Police in Canada have retaken control of the streets around Ottawa’s parliament buildings after a three-week protest – declaring: “This unlawful occupation is over.”
Smaller protests are continuing around the capital and some demonstrators have vowed to regroup. Those who refuse to leave have been told they will face “financial sanctions and criminal charges”.
Ottawa’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, said officers will “continue with our mission until it is complete”, telling residents: “We’re not going anywhere until you have your streets back.”
‘Harassed and intimidated’
The protests – referred to as the Freedom Convoy movement – began in January.
They were initially led by truckers who were angry about vaccine mandates, but developed into a gathering of people voicing opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ottawa residents had complained they were harassed and intimidated by the truckers, who had kept them awake at night by honking their truck horns.
Hundreds of police in riot gear moved in on Friday and Saturday, arresting demonstrators and towing their trucks in the largest police operation in Canadian history.
Some 170 people were arrested on Friday and Saturday, with a number of weapons seized. Emergency powers were also used by authorities to seize 76 bank accounts connected to the protesters, with a value totalling around £1.85m.
‘We gave you time to leave’
Before the operation began, Ottawa police had warned protesters in a tweet, saying: “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.”
Mr Bell said no protesters were hurt, but one police officer received minor injuries.
One of the protest’s organisers. Tom Marazzo, said he and others had “decided to peacefully withdraw” from the area, adding: “We will simply regroup as a grassroots movement.”
Mr Trudeau has described the protesters as a “fringe” element in a country where most people support the vaccine rules, and many – including most truckers – are vaccinated.
On Monday, Mr Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act – which allowed the blockades to be declared illegal, trucks to be towed away, drivers to be arrested, their licences to be suspended and their bank accounts frozen.
The act also allowed police to compel tow truck companies to help after officers had earlier said tow truck drivers were reluctant to help because they supported the protesters or they feared retaliation.