Police cordoned off large swaths of downtown Ottawa on Thursday evening and set up checkpoints around illegal encampments, where for three weeks large rigs and protesters opposed to public health mandates and the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau largely had free rein.
Police arrested Tamara Lich and Chris Barber for “aiding and abetting mischief”.
Pressure to clamp down has intensified since Monday, when Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergency Measures Act of 1988, which grants the federal government sweeping powers to respond to the crisis for up to 30 days. Critics say Trudeau went too far.
Parliament canceled a scheduled debate on the law on Friday due to police operations in the area.
Shortly before her arrest on Thursday, Lich mingled with protesters in the snow outside the Canadian Parliament and urged people to “hold the line”. Lich is a well-known organizer of the anti-lockdown and Islamophobic movements in Canada.
Videos circulating on social media show Barber, another public voice in the convoy, handcuffed on an Ottawa street on Thursday. Barber, one of the few top organizer truck drivers, has a large following on Tik Tok, where he propagates far-right views.
The protesters say their protest is peaceful and not illegal. No other key organizers have been arrested, Dagny said by text message late Thursday.
Since a convoy of truckers angry at cross-border vaccination warrants arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28, their reach has come to encompass a wide range of demands. Some protesters want all public health mandates repealed. Others want Trudeau to resign or be charged with treason. Still others have ties to radical and extremist groups.
Canadian officials say a “significant element” of the funding came from the United States, where some Republican politicians and right-wing media outlets have taken up the cause.
Barbara Perry, a criminology professor at Ontario Tech University, said the protests were “a real shot in the arm” and “a boost” for the far right.
The convoy “became a fairly amorphous movement, but there was always the potential for it to attract far-right elements because some of the original organizers have long-standing ties to far-right movements, illiberal movements and anti-authority movements in Canada,” she said.
The protests have been highly organized, with military-style logistics hubs ensuring the delivery of food, fuel and other resources to encampments, where each bloc has its own captain and night patrol. Volunteers open their homes and hotel rooms for participants to come and shower and wash up.
But while the arrests of Lich and Barber mark a major escalation by law enforcement, their removal may not have a major impact on the main protesters camped in their vehicles, many of whom told the Post they are not s do not identify with a specific leader or organizer.
“We all feel like we’re going to get arrested,” Justin Aiello, 23, a construction worker from Montreal, said Thursday. “We’re okay with this because it’s for a good cause.”
Officials have been keen to avoid a repeat of previous weekends when crowds swell, particularly because it is a holiday long weekend.
“If you’re heading to Ottawa…bring bouncy castles or bubble soccer bumpers, consider contributing to the fun!” a Facebook page associated with Freedom Convoy 2022, posted Thursday, as the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa warned protesters they could be separated from their children if arrested.
Under the Emergency Measures Act, bringing a minor to protests is a criminal offence.
Police are also concerned about the potential for violence from protesters if they were to step up law enforcement. So far, relations between the pair have been largely friendly, although police have reported instances of crowds of protesters issuing tickets or confiscating illegal fuel deliveries.
There are always concerns about whether some of the participants in the convoy are armed. The stakes rose Monday when police arrested 11 people and seized firearms and ammunition during a border blockade in Coutts, Alta. Some protesters left to avoid violence. Police have charged four people with conspiracy to commit murder.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Thursday that some of those involved in the blockade of Coutts had “close ties to a far-right organization whose leaders are in Ottawa,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. .
Deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Elizabeth Simons, said one of the men arrested in Alberta had ties to the far-right Diagolon movement, whose de facto leader Jeremey MacKenzie was in Ottawa and out.
Pierre-Yves Bourduas, former deputy commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal and national police force, said the lack of enforcement over the past three weeks “sent a message to the occupiers that you don’t have no need to worry”. with the law.
He said police strategy in the hours and days to come would be adaptive “based on intelligence which is the main driver and agitator [and] who is there just to make a point.
“In Canada, we are still trying to find a peaceful solution,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canadian lawmakers will debate throughout the weekend Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, which Parliament must approve within seven days of its publication.
The act should pass.
Supporters say the government needed to take such an extreme step to end an unprecedented threat to Canada’s economy and its democratic institutions. Critics say the government failed to meet the legal standard for invoking the law and set a dangerous precedent for a federal takeover.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said Thursday it would sue the government for invoking the measure, a move it said “seriously violates” Canada’s Charter rights.