OTTAWA, Ontario (AP)
— Police began arresting
protesters Friday in a bid to
break the three-week, traffic- snarling siege of Canada’s capital by hundreds of truckers angry over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Officers were seen going door
to door along a line of trucks,
campers and other vehicles
parked on Ottawa’s snow-
Some protesters surrendered
and were taken into custody, police said. Some were led away in handcuffs. One person being taken away carried a sign that read “Mandate Freedom.”
Many of the truckers remained defiant.
“Freedom was never free,” said trucker Kevin Homaund, of Montreal. “So what if they
put the handcuffs on us and
they put us in jail?”
Police made their first move
to end the occupation late Thursday with the arrest of two key protest leaders. They also sealed off much of the downtown area to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of the self-styled Freedom Convoy protesters.
The capital represented
the movement’s last stronghold after three weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the U.S., caused economic damage to both countries and created a political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They also shook Canada’s reputation for civility, with some foes of the unrest blaming the influence of the United States.
Over the past weeks,
authorities had hesitated to
move against many of the
protesters around the country,
in part for fear of violence. The demonstrations have drawn right-wing extremists and veterans, some of them armed.
With police and the
government facing accusations
that they let the protests gain
strength and spread, Trudeau
on Monday invoked Canada’s
Emergencies Act, giving law
authority to declare the
blockades illegal, tow away
trucks, arrest the drivers,
suspend their licenses and
freeze their bank accounts.
Ottawa police made it
clear on Thursday they were
preparing to end the protest and remove the more than 300 trucks, with the city’s interim police chief warning: “Action is imminent.”
The bumper-to-bumper occupation infuriated many Ottawa residents, who complained of being harassed and intimidated on the streets and obtained a court injunction to stop the truckers’ incessant honking of their horns.
The demonstrations around the country by protesters in trucks, tractors and motor homes 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.
The biggest 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 curtail production. Authorities lifted the siege last weekend after arresting dozens of protesters.
The final border blockade, in Manitoba, across from North Dakota, ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The protests have been cheered on and received donations from conservatives in the U.S.