Truckers prepare for possible crackdowns in Ottawa
OTTAWA (Ontario) -- On Thursday, police poured into Ottawa in what truckers feared was a prelude for a crackdown against their almost three-week-old street-clogging protest of Canada's COVID-19 regulations.
Workers in the capital built fences around Parliament. Officers distributed leaflets to warn protesters to move. The area was clogged with police vehicles in the early hours of the morning.
"It's time for these illegal and dangerous actions to stop," Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, declared in Parliament. He was not far from the more than 300 trucks parked there.
He stated, "They are a danger to our economy and our relationships with trading partners." They pose a threat to the safety of the public.
The self-proclaimed Freedom Convoy truckers reacted with scorn to the warnings. Those parked in front Parliament Hill honked their horns, defying a court order against honking. The vast majority of the truckers remained put as of midday. He said that the large rigs that were parked bumper to bumper in Ottawa were not being moved by Canadian tow trucks.
The prime minister invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act to make the blockades illegal and tow trucks away. He also empowered law enforcement authorities with the power to arrest, freeze bank accounts, and suspend drivers' licenses.
Trudeau and several of his top ministers issued stern warnings to the Ottawa protestors to clear out or face consequences on Thursday. This was an apparent move to prevent a clash or show that it has gone the extra mile in avoiding one.
Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister, stated that the government had already frozen truckers' accounts because of threats. It is happening. She said that she had the numbers in front.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Ottawa police distributed flyers urging truckers to end their siege. They also placed notices on vehicles to inform owners where and how to pick up their trucks if they were towed.
"We have seen people harassed, intimidated and threatened. Apartment buildings have been locked up. We've seen fires lit in corridors. Marco Mendicino, Canadian Public Safety Minister, said residents are being terrorized. It is heartbreaking to witness the feeling of helplessness and abandonment they feel for weeks.
Protests by truckers, tractors and motor home owners in Canada initially focused on Canada's vaccination requirement for truckers entering the country. However, it soon evolved into a wider attack on COVID-19 precautions as well as Trudeau's government.
The Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, was the most significant blockade at the border. The blockade disrupted the flow and production of auto parts between the two countries, and led to the arrest of dozens of protesters.
On Wednesday, the final border blockade in Manitoba was lifted peacefully.
Right-wing extremists and veterans have supported the movement, and authorities have hesitated against them partly out of fear of violence.
Fox News personalities, as well as conservatives from the United States like Donald Trump, have encouraged protests. Trudeau complained that about half of the funding for the barricaders in Canada comes from the United States on Thursday.
According to security experts, dispersing the protests in Ottawa could prove difficult and dangerous. There is also the possibility of violence. A heavy-handed response by law enforcement could lead to propaganda for antigovernment extremists.
Some trucks were parked downtown shoulder to shoulder, others with tires removed to make it difficult to tow. Some of the trucks were believed to have been chained together. The children were a particular concern for the police.
David Carter, a former officer and professor at Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice, said that there is no playbook. I know that there are U.S. police chiefs who are looking into this and creating strategic plans and partnerships to manage protests like this, if they should happen in their cities.
Canadian Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair stated that tensions were rising on Thursday and said: "This is not the place for children. You must take them home immediately.