The protests against pandemic restrictions that blockaded downtown Ottawa for three weeks appeared to have largely dissipated Sunday after a massive police operation, as MPs continued to debate the Emergencies Act that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked last week.
There were a few groups of two or three people huddled on street corners, but they were fairly quiet and kept to themselves. Police continue to restrict access to Centretown, the commercial and residential neighbourhood stretching south from Parliament Hill.
Checkpoints remain in place in the downtown, the parliamentary precinct has been fenced off, and a full return to normal for the national capital does not appear likely any time soon.
Police have erected metal barricades between Sparks Street and Queen Street, a block and a half south of Wellington Street, which runs in front of the Parliament buildings and was the nexus for the demonstrations. Ottawa Police said the barriers had been erected “to ensure the ground gained back is not lost.”
“We’re not done this operation yet,” interim police chief Steve Bell told reporters Sunday afternoon. Some of the drivers with rigs who departed the streets surrounding Parliament to avoid fines, suspensions and arrests appear to have decamped to locations outside the city, and might possibly return.
“We will, over the next several days, identify what the posture of the police services will look like to see how we maintain a presence and make sure nobody returns to occupy our streets again,” interim chief Bell said.
He also acknowledged that after police failed to contain the protests, leaving Centretown residents feeling they were under siege in their own homes, “building that community trust and entering into community healing is an absolutely vital next step for the Ottawa Police Service.”
Police said that they had made 191 arrests during the action to clear the protesters. Of those arrested, 103 were charged with offences such as obstructing police, assault and mischief. As well, 57 vehicles had been towed.
On Sunday, Rob Campbell and his wife, Shawn, were taking pictures of the police fence a block away from Parliament Hill. The Campbells said they had been at the protest since its early days, sleeping in the truck they had driven to Ottawa from their Manitoba farm. The truck is now parked at a location away from downtown, and the Campbells said they returned to get a last look at the scene downtown before deciding where to go next.
The couple said the police crackdown was a turn of events they had not anticipated.
“It is very sad for Canada,” Mr. Campbell said, becoming visibly emotional.
In the police operation, trucks were at work Sunday towing vehicles that appeared to have been abandoned on downtown streets.
Although under normal circumstances the towed vehicles would be impounded for seven days, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he wanted the vehicles sold to help defray the costs of ending the protests, an action he said was permitted under the Emergencies Act.
“I don’t think the taxpayers of Ottawa should be paying for this multimillion-dollar bill that we’re going to be saddled with because of the irresponsibility and the illegal activities of a bunch of truckers and others who showed little regard for our community and its people,” he told CTV News.
Mr. Watson also said the time may have come to think of closing Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill to traffic, just as Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington has been closed.
Late Sunday afternoon, police moved on the supply and logistics camp in a parking lot beside a baseball stadium in the city’s east end. Demonstrators had already torn down the tents and other infrastructure, and most vehicles had left the scene.
Before the police arrived, Bernard Van Den Dooren, from Quebec, said he was driving his truck to a truck stop in Vankleek Hill, 100 kilometres east of Ottawa, to “regroup.” Police appeared to make at least two arrests as they took possession of the parking lot.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons has been sitting through the weekend as MPs debate whether to authorize the never-before-used Emergencies Act. The House was forced to suspend Friday’s sitting because of police operations. MPs are expected to vote to authorize the act Monday evening, with the NDP supporting the minority Liberal government.
Ontario’s police watchdog says it’s investigating two incidents stemming from Saturday’s massive enforcement operation. The Special Investigations Unit says preliminary information suggests a Toronto Police officer on horseback had an encounter with a 49-year-old woman, possibly resulting in an undisclosed, serious injury.
The other incident involved the discharge, without injury, of what was described as a less-lethal firearm Saturday night during an altercation between police and protesters.
A week ago, the blocks south of the parliamentary precinct thronged with dozens of horn-honking tractor trailers, thousands of protesters, hawkers selling merchandise, and speakers blaring music or defiant speeches of protest against vaccine mandates and other restrictions.
But on Friday, the 22nd day of the protest, after the sealing off of the downtown by police, officers from across the country, reinforced by mounted police and armoured vehicles, began pushing the demonstrators back and started making arrests.
By Saturday afternoon, many of the tractor trailers had voluntarily departed the scene and police had pushed a greatly reduced number of protesters away from the parliamentary precinct. Protesters were provided an avenue of escape, if they wished to make use of it. By Sunday morning, the protesters appeared to have given up the fight.
Todd Hallissey, who owns a handyman business in Elmira, Ont., and made two separate trips to Ottawa over the course of the protest, was checking out of his hotel on Sunday afternoon. He said that protestors are leaving frustrated that the Prime Minister refused to communicate with them, and that the protest ended with police action.
“We’ll regroup and we’ll be back,” Mr. Hallissey predicted. “[People] are going to go home and be upset even more, because they still didn’t get an answer.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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