OTTAWA, Feb 17 — Canadian police issued an ultimatum Wednesday to protesters who’ve been choking Ottawa streets for 20 days to leave the capital, as state and provincial leaders called for an end to the cross-border vaccine requirement that sparked the trucker-led movement.
Officials, meanwhile, announced a negotiated peaceful end to the last of several recent blockades by protesters of border crossings between Canada and the United States.
“You must leave the area now,” Ottawa police said in a notice distributed to truckers outside parliament.
Anyone blocking streets or assisting others in doing so will be arrested and face charges, as well as fines and seizures of their trucks, the statement said.
Police also warned that anyone charged or convicted for taking part in the illegal demonstration may, in addition to criminal penalties, be barred from travelling to the United States.
As the notices were handed out, AFP journalists saw hundreds of trucks continuing to occupy streets in the parliamentary precinct, blaring horns — despite an extension Wednesday of a court order against the deafening noises, obtained by an area resident fed up with the disruptions.
“We’re still a lot of trucks holding the line,” trucker David Shaw, 65, told AFP. If arrested, he added: “I’ll keep coming back.”
Fellow protester Jan Grouin, 42, decried Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision earlier this week to impose a state of emergency, calling it “a little overreacting maybe to think that we are terrorists.”
The office of Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, meanwhile, asked Canadian and US leaders in a letter signed by 16 US governors — all members of the Republican party — to exempt truckers from vaccine and quarantine requirements when crossing the Canada-US border.
They were joined by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who has endorsed the truckers’ convoy.
“The timing of your decision to terminate the vaccine and quarantine exemptions could not have been worse, as North America already faces grave supply chain constraints,” said the letter addressed to US President Joe Biden and Trudeau.
“These constraints, combined with increasing inflation, place significant burdens on the residents of Canada and the United States.”
‘Time for this to end’
Unable to dislodge the protesters, Trudeau this week invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government wide new powers to end the demonstrations over Covid restrictions. The move marked only the second time in Canadian history such emergency powers have been invoked in peacetime.
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that with police now getting help from various other law enforcement units, they should “be able to begin their actions.”
“It’s time for this to end,” he said, adding that it was up to “police to decide when and how.”
On Tuesday, Ottawa’s interim police Chief Steve Bell said a “turning point” has been reached.
“I believe we now have the resources and partners to bring a safe end to this occupation,” he said.
Bell replaced chief Peter Sloly, who abruptly resigned after facing intense criticism over his failure to dislodge the protesters.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started with truckers protesting against mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have since grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.
At its peak, the movement also included blockades of a half-dozen border crossings — including a key trade route across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.
Forty-six protesters were arrested and 37 vehicles seized during police operations at the Ontario-Michigan border, and in Coutts, Alberta, four people were charged with conspiracy to murder police officers. They were among 13 arrested with a cache of weapons that included rifles, handguns, body armour and ammunition.
On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the last blocked crossing — between Manitoba and the US state of North Dakota — had been reopened.
As protest organisers at a news conference continued to encourage supporters to come to the capital, Mendicino said: “Don’t. At best, residents of the city have made it clear that this is not the time and at worst, you may be tying yourself to dangerous criminal activity.”
The demonstrations, he said, “are not about vaccines mandates.”
Rather, he described the core protesters as “a small number of individuals with a steely resolve, driven by an extreme ideology that would seek to overthrow the existing government.” — AFP