Police have cleared the remaining truckers and other Freedom Convoy protesters from Ottawa, Ontario, after a tense weekend of clashes, arrests and the towing of numerous trucks.
While the large police operation was continuing Monday, officers have regained control of the city’s downtown three weeks after the protesters arrived.
Some drivers were removed from their trucks by force. Police smashed the windows of a truck as a crowd of protesters yelled “Shame!” according to videos shared on social media.
Police have arrested 191 people since Friday, including organizers Chris Barber, Tamara Lich and Pat King. Barber, a Saskatchewan trucker with a large TikTok following, was released on bail on the condition that he leave Ottawa, the CBC reported.
Truckers have also been leaving in recent days, with the pace increasing Saturday as they faced the threat of arrest, suspended insurance and frozen bank accounts. Authorities also have taken action against the commercial vehicle operator registrations of 36 vehicles. Police said 76 vehicles have been towed.
Ottawa police, in response to an inquiry from FreightWaves, declined to disclose how many truck drivers have been arrested.
“There will be a more fulsome update in the coming days,” the Ottawa Police Service wrote in email.
Trucker angry over police crackdown but says ‘we also started something’
The Freedom Convoy began in late January, originally in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers. It quickly grew as a challenge to multiple public health measures in response to the pandemic.
Erik Mueller, an owner-operator from Alberta, said he left the protest on Thursday because the carrier he had been bonded to risked losing its insurance.
“I’m tired. I’m really angry. I’m disappointed. But we also started something,” he said.
Police took an increasingly aggressive approach after the operation began Friday to remove the people and vehicles encamped in Ottawa. The Ottawa Police Service accused protesters of assaulting officers. Protesters and supporters, meanwhile, accused the police of using excessive force.
Ontario’s police watchdog agency, the Special Investigations Unit, opened two investigations in response to incidents over the weekend. In one incident, a woman reported being seriously injured by a mounted police officer.
Concerns over enhanced police powers targeting trucking
The police operation came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act in response to protests in Ottawa and blockades of multiple border crossings. By invoking the act, Trudeau has given police enhanced powers, including the ability to freeze bank accounts and compel tow truck operators into service.
Mike Millian, president of Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, which represents private and dedicated fleets, said he supported the federal government taking a hard line on the protests but had concerns about how financial measures will be used.
“If it’s an owner-operator who is there [at the protests] or the company has four trucks and all four trucks are there, fine, but our concern is that you start freezing corporate assets without knowing if the corporation is supporting the protest,” Millian told FreightWaves ahead of the police operation in Ottawa.
Millian said he was also worried about tow operators being forced to remove trucks, citing threats some companies had received from protest supporters.
Lawmakers in Canada’s House of Commons are continuing to debate whether to approve Trudeau’s use of the act. A vote is expected later on Monday.
Trudeau and officials in his government have maintained that extraordinary step was necessary to end the protests and blockades. Officials pointed to the millions of dollars of trade disrupted by the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge and other crossings, disruption of life in Ottawa and the arrest of suspects involved in the protest at the border in Coutts, Alberta, accused of plotting to kill a police officer.
“We have taken the decision very carefully and very thoughtfully,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said.
Conservative lawmakers have come out against the measure, calling it unnecessary and an attempt by Trudeau to consolidate power. “There are no more blockades at any borders. Invoking the Emergencies Act is a power grab by the Trudeau government,” Candice Bergen, leader of the Conservative Party, said in a tweet.
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