Police in Canada’s capital have pledged to crack down “in the coming days” on so-called “Freedom Convoy” protesters who dug in despite warnings of arrests.
Blockages at border crossings between the United States and Canada that disrupted traffic and trade have been lifted. But in Ottawa, demonstrators protesting vaccination mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government continue to block city streets. Official urgency is growing to prevent a fourth weekend of loud protests that authorities have called an illegal occupation.
“We’re going to take back the entire downtown area and all occupied spaces,” Acting Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell told city council Wednesday night.
Officers will enforce a plan to deport anyone who refuses to leave, Bell said. “You will hear and see these actions in the coming days,” he said.
On Wednesday, police handed protesters leaflets in English and French telling them to leave or be arrested. They warned that participants convicted of crimes could be barred from entering the United States.
Trudeau on Monday became the first Canadian leader to invoke the country’s Emergency Act, giving authorities more power to regulate protests and track their funding. The moves could set the stage for tougher action to quell the stalemate gripping the city.
In a letter to the country’s premiers, Trudeau wrote that “we are witnessing activities that threaten our democracy and undermine public confidence in our institutions,” Canadian media reported.
He said his law enforcement would be time-limited and targeted at specific locations. Some prime ministers and civil liberties advocates opposed the move.
Officials say the Emergencies Act gives police the power to declare areas, including parliament and critical infrastructure, off-limits to protests that “violate the peace”. Banks can freeze accounts without a court order, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police can enforce local laws, and tow truck companies can be forced to transport vehicles.
Tow truck drivers are worried about risks to their safety and future jobs if the government asks them to remove the large rigs blocking downtown Ottawa, an industry leader told Reuters on Wednesday. Canadian public radio.
The country’s public security minister has warned of protesters’ links to far-right groups. Police arrested 11 people and seized firearms and ammunition Monday during a border blockade in Coutts, Alta. Four people have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Some protesters left the site after the arrests to avoid violence.
The leaflets that the police distributed in Ottawa did not seem to deter the demonstrators on Wednesday. They continued to blare horns and music; many have sworn to stay until their demands are met. These demands range from an end to vaccination mandates and other public health restrictions to the removal of Trudeau and his government.
In a tearful video posted on social media, convoy organizer Tamara Lich said it was “inevitable at this point” that she would face arrest and possibly jail. But she urged people to join them in Ottawa.
“You must know that they are trying to provoke us. … Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m ready. I’m not scared and we’ll hold the line,” she said. “It’s been a really crazy ride. …I just want you to stay strong,”
“I pray that you all find forgiveness in your hearts…even when we don’t understand it.”