Police arrested dozens of protesters and towed vehicles into Canada’s beleaguered capital on Friday, and a stream of trucks began to drive off under pressure, raising hopes for authorities to end the three-week protest against the country restrictions related to COVID-19.
By evening, at least 100 people had been arrested, mostly on misdemeanor charges, and nearly two dozen vehicles had been towed away, including all those blocking one of the city’s main streets, authorities said. One officer was lightly injured, but no protesters were injured, Ottawa Police Acting Chief Steve Bell said.
The police “continue to move forward to take control of our streets”, he said, adding: “We will work day and night until this is over”.
Among those arrested were four protest leaders. One was released on bail while the others remained in jail.
The crackdown on the so-called Freedom Convoy began in the morning, when hundreds of police, some in riot gear and others carrying automatic weapons, descended on the protest area and began leading the handcuffed protesters through the snowy streets as recalcitrant truckers howled their horns.
The tow trucks – wearing neon green ski masks, with their company decals taped to their trucks to conceal their identities – arrived under police escort and began removing the hundreds of large trucks, campers and other vehicles parked side by side near Parliament. The police broke down the door of at least one motorhome before taking it away.
Scuffles broke out in places, and police repeatedly came face to face with demonstrators and pushed the crowd back to cries of “Freedom!” and the singing of the national anthem “O Canada”. Later, mounted police were used to hold off the crowd for some time.
Police said in the late afternoon that protesters assaulted officers and tried to take their weapons. Many protesters stood their ground in the face of one of the largest police actions in Canadian history, with officers from across the country.
The capital and its crippled streets represented the movement’s last stronghold after weeks of protests and blockades that closed border crossings into the United States and created one of the most serious tests yet for the government.
Authorities had been reluctant to act against the protests, in part for fear of violence. The protests have drawn right-wing extremists and veterans, some of them armed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act on Monday. This gave law enforcement extraordinary authority to declare blockades illegal, tow trucks, arrest drivers, suspend their licenses and freeze their bank accounts.
The Freedom Convoy protests 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.
Ottawa residents have complained of being harassed and intimidated by truckers and have won a court injunction to stop their incessant honking.
Trudeau portrayed the protesters as members of a “marginal” element. Canadians have largely embraced the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, with the vast majority being vaccinated, including about 90% of the country’s truckers. Some of the vaccine and mask mandates imposed by the provinces are already falling rapidly.
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