Canada to crack down on cranky Canuck truckers
Canadian Police have warned protesters occupying central Ottawa of "imminent" action to clear them from the capital and have begun making some arrests to end a crisis that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warns is threatening public safety.
Truckers opposing coronavirus mandates have blocked roads in downtown Ottawa for nearly three weeks, the centrepiece of a movement that has inspired anti-government protests in other countries and temporarily shut border crossings with the United States.
Threats of fines and jail helped convince protesters to retreat this week from four US border points. Police have issued similar warnings in Ottawa, where interim Police Chief Steve Bell says they are committed to driving protesters out. Bell told reporters:
"We've been bolstering our resources, developing clear plans and preparing to take action. The action is imminent.
"To those engaged in the unlawful protests - if you want to leave under your own terms, now is the time to do it."
Police were seen arresting several protesters on Thursday evening, including Chris Barber, one of their main fundraisers and organisers.
The arrests marked an escalation that drew defiance by protesters, who honked their horns in unison earlier on Thursday in violation of a court order.
Others shrugged off the warnings and soaked in a portable hot tub set up near the door to parliament that many MPs use.
"I ain't going anywhere," said Pat King, one of the protest organisers. "I haven't overstayed my welcome. My taxes paid for me to be here."
Police said they would restrict access to downtown Ottawa and officers had begun erecting barriers around government buildings.
They have also distributed leaflets warning demonstrators of "severe penalties".
About 400 vehicles are parked outside of parliament and the prime minister's office, paralysing downtown.
Calling the blockades a threat to democracy, Trudeau invoked emergency measures on Monday giving his government temporary powers to clamp them down. Trudeau said on Thursday:
"The blockades and occupations are illegal. They're a threat to our economy, the relationship with trading partners, they're a threat to supply chains and the availability of essential goods like food and medicine. They're a threat to public safety,"
The demonstrators initially protested against cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers and other restrictions.
But they have made clear their opposition to Trudeau and some say they want to kick him out of office.