© Reuters. A man walks in front of a truck with a Canadian flag as protests against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates continue along Wellington Street near the Parliament of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 17, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Police began towing trucks from downtown Ottawa on Friday and stepped up arrests of protesters in an effort to end a trucker-led movement that has blocked Canada’s capital for three weeks and embarrassed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
The protesters lined up heavy trucks in front of parliament and Trudeau’s office, and the Ottawa police, fearing escalation or violence, had tried to disperse them with fines and threats.
But with dozens of trucks still occupying the center, police arrested two leaders of the movement on Thursday and charged them with mischief. On Friday, after a night of heavy snowfall, officers erected 100 roadblocks near the protest site to deny people entry and starve new supplies, such as food and fuel.
“You must leave. You must cease any further illegal activity and immediately remove your vehicle and/or property from all illegal protest sites. Anyone found on the illegal protest site may be arrested,” the Ottawa Police Department wrote on Twitter (NYSE:) .
At least one 18-wheeler truck was towed Friday and police saw another hook up for removal, a Reuters photographer said. Live television footage showed that police had arrested at least 12 protesters.
The protesters initially wanted to end cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers, but the blockade gradually turned into an anti-government and anti-Trudeau demonstration. They have vowed to remain peaceful but say they will hold out until police physically remove them.
“If they want to arrest me, I put out my hands, and they can twist and tie me like everyone else here. We’ll go peacefully,” said Mark, a protester from Nova Scotia who refused to give his money. last name. Nearby, protesters were in a tent frying eggs on a portable stove, with no apparent plans to leave.
Police, who have sent hundreds of officers to downtown Ottawa, say the operation to lift the protest will take days. At least one BearCat, a military-style armored vehicle, was spotted in downtown Ottawa.
Trudeau on Monday called for emergency powers to give his government more powers to stop the protests. Lawmakers were scheduled to debate those temporary powers on Friday, but the House of Commons suspended its seat over police activity.
“If you’re not in the House of Commons district, stay clear of the downtown area until further notice,” said a House of Commons message.
Trudeau sought the special powers after protesters closed U.S. border crossings, including Ontario’s Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, a bottleneck for the region’s automakers. The closure of the bridge, released Sunday, had damaged the economies of both countries and caused a major crisis for Trudeau.
As police accelerated work to clear the protesters’ last stronghold, at least a dozen tow trucks were seen preparing to remove trucks and other protest vehicles still in the center.
Many of the tow trucks had all identification marks removed. Before Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, police had said some tow truck drivers were afraid to cooperate with authorities for fear they could be the target of retaliation.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., citing security sources, said authorities had set up a number of temporary detention centers in the city, believed to be to hold detained protesters.