OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Police in the Canadian capital Ottawa on Wednesday (Feb 16) started warning truck drivers blockading the downtown core that they should depart or face arrest, part of a promised crackdown to end a three-week-old protest over Covid-19 restrictions.
Later, Interim Police Chief Steve Bell vowed "to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space" in "coming days", adding "it will take time to do this right".
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino blamed extremist groups for helping organise protests in Ottawa and at US border crossings and repeated suggestions that some actors wanted to overthrow the Liberal government.
Police in the province of Alberta this week arrested 13 people linked to a border blockade at the town of Coutts and seized guns. Four members of the group have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Several of the individuals at Coutts have strong ties to a far-right extreme organisation with leaders who are in Ottawa, Mendicino told reporters.
"What we're beginning to see emerge now are the hallmarks of a sophisticated and capable organisation of a small number of individuals, but with a steel resolve, driven by an extreme ideology that would seek to create to overthrow the existing government," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked the little-used Emergencies Act, giving the Liberal government more powers to end the protest.
Candice Bergen, interim leader of the official opposition Conservatives, said invoking the act was akin to using a "hammer on Canadians" and called it unnecessary. Trudeau says the situation is still severe enough to warrant such a move.
Police in Windsor said on Wednesday they had intercepted a small convoy of trucks on Tuesday that they suspected wanted to reinstate a blockade on the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, which is crucial to bilateral trade.
Protesters had blocked the bridge for six days before being removed last Sunday. The incident prompted US President Joe Biden to express his concerns to Trudeau.
Canadian border guards turned back My Pillow founder Mike Lindell and a truck carrying 10,000 pillows for the protesters on Thursday because he was unvaccinated and had not taken a pre-arrival Covid-19 test, a government source said citing information provided by Canada's border agency.
In a telephone interview, Lindell, a vocal supporter of former US President Donald Trump, denied he had been at the border - "I never was up there" - but said his truck had obtained a permit and would try crossing again on Thursday.
"Tomorrow morning, we're coming across the border," said Lindell. "And we'll be in Ottawa, we hope, by the afternoon delivering the pillows."
Deputy Bank of Canada governor Timothy Lane said further blockades would have an impact on the broader Canadian economy.
The Emergencies Act allows the government to boost local police forces with officers from the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Ottawa police also started ticketing some of the hundreds of vehicles blocking the downtown core.
"You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets ... (is) committing a criminal offence and you may be arrested," read leaflets handed out by police to truckers.
Initial reaction to the new police tactics in Ottawa was mixed. At least one large rig left the blockade while some demonstrators put the warning leaflets into a toilet placed in front of a truck. Some truckers blew their horns in violation of a court order forbidding such behaviour.
Wendell Thorndyke, who has been parked in front of parliament for 21 days, insisted he had no intention of leaving.
"Oh, hell no, we think it's cute. They turned all the cops into meter maids," he said as he filled his engine with oil.
Sources told Reuters that frustration with the failure of police to lift blockades at the border and in the capital ultimately drove Trudeau to seek emergency powers.
A blockade in the Manitoba town of Emerson ended on Wednesday, police said.