Police clear Covid-19 protesters from Canadian capital
Toronto, Feb 19 (EFE).- Most of the trucks parked for three weeks near Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa as part of a protest against Covid-19 health measures have been removed, police said Saturday.
“This occupation is now over,” Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell told a press conference, though he added that the law enforcement operation was “still moving forward.”
“It is not over and will take more time until we have achieved our goals,” he said, noting that the Ottawa police department is being assisted by officers from across Canada.
The department put the number of vehicles removed since Friday at 46, while Bell said that 170 people have been arrested, some on weapons charges.
Police said that some protesters were wearing bullet-proof vests and others had smoke grenades in their possession.
CBC television reported that the encampment set up by the “Freedom Convoy” on Parliament Hill had been cleared of protesters by Saturday afternoon.
Addressing allegations that tear gas was used, Bell said that officers resorted to “a chemical irritant also known as pepper spray to disperse unlawful demonstrators who were resisting police orders.”
Television networks aired images of people grabbing clumps of snow from the street to rub their eyes.
“Our officers continued to face resistance. At one point a flare was ignited by a protester,” Bell said.
Police were more confrontational than on Friday, with officers donning riot gear for the first time, a change in approach that the Ottawa department signaled on social media.
“Protesters: We told you to leave. We gave you time to leave. We were slow and methodical, yet you were assaultive and aggressive with officers and the horses. Based on your behavior, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety,” the force said.
Protesters denounced the police tactics as “brutal.”
While a number of the protesters vowed to remain and “Hold the Line,” one of the spokespersons for the Freedom Convoy said that the had “decided to peacefully withdraw.”
“We will simply regroup as a grassroots movement,” Tom Marazzo said.
Bell promised that any complaints of excessive force by police would be investigated.
The operation came as lawmakers prepared to vote next week on whether to uphold Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke Canada’s Emergencies Act to deal with the occupation of Ottawa and the blockade of the main land route to the United States, which caused major disruptions to the auto industry on both sides of the border.
Besides authorizing police to remove the protesters, the act allows the government to levy fines, revoke driver’s licenses and freeze bank accounts linked to the Freedom Convoy. EFE llb/dr