Truckers at Ottawa Protest Arrested at Gunpoint as Police Advance

OTTAWA — Canadian police officers advanced on demonstrators at gunpoint, smashing truck windows and arresting protesters in front of the country’s Parliament building, an aggressive escalation in the government’s effort to finally end the protests that have roiled the nation’s capital for three weeks.

Officers in riot gear, brandishing batons and rifles, pushed to regain the area around Parliament, expanding an operation that began on Friday to remove parked trucks that have blocked the city’s downtown core.

In the heart of the encampment, the police pushed people back with batons, and toppled over a table displaying dubious information about vaccine injury. They advanced methodically truck by truck, shoving protesters back, some people getting pushed over by the police, as demonstrators shouted, “Shame on you!”

A recording played in French and English, as the police advanced. “You must leave,” it said. “Anyone found in the zone will be arrested.”

By midmorning, police had cleared all demonstrators from what had been the occupation’s core, Wellington Street, in front of the house of Parliament, and set up barricades. Most of the trucks entrenched there for the past three weeks drove off when the advance began; a few abandoned vehicles remained.

“We’re in control of the situation on the ground, and continue to push forward to clear our streets,” Steve Bell, the interim police chief, said on Friday. “We will work day and night until this is completed.”

As of Saturday morning, the police said least 100 protesters had been arrested.

The police operation appeared to be a final salvo in the government’s belated effort to break up the occupation, which began as a convoy of truckers angry about a federal vaccine requirement, but snowballed into a larger movement. Soon the demonstrations attracted a variety of protesters airing grievances about pandemic restrictions, claims of government overreach and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stewardship of the country.

The protests had been by and large nonviolent, evoking the atmosphere of a carnival. But they ensnarled traffic across the capital, disrupted business and annoyed residents with incessant honking. Organizers inflated bouncy castles in the street, and people brought small children and dogs. D.J.s spun music from flatbed trucks-turned stages. At one point people soaked in a hot tub erected in front of the Parliament building.

“It’s horrific,” said Dagny Pawlak, a spokeswoman for the truckers, said in a text message on Saturday. “A dark moment in Canadian history.” She added: “Never in my life would I have believed anyone if they told me that our own P.M. would refuse dialogue and choose violence against peaceful protesters instead.”

While the protesters grew ever more entrenched, criticism of the government’s failure to remove the occupation built across the country — and especially among many Ottawa residents.

Kathryn Moore, an administrator at the University of Ottawa, said she lived close enough to the downtown core to hear the horns of the truckers when the wind blows in her direction. “I lost my patience after Week 2.”

Copycat protests, including the blockage of a vital international trade route between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, cost millions in lost revenue. And others, as far away as France and New Zealand, turned the world’s attention to the disruption in Ottawa, caused by an angry, but vocal minority, in a country with one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world.

Efforts to rout the demonstrators began on Friday in a standoff where the police and demonstrators stood at loggerheads for more than five hours, a stalemate punctuated by the sudden appearance of a horse unit towering over the crowd. The police warned the shoving protesters that they were assaulting them, then deployed the mounted officers who charged parallel across the fault line between the two groups, the animals knocking over some protesters and stepping on at least one person. The police said that they were “unaware” if anyone was injured in the fracas.

Throughout the course of the protest, public opinion has shown that pandemic fatigue is high here, in a country that has frequently rolled out stringent coronavirus restrictions.In opinion polls, some expressed sympathy with the truckers’ motivations, but not their methods. Still, as the horns blared incessantly — a trademark of the demonstration, even after a judge enjoined it — many Canadians, particularly locals, lost their tolerance for the occupiers.

Some of the convoy’s self-appointed leaders had right-wing organizing backgrounds, including Tamara Lich, a former member of a fringe party that advocated secession for western provinces. Trump, QAnon or Confederate flags began to crop up in some of the trucker demonstrations across the country. Police officers arrested a group of people with a cache of weapons involved in a blockade in Alberta.

On Monday, Mr. Trudeau declared a national public order emergency — the first such declaration in half a century — giving the government the power to seize trucks and other vehicles used in the protests, seal off the demonstration’s stronghold and freeze the bank accounts of anyone involved.

Invoking such sweeping new powers was “unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional,” said a representative of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which plans to sue the government over the move. Mr. Trudeau and members of his cabinet offered repeated assurance that the act would not be used to suspend “fundamental rights.”

In any case, many of the powers enabled on Monday by Mr. Trudeau had already been given to the police and the authorities under a state of emergency by the province of Ontario.

Officers, backed by at least two armored vehicles, began to force demonstrators back toward Parliament Hill. Heavy tow trucks, their company names covered with Ottawa police stickers, hauled away semis that hadn’t budged for weeks.

Roadblocks set up around the city were tightly enforced through the night. Cars going north were stopped and checked several times between the expressway and Parliament. People on foot who tried to bypass the police were warned they would be immediately arrested, which persuaded many to turn away.

Among those who have been taken into custody were some of the most prominent leaders of the protests: Daniel Bulford, a former police officer, Tamara Lich, a singer turned right-wing activist, and Chris Barber, a trucker and official spokesman of the movement.

On Friday, B.J. Dichter, a spokesman for the convoy, wrote on Twitter that it was time for protesters to leave, saying that the police had smashed the windows of one driver’s truck. But some of those who remained near the Parliament building said they had no plans to go home yet, even as law enforcement closed in.

“We can’t stop them,” said Mike Marsh, 48, nodding in the direction of the police. “All we can do is slow them down.”

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