Canada Live Updates: Ottawa Protest Arrests and Latest News

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Credit…Brett Gundlock for The New York Times

Police have begun moving in to make arrests in downtown Ottawa, hoping to end weeks of gridlock in Canada‘s capital following protests sparked by vaccination demands and other grievances.

Among those arrested Thursday evening was Tamara Lich, 47, one of the main organizers of the demonstrations, according to Dagny Pawlak, spokesperson for the protest.

Ms Pawlak called the arrest ‘absolutely baseless and disgraceful to any liberal democracy, although it is no surprise’.

Ms Lich has become the public face and most visible leader of the trucking convoy against pandemic restrictions. She is a former fitness instructor, who worked in the energy industry and sang and played guitar in a band called “Blind Monday” in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She was also a prominent member of a dissident party that advocated for Canada’s western provinces to secede from the country.

Throughout the protests, Ms. Lich, who speaks publicly in a measured tone, has become adept at deploying social media — and her Twitter feed — to amplify protesters’ grievances.

Police also arrested another organizer, Chris Barber, on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the protest confirmed.

Authorities had been warning for days that what had been criticized as a slow response by law enforcement would soon come to an end, and on Thursday municipal, provincial and national police mobilized around Ottawa in preparation for a repression. Officers were seen gathering at a convention center near the airport and at major hotels around the city perimeter.

“Action is imminent,” Ottawa Police Service acting chief Steve Bell said Thursday afternoon, adding that police are committed to ending the “unlawful occupation.”

Police on Thursday created a perimeter of about 100 checkpoints in downtown Ottawa, to keep anyone but residents out, and declared the downtown area a secure zone closed to outsiders.

Authorities also closed all exits leading downtown on the Trans-Canada Highway, which is Ottawa’s highway. On Thursday evening, there was a widespread traffic jam in several downtown areas.

On Parliament Hill, the driving rain that had inundated Ottawa for much of the day turned to snow, and defiant protesters remained in the streets, some of them dancing. A group of protesters followed a camera crew shouting, “Are you proud of what you do?

Just after 8 p.m., a yellow Volvo tractor-trailer voluntarily left Confederation Square — which surrounds the National War Memorial — after police approached the driver. As the trucker opened his door for the last time before driving off, protesters shouted messages of gratitude to him while berating the officers.

Protesters said they received text alerts with the locations of officers who confronted the driver in an attempt to intervene. It was the second truck in the region to leave on Thursday.

Police issued increasingly urgent warnings on Wednesday and throughout Thursday – posted online, on social media and in printed leaflets handed out to protesters – saying the blockade of streets was illegal . They threatened the demonstrators with arrest, seizure of their vehicles and other sanctions.

In a sign of heightened frustration over the protests, on Thursday the scope of a class action lawsuit against protesters was widened to include more workers and businesses whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the protests. In total, the lawsuit seeks approximately C$306 million in compensation for lost revenue.

In recent weeks, truckers and their supporters have blocked key border crossings and other roads, hampering trade and slowing down automakers’ factories. Some streets blocked and harassed Ottawa residents, creating a round-the-clock cacophony in quiet residential neighborhoods. While many protesters belong to fringe groups, others are people who are fed up with pandemic restrictions. Physical violence was rare.

Ottawa residents and many Canadians have grown impatient with the slow police response, and earlier this week Ottawa’s police chief resigned amid criticism of the forces of the order.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the rare step this week to declare a national public order emergency — the first such declaration in half a century — to end the protests. The move extended more robust policing across the country and targeted both protesters’ fundraising, which was deemed a criminal activity, and protesters’ personal and business bank accounts.

Addressing the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Trudeau called on protesters to go home. “It is high time that these illegal and dangerous activities stop, including here in Ottawa,” he said.

Sarah Maslin Nir and Natalie Kitroeff contributed report.

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