Canadian police started a massive operation to clear the three-week blockade by truckers protesting COVID mandates, arresting some of its leaders and turning the heart of the capital into a “secured area.”
Hundreds of officers, some carrying automatic weapons and wearing tactical unit uniforms, were seen Thursday going door to door along a line of vehicles in the so-called “freedom convoy” in Ottawa.
They started by arresting two of the most high-profile leaders, Tamara Lich, 49, and Chris Barber, 46.
As she was led away in the snow, she shouted at the others, “Hold the line!”
She and Barber are both due in court Friday on a charge of counseling to commit mischief, police confirmed. Barber is also charged with counseling to disobey a court order and counseling to obstruct police.
Police then used the Emergencies Act to enforce a “secured area” in the downtown stretch that includes many of Canada’s main government buildings.
It forced Parliament to cancel its planned debate on controversial emergency measures the government has used, including freezing bank accounts and assets of those supporting the protests.
Ottawa police warned those remaining in the area, “You will face severe penalties if you do not cease further unlawful activity and remove your vehicle and/or property immediately from all unlawful protest sites.”
“We do not take this decision lightly,” Interim Chief Steve Bell said.
Bell had warned of the crackdown the previous day in an address to the city council.
“We are going to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space. We are going to remove this unlawful protest. We will return our city to a state of normalcy,” he vowed Wednesday.
“We want them to do this peacefully and immediately and we are facilitating the departure of anyone who wants to leave.”
The capital represented the movement’s last stronghold after three weeks of demonstrations that have created a political crisis for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau on Monday invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, empowering law enforcement authorities to declare the blockades illegal, tow away trucks, arrest the drivers, suspend their licenses and freeze their bank accounts.
The protest has sparked similar convoys, including in France and parts of the US.
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