Police in the Canadian capital Ottawa on Wednesday started warning truck drivers blockading the downtown core that they should depart or face arrest, part of a promised crackdown to end a three-week-old protest over COVID restrictions.
“You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets … (is) committing a criminal offense and you may be arrested,” read leaflets handed out by police to truckers. “You must immediately cease further unlawful activity.”
Police also started ticketing some of the hundreds of vehicles blocking the downtown core. The tougher approach comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked the little-used Emergencies Act, giving the Liberal government more powers to end the protest.
Initial reaction was mixed. At least one large rig left the blockade while some demonstrators put the warning leaflets into a toilet placed in front of a truck.
Wendell Thorndyke, who has been parked in front of parliament for 21 days, insisted he had no intention of leaving.
“Oh, hell no, we think it’s cute. They turned all the cops into meter maids,” he said as he filled his engine with oil.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly quit on Tuesday after criticism that he did not do enough to stop the protests, which began as truckers objecting to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates but has become more of an anti-government movement also directed at Trudeau.
Residents had expressed increasing anger at police who until now have mostly watched rather than intervening. The force says a total of 33 people had been arrested so far.
Protesters remain camped out on Parliament Hill, weeks after police first allowed hundreds of trucks to park in the riverside core of the city.
The Emergencies Act allows the government to boost local police forces with officers from the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“Politicians don’t decide when and how the police should act but we have given them a lot more tools and we hope they will be able to use them … to ensure this barricade ends,” Trudeau told reporters.
Sources told Reuters that frustration with the failure of police to lift blockades at the U.S. border and in the capital ultimately drove Trudeau to seek emergency powers.
One blockade in the Manitoba town of Emerson was still in place on Wednesday morning but police said they expected the remaining protesters to leave later in the day.
A government source said officials were also concerned about “nefarious elements” infiltrating the protests.
Earlier this week police in the province of Alberta arrested 13 people linked to a border blockade and seized guns.
Four members of the group have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, police said late on Tuesday.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she met on Tuesday with Steve Bell, the acting chief of the Ottawa police, and the head of police in the province of Ontario, where Ottawa is located.
“Our teams are committed and look forward to working together,” she tweeted.