The Guardian: OTTAWA – Canadian police deployed pepper spray and stun grenades on Saturday in a continuing effort to break up a blockade of trucks and demonstrators that has occupied downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in a protest against pandemic protocols.
Reports indicated that authorities escalated crowd control efforts. Police with rifles reportedly approached protesters and smashed truck windows.
Police dispersed part of the blockade and made more than 100 arrests on Friday. They made more arrests on Saturday morning to clear the main area of the blockade, in front of the prime minister’s office and parliament.
The interim Ottawa police chief, Steve Bell, told reporters there had been 170 arrests in two days. By the afternoon, police had dispersed the main portion of the blockade.
Bell said that while some smaller protests continued: “This unlawful occupation is over. We will continue with our mission until it is complete.”
City crews were engaged in cleaning up and towing away remaining vehicles, Bell said. But other pockets around the city had yet to be cleared, and there was a risk that demonstrators might change location, he said.
“We are aware of protesters leaving the parliamentary precinct moving to surrounding neighborhoods. We are not going anywhere until you have your streets back,” Bell said, addressing Ottawa citizens.
Using bullhorns, police warned the crowd to disperse or face arrest and urged protesters to remove young children from the area.
“This is dangerous and is putting young children at risk,” Bell said.
Organizers for the so-called Freedom Convoy said they had asked trucks to withdraw because of what they called heavy-handed police tactics, and many trucks did exit the downtown core on Saturday. Thirty-eight vehicles had been towed, police said.
Some of those arrested wore body armor and had smoke grenades and other fireworks, police said. Police confirmed the use of stun grenades and pepper spray. Protesters threw smoke canisters but no teargas had been used, police said.
The New York Times reported that police in riot gear pushed the crowd back, upsetting a table displaying spurious claims about vaccines. Officers moved forward “truck by truck”, the Times reported. Some protesters were pushed over amid chants of “Shame on you”.
In a tweet addressed to the truckers, police said: “We told you to leave. We gave you time to leave. We were slow and methodical, yet you were assaultive and aggressive with officers and the horses. Based on your behaviour, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety.”
The bangs of stun grenades were audible and onlookers witnessed people being pepper-sprayed. Accused of using harsh strategies, especially in deploying Mounties on horseback, police claimed there were no serious injuries.
“We hear your concern for people on the ground after the horses dispersed a crowd,” they said. “Anyone who fell got up and walked away. We’re unaware of any injuries.”
The demonstrators first gathered in protest of cross-border COVID-19 vaccine requirements for truck drivers. Their blockade transformed into a broader protest against the government and prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
“This is our final stand … When it ends, it ends and it’s in God’s hands,” Jeremy Glass, a protester from Shelburne, Ontario, told Reuters. “At the end of this, we all need to get back to unity and get rid of this division.”
Trudeau used emergency powers to end the protests, a move that requires parliamentary approval within seven days. Lawmakers were poised to debate the temporary powers on Friday but the House of Commons suspended its session, citing police activity.
Debate resumed on Saturday and a final vote was scheduled for Monday. Trudeau’s Liberals and opposition New Democrats have indicated their support, which should ensure passage.
American politicians including Donald Trump have expressed support for the protesters, as has the Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, who on Saturday replied on Twitter to a woman asking him to help protesters.
“I wish I could help. At this point, it seems that voting at the next election is the remedy,” Musk said.
Bell said protesters who had been filmed by police will be held accountable.
“If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges,” he said, adding: “This investigation will go on for months to come.”
The federal government said it would provide up to C$20m to Ottawa businesses that had suffered losses due to the blockades.
Protests emulating the Ottawa blockade have cropped up elsewhere, including between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario. Authorities arrested a group of people tied to a blockade in Alberta, in Canada, who had a cache of weapons, the Times reported. On Saturday, demonstrators again closed the Pacific Coast Highway border crossing south of Vancouver.
Some self-described leaders of the Ottawa protests apparently have experience in rightwing organizing. At some trucker protests in Canada, witnesses have spotted Trump, QAnon or Confederate flags.
Top Feature Photo: Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa on Saturday – Justin Tang/AP