OTTAWA – Police clashed with anti-government protesters in Ottawa on Saturday, pushing deeper into the national capital and closing in on the heart of the site where demonstrators have been encamped since late January.
The second day of the massive police enforcement effort came as members of parliament resumed debating the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in an effort to quell demonstrations in Ottawa and further afield.
Rows of officers clad in riot gear and carrying batons massed along Wellington Street near the Prime Minister’s Office in downtown Ottawa on Saturday morning. Officers moved toward the protesters swinging batons at them, while the crowd pushed back amid shouts of “shame” and “freedom.”
Police later tweeted that protesters “continue to be aggressive and assaultive on officers” and “are refusing to comply with the orders to move.” They added that officers used a “chemical irritant in an effort to stop the assaultive behavior and for officer safety.”
Earlier, police had tweeted they had arrested protesters wearing body armour and carrying “smoke grenades and miscellaneous fireworks,” noting more were found in a nearby vehicle.
By early afternoon, police tweeted that they had largely cleared a stretch of Wellington Street of the protesters and trucks that had jammed the roadway for weeks. Enforcement efforts continued, however, with officers maintaining two lines on or near the street that runs in front of Parliament. At least 47 people had been arrested by early afternoon, the force added in a tweet.
The moves marked the second day of a massive police operation to clear demonstrators out of Ottawa’s downtown core as the protest against the federal government and COVID-19 public health measures entered its fourth week.
One man who fled the melee said he had been pepper sprayed in his eyes. The Canadian Press saw a plume of smoke in the air but it was not clear if it came from gas launched by the police or the protesters. Police later tweeted that they hae not used gas during their enforcement efforts.
The ongoing police operation prompted Parliamentary Protective Services to place the precinct under a hold and secure order on Saturday, limiting movement between buildings. The service notes the area is not under lockdown and staff are on hand to manage the situation.
In the West Block, where the House of Commons was up and running, MPs resumed their debate on the government’s historic invocation of the Emergencies Act that had to be paused Friday because of security concerns.
“I talked earlier about my frustration with the failure of Ottawa police, but what we saw yesterday was policing at its best in this country,” NDP MP Charlie Angus told the Commons on Saturday to a light smattering of applause.
Angus called for a public inquiry into the “national embarrassment” that led to the trucker blockades of the Canadian capital, adding that the leaders of the protest belong in the “crowbar hotel.”
He said the inquiry was needed to determine why Ottawa police let large trucks enter the national capital and set up a blockade that included bouncy castles, while racist members of the freedom convoy harassed local residents and forced businesses to close.
He is also called for an inquiry into foreign funding of the so-called freedom convoy.
We cannot be made to look like a failed state to the world,“ he added.
The debate began on Thursday, but Government House leader Mark Holland said in a Twitter post that House leaders from all parties agreed to cancel Friday’s session on the advice of parliamentary security. Holland said MPs will vote early next week on the Emergencies Act motion.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a virtual news conference on Saturday the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act is giving police additional tools to restore order in downtown Ottawa.
“The very carefully tailored measures which have been included as part of the declaration under the Emergencies Act are targeted, they’re time-limited and they are Charter guaranteed,” Mendicino said.
He noted that authorities used the measure to freeze 76 bank accounts with $3.2 million attributed to the illegal blockades.
“We will only use the Emergencies Act as long as it is necessary,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the protest’s most high-profile organizers prepared to face charges in an Ottawa courtroom following their arrests in recent days.
That was set to include Pat King, one of the leading figures behind the Parliament Hill protest, who Ottawa police said was arrested on Friday, though his case was adjourned to next week.
King, 44, faces charges of mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to commit the offence of disobeying a court order and counselling to obstruct police.
King, who hails from Red Deer, Alta., was among the more than 100 people police arrested as part of Friday’s enforcement blitz.
Two other protest organizers – Chris Barber and Tamara Lich – were arrested earlier on charges of counselling to commit mischief. Barber also faces charges of counselling to disobey a court order and obstructing police.
An Ontario Court granted Barber bail, while Lich appeared in an Ottawa courtroom Saturday for the start of her bail hearing.
Justice Julie Bourgeois released Barber on a $100,000 bond and on the conditions he leave Ontario by next Wednesday and not publicly endorse the convoy or have any contact with the other major protest organizers.
Meanwhile, the federal government announced $20 million will be made available to downtown Ottawa businesses to help recover from the occupation, with individual eligible businesses able to get a maximum of $10,000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2022.