OTTAWA, Ontario — Hundreds of police in riot gear swept through Canada’s capital Saturday, retaking control of the streets around the Parliament buildings and appearing to end the siege of Ottawa after three weeks of protests.
Protesters, angry over the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, retreated from the largest police operation in the country’s history, with police arresting or driving out demonstrators and towing away their trucks.
In Ottawa, Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said that some smaller protests continued but “this unlawful occupation is over. We will continue with our mission until it is complete.”
While some protesters vowed to stay on Ottawa’s streets, one prominent organizer told reporters they had “decided to peacefully withdraw.”
“We will simply regroup as a grassroots movement,” Tom Marazzo said at a press conference.
Police had been brought in from across the country to help in the clearance operation, Bell said, adding that 170 people were arrested Friday and Saturday and multiple investigations had been launched because of weapons seizures.
“We’re not going anywhere until you have your streets back,” he said at a press conference, vowing to go after protesters who don’t disperse with “financial sanctions and criminal charges.”
By early Saturday afternoon, protesters were gone from the street in front of Parliament Hill, the collection of government offices that includes the Parliament buildings, which had the heart of the protests.
Canadian authorities also announced they had used emergency powers to seize 76 bank accounts connected to protesters, totaling roughly $3.2 million ($2.5 million U.S.).
On Saturday, they also closed a bridge into the nation’s capital from Quebec to prevent a renewed influx of protesters.
Police said protesters remained “aggressive and assaultive” and that pepper spray had been used to protect officers.
Around midday, protest organizers said they had ordered truckers to move away from Parliament Hill, decrying the police’s actions as “abuses of power.”
Earlier, Ottawa police addressed the protesters in a tweet: “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.”
Earlier, Bell said most of the arrests were for mischief charges and that no protesters had been hurt. One officer had a minor injury, he said.
Police said one protester launched a gas canister and was arrested as they advanced.
Four protest leaders were also among the people arrested.
The crackdown on the Freedom Convoy began Friday morning, when hundreds of police, some in riot gear and some carrying automatic weapons, descended into the protest zone and began leading demonstrators away in handcuffs through the snowy streets as holdout truckers blared their horns.
The capital and its paralyzed streets represented the movement’s last major stronghold after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that shut down border crossings into the U.S. and created one of the most serious tests yet for Trudeau. They also shook Canada’s reputation for civility, with some blaming America’s influence.
The Freedom Convoy demonstrations 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.