OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Police began arresting protesters Friday in a bid to break the three-week siege of Canada’s capital by truckers angry over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Some protesters surrendered and were taken into custody, police said. Some were seen being led away in handcuffs.
Police made their first move to take break up the traffic-snarling occupation late Thursday with the arrest of two protest leaders. They also sealed off much of the downtown area to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of the self-styled Freedom Convoy protesters.
The capital represented the movement’s last stronghold after three weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the U.S., caused economic damage to both countries and created a political crisis for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Over the past weeks, authorities had hesitated to move against many of the protesters around the country, in part for fear of violence. The demonstrations have drawn right-wing extremists and veterans, some of them armed.
With police and the government facing accusations that they let the protests gain strength and spread, Trudeau on Monday invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, empowering law enforcement authorities to declare the blockades illegal, tow away trucks, arrest the drivers, suspend their licenses and freeze their bank accounts.
Ottawa police made it clear on Thursday they were preparing to end the protest and remove the more than 300 trucks, with Ottawa’s interim police chief warning: “Action is imminent.”
The demonstrations around the country by protesters in trucks, tractors and motor homes initially focused on Canada’s vaccine requirement for truckers entering the country but soon morphed into a broad attack on COVID-19 precautions and Trudeau’s government.
The biggest border blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, disrupted the flow of auto parts between the two countries and forced the industry to curtail production. Authorities lifted the siege last weekend after arresting dozens of protesters.
The final blockade, in Manitoba, ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists and have been cheered on and received donations from conservatives in the U.S.
The bumper-to-bumper occupation infuriated many Ottawa residents, who complained of being harassed and intimidated on the streets.