170 arrested as Canada police clear protesters in Ottawa

“We are in this until it is over," said interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell


By Ari Altstedter
Bloomberg News

OTTAWA, Ontario — Police dislodged anti-vaccine protesters from the street in front of Canada’s parliament building, clearing the center of a weekslong blockade that paralyzed the capital city’s downtown and plunged the nation into crisis.

By evening, a total of 170 people had been arrested as police intensified their actions, deploying pepper spray, batons and mounted units to remove demonstrators. But the police said their operation to break up the protests was not complete.

A police vehicle blocks a downtown street to prevent trucks from joining a blockade of truckers protesting vaccine mandates near the Parliament Buildings on Feb. 15, 2022, in Ottawa, Canada.
A police vehicle blocks a downtown street to prevent trucks from joining a blockade of truckers protesting vaccine mandates near the Parliament Buildings on Feb. 15, 2022, in Ottawa, Canada. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Some protesters remained camped in other downtown streets, and there were reports that others were setting up new positions around the city. No serious injuries were reported either among law enforcement or the protesters, according to the Ottawa Police Service’s Twitter feed.

“This operation is still moving forward, it is not over, and it will take more time until we have achieved our goals,” Ottawa’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, said in a press conference Saturday afternoon. “We are in this until it is over.”

Semitrucks and other vehicles have blocked downtown Ottawa’s streets for the last three weeks as protesters demanded and end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions, putting Canada at the forefront of a broader reaction against measures taken to control a global health crisis now entering its third year.

Similar blockades at Canadian border crossings with the U.S. have endangered trade between the two countries, and copycat protests have sprung up as far away as France and New Zealand.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking emergency powers this week — the first time in half a century — the police action in Ottawa is one of the largest in the nation’s history.

Chief Bell said that several weapons had been seized as police cleared the protest encampment, though any charges had yet to be filed.

The federal government meanwhile used its emergency powers to freeze at least 76 accounts representing $2.5 million associated with the blockades, Marco Mendicino, Canada’s federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said in a press conference Saturday morning.

“We’re all on pins and needles for the safety of those who are on the streets,” Mendicino said. “We’re all relieved there has been a very minimum amount of confrontation and violence, and we certainly hope that will continue to be the case going forward.”

The now-cleared area along Wellington Street in front of Canada’s parliament building had become a gathering point for protesters during the three-week occupation, with speakers during the day and live music at night.

The police indicated that there may be more enforcement actions even after the streets are cleared. Bell said the police are collecting information about those still taking part in the protests to allow charges to be filed at a later time as investigations continue.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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