Rob Gillis, Wilson Ring and Robert BAMSTED
Ottawa, Ontario (AP) – Hundreds of truckers killing the streets of the Canadian capital stood on their own and demonstratively killed on Thursday when police entered, threatening to disperse a nearly three-week protest against the country’s restrictions on COVID-19.
Police buses arrived near Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, and workers erected additional fences around government buildings. Police also, in fact, began a large part of the city center for strangers to prevent them to help protesters.
“Action is imminent,” said Ottawa Interim Police Chief Steve Bell. “We are absolutely committed to ending this illegal demonstration.”
Police arrested two organizers, Tamara Leach and Chris Barber, near Parliament Hill, but officers did not move against the protesters.
Police continued negotiations with demonstrators and tried to convince them to return home, Bell said. “We want this demonstration to end peacefully,” he said, but added: “If they do not leave peacefully, we have plans.”
Many truckers in the self-proclaimed Freedom Convoy convoy looked unnoticed by several days of police and government warnings that they risked arrest and could see their equipment confiscated and bank accounts frozen.
“I’m ready to sit on my ass and watch them hit me with a pepper spray,” said one of their leaders, Pat King. As for trucks parked from bumper to bumper, he said, “There are no tow trucks in Canada that would touch them.”
Amid rising tensions, truckers thundered near parliament, despite a court ban on buzzing in favor of area residents.
Ottawa was the last last stronghold of the movement after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that closed U.S. border crossings, caused economic damage to both countries and created a political crisis for Trudeau.
The protests have shaken Canada’s reputation for civility and law-abiding and inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
“It is high time to stop this illegal and dangerous activity,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in parliament, near the site of more than 300 trucks.
“They are a threat to our economy and our relationships with trading partners,” he said. “They pose a threat to public safety.”
Ottawa police have begun blocking a large section of downtown, allowing only those who live or work there after they pass through one of more than 100 checkpoints, the interim chief said.
Policemen were especially worried among the protesters. Bell said police are working with child protection agencies to determine how to safely remove children before authorities sit down.
Earlier this week, the prime minister referred to the Canadian Emergencies Act, which gives law enforcement agencies the right to declare a blockade illegal, tow trucks, arrest drivers, disqualify them and take other action.
On Thursday, Trudeau and some of his top ministers took turns warning protesters to leave, apparently to get the government to prevent a clash or at least show he had gone the extra mile to avoid it.
Deputy Prime Minister Christia Freeland said the government had begun to freeze the accounts of truckers under threat. “It’s happening. I have numbers in front of me, ”she said.
For the second day in a row, Ottawa police also handed out leaflets urging truckers to end the siege, and helpfully posted notices on vehicles informing owners how and where to pick up trucks when they are towed away.
The occupation infuriated many Ottawa residents.
“We saw people being intimidated, harassed and threatened. We saw apartment buildings that were chained. We saw fires in the corridors. Residents are being terrorized, ”Canadian Public Security Minister Mark Mendisin said.
Protests by protesters in trucks, tractors and motorhomes initially focused on Canada’s demands for a vaccine for truckers entering the country, but soon escalated into a wider attack on precautionary measures against COVID-19 and the Trudeau government.
The biggest and most devastating blockade on the border took place on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. Before authorities arrested dozens of protesters last weekend and lifted the siege, it disrupted the flow of auto parts between the two countries and forced the industry to cut production.
The last blockade in Manitoba ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The movement has received support from right-wing extremists and veterans, some of whom are armed – one of the reasons the authorities are hesitant to go against them.
Fox News figures and American conservatives, such as Donald Trump, have spurred protests. On Thursday, Trudeau complained that “about half of the barricade funding here comes from the United States.”
Some security experts have said that dispersing the protest in Ottawa could be difficult and dangerous, with the potential for violence, and that the harsh response from law enforcement could be used as propaganda by anti-government extremists.
Trucks stood shoulder to shoulder downtown, some with removed tires to prevent towing.
“There’s really no textbook,” said David Carter, a professor at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice and a former police officer. “I know there are police chiefs in the United States who are reviewing this and developing strategic plans and partnerships to drive such a protest if it takes place in their cities.”
Complicating the planning and having children. Disassembly seemed to be approaching, Canadian Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said: “For those who have children, this is not a place for children. Take them home immediately. “
Gillis reported from Toronto. Associated Press writer Andrew Rural of Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.