OTTAWA, Ontario — Police aggressively pushed back protesters in Canada’s besieged capital on Saturday, seizing trucks and finally retaking control of the streets in front of the country’s Parliament building. Scores of trucks left under the increasing pressure, raising authorities’ hopes for an end to the three-week protest against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
At the center of protests was the street right in front Parliament Hill. Since late last month it had been occupied daily by protesters, their vehicles and even their cars. It was transformed into a party on weekends.
“They are trying to push us all away,” said one protester, Jeremy Glass of Shelburne, Ontario, as authorities forced the crowds to move further from the Parliament building. “The main camp is seized now. We’re no longer in possession of it.”
Canadian authorities reported that emergency powers were used to seize bank accounts linked to protestors. They seized 76 accounts worth approximately $3.2million ($2.5 million U.S.).
On Saturday, they also closed a bridge into the nation’s capital from Quebec to prevent a renewed influx of protesters.
Ottawa police addressed the protesters in a tweet: “We told you to leave. We allowed you to get away. While we were patient and systematic, your aggressive behavior towards officers and horses was unacceptable. Based on your behavior, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety,”
According to police, one of the protesters hurled a gascanister at them and they were arrested.
By Friday evening, at least 100 people had been arrested, mostly on mischief charges, and nearly two dozen vehicles had been towed, including all of those blocking one of the city’s major streets, authorities said. Steve Bell, the interim Ottawa Police Chief, stated that only one officer suffered minor injuries but no victims were hurt.
Four leaders of the protest movement were also among those arrested. The one who was arrested received bail and the other remained in prison.
As protesters marched through snowy streets and truckers honked their horns, hundreds of police in riot gear descended on Freedom Convoy.
The capital and its paralyzed streets represented the movement’s last stronghold after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the U.S. and created one of the most serious tests yet for Trudeau. They also shook Canada’s reputation for civility, with some blaming America’s influence.
The Freedom Convoy demonstrations initially focused on Canada’s vaccine requirement for truckers entering the country but soon morphed into a broad attack on COVID-19 precautions and Trudeau’s government.
Ottawa residents claimed they were harassed, intimidated, and threatened by the truckers. A court injunction was issued to end their constant honking.
Trudeau portrayed the protesters as members of a “fringe” element. Canadians have largely embraced the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, with the vast majority vaccinated, including an estimated 90% of the nation’s truckers. Many of the mandates for vaccines and masks that were imposed by provinces are rapidly falling apart.
Blockade at the Ambassador Bridge (between Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and Detroit) was the most severe. This blockade disrupted auto parts flow between the two countries, and forced industry leaders to cut production. After dozens of protestors were arrested, authorities lifted the siege.
The last border blockade between Manitoba and North Dakota ended peacefully Wednesday.
Protests were cheered and have received donations from U.S. conservatives.
Gillies reported out of Toronto.