Blockades have been cleared at all Canada-U.S. border crossings and police are now moving in on demonstrators in downtown Ottawa, targeting Freedom Convoy protesters who have occupied the city for three weeks.
Barriers were being established around government buildings Thursday morning, and 100 checkpoints were established to stop anyone who does not live or work in the occupied area. Citing an unnamed police source, the Globe and Mail reported Friday morning that police are about to undertake one of the biggest law enforcement operations in Canadian history.
“If you want to leave under your own terms, now is the time to do it,” interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell warned protesters during a media briefing Thursday afternoon.
“Action is imminent.”
Protest organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber were both arrested Thursday. Lich was charged with counseling to commit the offence of mischief. Barber was charged with counseling to commit the offences of mischief, disobey a court order, and obstruct police.
The latest actions come as the federal government moves to impose the Emergencies Act, which introduces powers to compel tow truck operators to clear blockades, freeze protester bank accounts, suspend insurance coverage, and apply terrorist financing rules to crowdfunding companies that have supported the protests.
Both the House of Commons and the Senate canceled sessions for Friday, citing the impending police operation. Both had been scheduled to debate the Act.
Border blockade costs
The border blockades themselves disrupted daily trade that typically amounts to $48 million at the Coutts, Alta., crossing; $73 million at Emerson, Man.; and $390 million in Windsor, Ont. In a press briefing on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said it was no exaggeration to suggest those protests cost the economy billions of dollars.
Windsor police intercepted a convoy on Wednesday before it could re-establish another blockade at the Ambassador Bridge. That bridge — the busiest commercial crossing between Canada and the U.S. — was re-opened Feb. 13 after a weeklong blockade led Ontario to declare a state of emergency.
“By blocking supply chains, these illegal blockades are doing considerable harm to our economy and all Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday in the House of Commons.
“These illegal blockades are being heavily supported by individuals in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” he added, noting that about half the funding has come from U.S. sources.
Yves-Francois Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, noted the border was opened, arms were seized from some protesters in Coutts, and the Ambassador Bridge itself were all reopened without using the Emergencies Act.
“There are no more blockades at any borders. What’s left are the trucks parked outside,” said Conservative leader Candice Bergan, referring to the Act as “sledgehammer”.
Bergan criticized the vaccine mandate that was applied to border-crossing truck drivers on Jan. 15, noting that there was no scientific evidence to back the requirement. The U.S. imposed its mandate on cross-border truckers on Jan. 22.
Those mandates were initially cited when convoys were being formed, but protester demands quickly expanded to include an array of pandemic-related restrictions.
“We all want the trucks in Ottawa to move,” Bergen said. But she described the Emergencies Act itself as an overreach.
Class action lawsuit
A $306 million class action lawsuit launched by Champ and Associates on behalf of Ottawa residents affected by the protests has also expanded to include 13 protest organizers, 34 defendant truckers, and eight donors who have contributed money to the convoy.
Bell insisted that police are ready to block any supporters from reaching the protesters occupying Ottawa’s downtown core.
“This weekend will look very different than the past three weekends,” he said.
- This is a developing story and is being updated as more information becomes available.