Police start to clear trucker-led protests in Canada capital
Canadian police on Thursday began a massive operation to clear the trucker-led protests against Covid health rules clogging the capital for three weeks, with several arrests made.
Hundreds of heavily armed officers gathered in the early morning on the edges of downtown for the start of what officials say will likely be a multi-day clearance process.
Overnight of two protest leaders were arrested and charged with mischief and counselling others to break the law.
"Some protesters are surrendering and are being arrested," Ottawa police tweeted.
They warned protesters that "you will face severe penalties if you do not cease further unlawful activity and remove your vehicle and/or property immediately."
The so-called "Freedom Convoy" started with truckers protesting against mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.
At its peak, the movement also included blockades of a half-dozen US-Canada border crossings including a key trade route across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan -- all of which have been lifted.
One of the arrested protest organizers, Tamara Lich, was heard telling truckers as she was being led away by police late Thursday to "hold the line."
- Parliament closed -
Lawmakers cancelled a parliamentary session on Friday, with Speaker of the House Anthony Rota citing "exceptional circumstances" and an "ever-changing" situation in the streets outside the seat of Canada's democracy.
Government workers and MPs were asked to stay away, while anyone already in the parliamentary precinct -- where the truckers have dug in -- were urged to shelter indoors.
On Thursday police had given protesters a final warning to leave, as barricades went up to restrict access to the downtown protest zone.
Criticized for failing to act decisively to end the protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government sweeping powers to deal with a major crisis.
It's only the second time such powers have been invoked in peacetime.
Lawmakers, who are split over the move with only a small leftist party backing Trudeau's minority Liberal government, were debating its use when parliament was shut down.
Trudeau has said the act was not being used to call in the military against the protesters, and denied restricting freedom of expression.
The objective was simply to "deal with the current threat and to get the situation fully under control," he said Thursday. "Illegal blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests... They have to stop."
Police this week arrested dozens of protesters at border crossings, including four people charged with conspiracy to murder police officers at a checkpoint between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana.
They also seized dozens of vehicles, as well as a cache of weapons that included rifles, handguns, body armor and ammunition.
Authorities also froze the bank accounts of protesters and chocked off crowdfunding and cryptocurrency transactions supporting the protesters.