Canadian police have threatened to start arresting truckers and other demonstrators who have shut down central Ottawa and disrupted cross-border trade for two weeks in protest against the government's COVID-19 measures, as similar protests have spread to other countries to demand an end to pandemic restrictions.
Police in Canada's national capital warned truck-led protesters on Wednesday that they could face criminal charges and their trucks could be seized if they continue their "unlawful" clogging of downtown streets."
Ottawa has been gridlocked by a so-called "Freedom Convoy" consisting of truckers and other motorists for 12 days now. The government has already declared a state of emergency in the city.
What started last month as a movement opposing a Canadian vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers - a requirement mirrored by a US rule –has morphed into a rallying point against the government’s public health measures.
Protesters have said they will not leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are dispensed with.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lambasted the movement as "unacceptable," warning that the action threatens the country's economic recovery.
"Blockades, illegal demonstrations are unacceptable, and are negatively impacting businesses and manufacturers," Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Wednesday. "We must do everything to bring them to an end."
"You can't end a pandemic with blockades... You need to end it with science. You need to end it with public health measures," he said to the protesters.
This comes as the busiest land crossing from the United States to Canada has remained shut.
Trucks started blocking traffic at the Ambassador Bridge, located between Lake Erie and Lake Huron, late on Monday.
Several Canadian and American chambers of commerce and industry associations have demanded the bridge be cleared.
Another trade link between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana has also been blocked by protesters for several days.
The protests against COVID-19 restrictions have spread to other cities across the North American country, including Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, and Vancouver as well. They have also sparked solidarity rallies in other countries around the world—namely New Zealand's capital Wellington and Canberra in Australia.
In New Zealand, police arrested more than 50 people on Thursday during an anti-vaccine protest outside Parliament inspired by the Canadian trucker convoy.
Anti-vaccine protesters had pitched tents and parked cars on the grounds of the New Zealand Parliament building, inspired by the standoff in Canada.
On the third day of the protests, police brought in 100 additional officers to evict protesters from the grounds, ripping up tents and dispelling people.
Great-grandad arrested for honking horn
A new video has surfaced showing a diminutive 78-year-old man being wrestled to the ground and cuffed after honking his car horn in support of the “Freedom Convoy.”
The viral video shows 4-foot-10-inch-tall great-grandfather Gerry Charlebo being confronted by an Ottawa cop who eventually forced him to his knees as he cuffed him on Sunday.
The officer later told a group heckling him for abusing the old man “It’s an offense — it’s an offense to beep your horn.”
Charlebois, who was wearing pajama pants at the time, was eventually marched away in cuffs by two officers who towered over him.
The retired high school janitor later told the Toronto Sun that he was “so sore” after suffering cuts and bruises on his arms and hands, shoulder and knee during his arrest.
“I meant no harm,” he said, adding, “I just gave the trucker a thumbs-up and a honk.”
The old man said he was ultimately given a $118 bylaw ticket for “unnecessary noise,” claiming the cops told him he “was in trouble for honking the horn.”
One of Charlebois’ four children called his father’s arrest “disgusting,” saying “There was no need to be so rough with him … They didn’t seem to arrest any of those big truckers like that.”
Neither Ottawa police nor Mayor Jim Watson have commented so far on the outrage, according to the local paper.
Thousands of residents have complained of harassment by protesters, and an online petition demanding action has drawn 40,000 signatures.
Police have cracked down on horn-blowing amid complaints from locals about the tactics used by the “Freedom Convoy” truckers.
Trudeau accused of fueling anger
Meanwhile, Trudeau has been accused of stoking division over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after he branded the Freedom Convoy protesters “swastika wavers.”
“This is a story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united — and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” Trudeau told lawmakers during an emergency debate on Monday night.
Trudeau went on to say that the protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy, and our fellow citizens’ daily lives,” stressing that the protests have to stop.
The conservative lawmakers have accused Trudeau of fueling discontent amid the pandemic — and failing to give Canadians a timeline for when life may return to normal.
Candice Bergen, the country’s conservative interim leader “We are at a crisis point, not just outside the doors and across the country, but the country overall,” said.
“And so much of it is because of the things he’s said and done.”