Canadian police on Wednesday warned demonstrators opposed to Covid rules who have been clogging Ottawa streets for nearly three weeks to leave or face arrest, fines and seizure of their trucks.
Federal authorities, meanwhile, negotiated a peaceful end to the last of several recent blockades by protesters of border crossings between Canada and the United States.
“You must leave the area now,” Ottawa police said in a notice distributed to truckers outside parliament.
Anyone blocking streets or assisting others in doing so will be arrested and face charges, the statement said.
Police also warned that anyone charged or convicted for taking part in the illegal demonstration may, in addition to criminal penalties, be barred from travelling to the United States.
As the notices were handed out, AFP journalists saw hundreds of trucks continuing to occupy streets in the parliamentary precinct, intermittently honking horns — despite an extension Wednesday of a court order against the deafening noises, obtained by an area resident fed up with the disruptions.
“We’re still a lot of trucks holding the line,” trucker David Shaw, 65, told AFP. If arrested, he added: “I’ll keep coming back.”
Fellow Trucker Jan Grouin, 42, decried Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision earlier this week to impose a state of emergency, calling it “a little overreacting maybe to think that we are terrorists.”
– ‘Time for this to end’ –
Unable to dislodge the protesters, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government wide new powers to end their weeks-long protest over Covid restrictions. The move marked only the second time in Canadian history such emergency powers have been invoked in peacetime.
Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday that with police now getting help from various other law enforcement units, they should now “be able to begin their actions.”
“It’s time for this to end,” he said, adding that it was up to “police to decide when and how.”
On Tuesday, Ottawa’s interim police Chief Steve Bell said a “turning point” has been reached.
“I believe we now have the resources and partners to bring a safe end to this occupation,” he said.
Ball replaced chief Peter Sloly who abruptly resigned after facing intense criticism over his failure to dislodge the protesters.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started with truckers protesting against mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have since grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.
At its peak, the movement also included blockades of a half dozen border crossings — including a key trade route across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit.
Dozens of protesters were arrested and several vehicles seized during police operations at the border, and in Coutts, Alberta federal police charged four people with conspiracy to murder police officers. They were among 13 arrested with a cache of weapons that included rifles, handguns, body armor and ammunition.
On Wednesday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Paul Manaigre said the last blocked crossing — between Manitoba and the US state of North Dakota — would be open soon, after protesters agreed to leave.
“In a short time they’ll be on their way,” Manaigre told reporters. “The outcome is what we wanted. No one got hurt. We have a highway that’s going to open, and trade can resume.”