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A person wearing a Canadian flag walks along Wellington Street where a number of trucks had cleared from an encampment across from Confederation Building, as police work to end an ongoing protest against COVID-19 measures in Ottawa, on Feb. 18.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Like many residents who spent Friday locked down in Ottawa’s barricaded red zone, Tyler Rotteau spent the day on social media, following updates as teams of armed police officers finally confronted the protesters who have brought noise, tension and truck-jammed streets to the capital’s downtown neighbourhood for the past three weeks.

“It is definitely shocking,” Mr. Rotteau said of seeing hundreds of armed police, some dressed in riot gear, slowly push protesters back, ordering them to leave the area or face arrest. But he said the police action was also a relief after 22 days of keeping his head down in his own neighbourhood to avoid a confrontation. The night before, Mr. Rotteau and his partner walked to the closest highway exit to see that it was actually blocked, evidence that a solution might finally be coming after weeks of waiting for the authorities to act.

“We needed to see it to believe it,” he said.

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Since the protesters arrived on Jan. 28, Centretown residents have been subject to long hours of honking tractor trailers and blocked streets, while demonstrators gathered around late-night bonfires outside their homes. Many businesses, including the city’s largest shopping mall, have been closed since the protest started, because of safety concerns for their employees.

The blockade set up on Thursday meant that Ottawa’s downtown core, from the highway to Parliament Hill, was mostly shut to outside traffic on Friday. The streets, including those in the typically bustling Byward Market, were largely deserted of pedestrians. “There was no one,” said Sydney Sakell, a manager at a local retail business, who walked from her apartment to work. “It was so quiet and eerie.”

In front of Parliament Hill, the remaining protesters continued to listen to speeches and play street hockey into Friday afternoon, seemingly undeterred by the slow-burn confrontation playing out several blocks away.

“I am still not letting myself feel hopeful that this will be the end of things,” said Ellen Wanamaker, 25, a server at a downtown restaurant, who has already missed eight days of work because of the protest, and faces another Saturday with her shift likely cancelled. “On all sides,” she said, “there is a lot of anger, and no place to put it.”

Ms. Wanamaker said that while she worries the crackdown will only radicalize the protesters, this ending felt inevitable. “We didn’t see a situation where they said, ‘We’ve made our point, now we will leave.’”

She also echoed the sentiment of many Centretown residents who say they have felt abandoned by police, who watched demonstrators break laws and appeared to do little to stop them.

“Everybody is walking around with bags under their eyes,” she said, of her neighbours in her apartment building, who banded together to look out for each other, running errands in groups and even taking turns monitoring the front door at night, after a fire, now under investigation as arson, was set in the lobby.

“A lot of the things we have done to feel safer had been through collective community action, and not the police,” Ms. Wanamaker said.

As Ms. Sakell said, while the police crackdown was “very intense and scary for a lot of neighbours, it was also scary when the police weren’t there.”

From her window looking out on Kent Street, a central road in the downtown core, Kim Lidbetter watched the crowd of protesters that had set up camp outside her house slowly shrink throughout the day, taking many of the vehicles with them. After weeks of feeling nervous about leaving her home, she said, “I feel lighter already.”

A resident who gave her name as Sue said it was difficult to watch “any Canadian be arrested for what they believe.” The Globe and Mail is not identifying by her full name because she didn’t want to draw attention to her family.

But at the same time, she said, the past few weeks have been a “living hell,” with the honking “nothing short of noise torture.” She has been called names on the street for wearing a mask, and shouted at while standing on her balcony. The police action brought a sense of relief, but also left a lingering question: where have the authorities been all along?

“Not knowing what is going to happen has been really hard on our community,” she said. “Now we just want peace.”

The massive police operation in Ottawa to clear the trucker protest continued on Friday afternoon, with 70 arrests and vehicles being towed that had been part of the blockade near Parliament. Interim police chief Steve Bell told a news conference that the police will operate 24/7 to clear the protest.

The Globe and Mail

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