Ottawa Police have begun arresting protesters and towing trucks as efforts to clear Canadian truckers blocking thoroughfares in the capital city hit a tipping point Friday in the nearly three-week standoff over COVID-19 mandates.
Police so far arrested at least 70 demonstrators and towed nearly two dozen vehicles blocking city streets. At least four organizers were among those arrested.
One officer was treated for minor injuries. No protesters had been injured, according to interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell.
“Work is underway by the City of Ottawa to remediate and clean up the area that we’ve gained back today,” Mr. Bell told reporters. “We will run this operation 24 hours a day until the residents and community have their entire city back.”
The crackdown began early Friday when hundreds of police officers, some clad in riot gear, converged on what authorities designated a “secured zone.”
Citing the recently invoked Emergencies Act, police began establishing checkpoints throughout the city late Thursday and warned residents to avoid the “downtown core” as officers prepared to raid the truckers who have been demonstrating against Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Ottawa police arrested two protest leaders Thursday evening and sealed off much of the downtown area to prevent more truckers from coming to the aid of the protesters.
By early Friday, police had made more arrests, with some protesters accusing officers of using excessive force.
“One of #freedomconvoycanada drivers had his truck windows smashed by Ottawa Police, guns drawn & dragged out of his vehicle by force,” B.J. Dichter, as spokesman for the Freedom Convoy said on Twitter. “It’s time to leave. @OttawaPolice please allow the remaining trucks to leave in #Peace.”
By afternoon Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the operation had begun to make an impact, though police have not disclosed how many protestors remained downtown.
“There are indications we are now starting to see progress,” Mr. Ford told the Associated Press.
Others say the protests are far from over.
“I don’t think this is going away,” said Tim Coderre, one of the organizers behind the movement said. “They’re they’re going to try to put the handcuffs on and intimidate us, but I believe that the people will rise up and we’ll be back on the doorstep again.”
Ottawa has become the last remaining stronghold for the trucker protests after police cleared several border crossings across Canada.
Protesters have become incensed by what they say is a draconian crackdown on their right to protest.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act earlier this week, which gives the government broad authority to crack down on protesters.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced that the government will crack down on crowdfunding sites used to support the protests under broadened anti-money-laundering regulations.
The escalation was criticized by some Canadian officials and by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which said the move is an overreach to silence dissent.
Late last week, police began clearing a blockade at the Ambassador Bridge, a key border crossing with Michigan, that had forced U.S. auto manufacturers to cut production due to parts shortages.
Earlier this week, authorities began clearing the Coutts, Alberta, border crossing into Montana.
On Monday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) seized a cache of weapons and arrested 13 and seized a cache of weapons in connection with the blockade.
The RCMP said Tuesday that four protesters at the Coutts border crossing had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder in addition to weapons possessions charges.
Demonstrators began clearing the crossing as police moved in, and Canada’s minister of public safety announced Tuesday afternoon that the Coutts border crossing had officially reopened.
Police cleared the last remaining border blockade in Manitoba, across from North Dakota, on Wednesday.
• This article includes wire service reports.