OTTAWA, Ontario — Police began arresting protesters and towing trucks on Friday in an effort to break the three-week siege of Canada’s capital by hundreds of truckers angry at the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
In a slow and methodical morning operation, officers were seen going door to door along a line of trucks, trailers and other vehicles parked in the snowy streets of Ottawa.
Some protesters surrendered and were taken into custody, police said. Some were taken away in handcuffs. One person taken away carried a sign that read “Mandate Freedom”.
Many truckers remained defiant.
“Freedom has never been free,” said trucker Kevin Homaound of Montreal. “What if they put handcuffs on us and put us in jail?”
Police made their first move to end the occupation on Thursday night with the arrest of two key protest leaders. They also closed off much of downtown to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of so-called Freedom Convoy protesters.
The capital represented the movement’s last stronghold after three weeks of protests and blockades that closed border crossings to the United States, caused economic damage to both countries and created a political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They also undermined Canada’s reputation for civility, with some enemies of the Troubles blaming the influence of the United States.
In recent weeks, authorities have been reluctant to intervene against many protesters across the country, in part for fear of violence. The protests have drawn right-wing extremists and veterans, some of them armed.
Pat King, one of the leaders of the Ottawa protest, told truckers, “Please say peaceful,” while threatening the livelihoods of tow truck drivers assisting police.
“For tow truck drivers, you are committing career suicide,” King posted on Facebook. “We know where the trucks come from.”
With police and the government blamed for allowing protests to grow and spread, Trudeau on Monday invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, giving law enforcement extraordinary power to declare blockades illegal, tow trucks, arrest drivers, suspend their licenses and freeze their bank accounts.
Ottawa police made it clear on Thursday that they were preparing to end the protest and remove the more than 300 trucks, with the city’s acting police chief warning: ‘Action is imminent’ .
Friday’s operation 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.
Heavy tow trucks started pulling out some of the big rigs.
Shortly after the arrests began, at least one large truck drove away near the front of Parliament.
But despite departure warnings posted by police on social media, a few protesters danced through the streets to the Beastie Boys’ anthem “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley. shouting “Freedom!”
The two protest leaders under arrest were due to appear in court on Friday. Among the charges: mischief and obstruction of the police.
The bumper-to-bumper occupation has infuriated many Ottawa residents, who have complained of harassment and bullying on the streets and won a court injunction to stop truckers’ incessant honking.
Demonstrations across the country by demonstrators in trucks, tractors and motorhomes initially focused on Canada’s demand for vaccines for truckers entering the country, but quickly turned into a broad attack on COVID-19 precautions and the Trudeau government.
The largest 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 cut production. Authorities lifted the siege last weekend after arresting dozens of protesters.
The last border blockade, in Manitoba, opposite North Dakota, ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The protests were cheered and received donations from conservatives in the United States
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