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Canada police make arrests in Ottawa ahead of crackdown on protests

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A protester walks in front of parked trucks as demonstrators continue to rally against vaccine mandates in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by AFP)

Police in Canada have detained a number of demonstrators in the capital Ottawa as truckers and their supporters continue to block roads to protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

The arrests come less than two hours after the city’s police chief warned protesters of imminent action to clear them from downtown Ottawa.

Truckers opposing COVID vaccine mandates known as the Freedom Convoy have blocked roads in the capital’s downtown area for nearly three weeks and temporarily shut border crossings with the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned that the move is threatening public safety and damaging the country’s economy. 

On Thursday, police gathered in mass numbers in the capital city of Ottawa preparing to clear a trucker-led protest that has choked the country’s streets.

Huge groups of police officers filled into the parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, where the trucks have been parked for weeks.

Truckers have already been warned by the capital city’s interim police chief to “leave the area now,” or risk arrest and truck seizures, but they appear undeterred.

In a statement on Wednesday, Police Chief Steve Bell said “a methodical and well-resourced plan” would be carried out over the coming days to take back the control of the city.

“Some of the techniques we are lawfully able and prepared to use are not what we are used to seeing in Ottawa, but we are prepared to use them... to restore order,” he said. 

Trudeau addressed the parliament on Thursday, trying to invoke the Emergencies Act for only the second time in Canadian history, even as critics say the Act restricts freedom of expression.

Trudeau termed the peaceful protests as “illegal blockades and occupations”, saying they have to stop. He told reporters Wednesday that the police should now “be able to begin their actions,” and “it's time for this to end.”

The truckers have been blocking border crossings to the United States, with the prime minister saying it has created a critical and urgent situation that cannot be dealt with under any other Canadian laws. In a letter to provincial premiers, Trudeau decried the protests as “a threat to our democracy.”

Trudeau’s documents to the House of Commons cited “a risk of serious violence and the potential for lone actor attackers to conduct 'terrorism attacks.’”

“It is affecting Canada's reputation internationally, hurting trade and commerce, and undermining confidence and trust in our institutions,” he added.

Several provincial premiers have denounced the use of the emergency measures. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association accused the federal government of not having met the threshold for invoking the act.

One notable feature of the current government's reaction is its effort to demonize the protest movement, describing it in such disparaging terms as disruptive, hateful, and thuggish even as the protests have been largely peaceful.

Ottawa's Police Chief Peter Sloly was forced to resign under intense pressure from authorities for not being tough enough in handling the mass protests.

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