kathryn Moore, University of Ottawa administrator, said that she was close enough to the downtown core of Ottawa to hear the truckers’ horns when the wind blows in her direction. “I lost my patience after Week 2.”
Millions in revenue was lost to copycat protests like the one that blocked an important international trade route between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. And others, as far away as France and New Zealand, turned the world’s attention to the disruption in Ottawa, caused by an angry, but vocal minority, in a country with one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world.
On Friday, police and demonstrators were at odds for over five hours. The standoff was punctuated by the sudden arrival of a horse unit towering above the crowd. The police warned the shoving demonstrators that they were assaulting them and then deployed mounted officers who ran parallel across the fault lines between the two groups. The animals knocked over some protesters, while at least one person was stepped on by the officers. The police said that they were “unaware” if anyone was injured in the fracas.
Throughout the course of the protest, public opinion has shown that pandemic fatigue is high here, in a country that has frequently rolled out stringent coronavirus restrictions.In opinion polls, some expressed sympathy with the truckers’ motivations, but not their methods. Still, as the horns blared incessantly — a trademark of the demonstration, even after a judge enjoined it — many Canadians, particularly locals, lost their tolerance for the occupiers.
Some of the convoy’s self-appointed leaders had right-wing organizing backgrounds, including Tamara Lich, a former member of a fringe party that advocated secession for western provinces. During trucker demonstrations all across the country, Trump, QAnon and Confederate flags started to appear. Police officers arrested a group of individuals with a cache weapons that was involved in a blockade of Alberta.
Learn about the Trucker Protests in Canada
Voicing grievances A demonstration by truck drivers protesting vaccine mandates has ballooned into a nationwide movement that has slowed the economy and brought life to a standstill in parts of Canada. Here’s what to know:
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, seal off the demonstration’s stronghold and freeze the bank accounts of anyone involved.
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 offered repeated assurance that the act would not be used to suspend “fundamental rights.”
Many of the powers granted Monday by Mr. Trudeau were already given to the police and authorities by the province of Ontario under a state-of-emergency.
The officers, backed at least two armored cars, began to force protestors back toward Parliament Hill. Heavy tow trucks, their company names covered with Ottawa police stickers, hauled away semis that hadn’t budged for weeks.
The night was dominated by roadblocks around the city. Between Parliament and the expressway in the north, cars were stopped and checked numerous times. People walking on foot tried to avoid the police, but were warned that they would be arrested immediately. Many turned away.
Some of the most prominent leaders of protests were taken into custody, including Daniel Bulford, an ex-police officer, Tamara Lich who is a singer and right-wing activist, as well as Chris Barber, a trucker, and official spokesman for the movement.
B.J. Dichter, a spokesman for the convoy, wrote on Twitter that it was time for protesters to leave, saying that the police had smashed the windows of one driver’s truck. However, some protesters remained near Parliament building and said they did not plan to return home as of yet, despite the fact that law enforcement was closing in.
“We can’t stop them,” said Mike Marsh, 48, nodding in the direction of the police. “All we can do is slow them down.”
Source: NY Times