Canadian police sweep through Ottawa in show of force against protest

Police officers begin to make arrests at the trucker-led protest in Ottawa, Canada, on Feb 18, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

OTTAWA (BLOOMBERG) - Police in Ottawa arrested more than 100 people and towed away vehicles as they worked to clear the streets and end a protest that has paralysed Canada's capital city for three weeks.

Lines of officers worked their way through streets near the country's parliament in frigid weather, corralling demonstrators, trying to persuade them to leave and arresting some who refused.

Police have set up a system of about 100 checkpoints to control entry into a large section of downtown to prevent sympathisers from joining the protest.

Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said officers are conducting a "methodical and well-resourced plan," and will work around the clock until "the residents and community have their entire city back."

By late afternoon on Friday (Feb 18), police had pushed protesters out of an intersection adjacent to the Rideau Center, a large shopping mall that has closed its doors during the demonstrations.

But even as arrests were broadcast on live television, protesters still lingered throughout the rest of the downtown core and hundreds of semi trucks and other vehicles remained parked in the streets.

In anticipation of the law enforcement sweep, Canada's parliament announced it would be closed on Friday, meaning debate will be delayed on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to invoke emergency powers to help quell the demonstrations.

Mr Trudeau's government invoked a law giving it emergency powers on Monday, saying the move is needed to give police extra authority and to cut off money to demonstrators who've blocked border crossings and entrenched themselves in downtown Ottawa. The protesters are demanding an end to vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions. Some of the arrests have swept up key organisers of the protest.

One, Chris Barber, was charged with three counts of counselling others to commit a crime. Tamara Lich is charged with counselling others to commit mischief.

Under the federal emergency legislation, the downtown protest area has been declared a prohibited public assembly.

Police are also using the checkpoints to prevent a repeat of the last three weekends, during which thousands of protesters drove into Ottawa creating massive street parties that authorities had little control over. Highway exits into the downtown area are blocked off, and police have said only those who live, work or have another lawful purpose will be allowed through the checkpoints.

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