Issued on: 20/02/2022 – 07:47
A protesters holds a flag in front of a police line on Kent Street after police cleared Wellington Street, previously occupied by the “Freedom Convoy”, in Ottawa, Canada on February 19, 2022. AFP – ANDREJ IVANOV
Canadian police on Sunday are making possibly the final push to clear the capital city of demonstrators who have paralysed it by parking and camping on the streets for more than three weeks in a self-styled “Freedom Convoy” to protest against pandemic restrictions.
With protesters in clear retreat in the largest police operation in the country’s history, the end of the three-week Ottawa protest against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to be in sight. Far smaller protests continued in a handful of places scattered across Canada.
In Ottawa, Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said that while some smaller protests continued “this unlawful occupation is over. We will continue with our mission until it is complete.”
While some protesters vowed to stay on Ottawa’s streets, one prominent organiser told reporters they had “decided to peacefully withdraw”.
“We will simply regroup as a grassroots movement,” Tom Marazzo said at a press conference.
Police had been brought in from across the country to help in the clearance operation, Bell said, adding that 170 people were arrested Friday and Saturday and multiple investigations had been launched because of weapons seizures.
“We’re not going anywhere until you have your streets back,” he said at a press conference, vowing to go after protesters who don’t disperse with “financial sanctions and criminal charges”.
Debating emergency powersThe crackdown on the “Freedom Convoy” began Friday morning, when hundreds of police, some in riot gear and some carrying automatic weapons, descended into the protest zone and began leading demonstrators away in handcuffs through the snowy streets as holdout truckers blared their horns.
The capital and its paralysed streets represented the movement’s last major stronghold after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the US and created one of the most serious tests yet for Trudeau. They also shook Canada’s reputation for civility, with some blaming America’s influence.
Criticised for failing to act decisively on the protests, Trudeau this week invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government sweeping powers to deal with a major crisis.
But lawmakers were split over their use.
Trudeau has said the act was not being used to call in the military against the protesters and denied restricting freedom of expression.
The objective was simply to “deal with the current threat and to get the situation fully under control”, he said. “Illegal blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)