The last big trucks were pulled out of the Canadian capital on Sunday, and a calm reigned for the first time in three weeks after a police operation ended a long protest of truck drivers against COVID-19 health regulations.
Workers were busy clearing the snow-covered streets of downtown Ottawa, where riot police staged two days of clashes with protesters and finally expelled them entirely from the outskirts of Parliament, the protest center.
Authorities said they arrested 190 protesters and towed nearly 80 vehicles that were honking their horns in the heart of this usually quiet city since January 29.
“I am very happy to be back in my city,” Jeff Lindley, who lives in downtown Ottawa, told AFP. “It’s much better today, calmer and quieter without the annoying presence of all the trucks and protesters.”
The last protesters remained late Saturday night, singing 1980s-era protest anthems and setting off fireworks in front of a four-meter-high security fence hastily erected around the parliament complex.
But the protest that turned into a street party ended up dying when a strong frost took hold of the city.
On Sunday morning, police guarded several checkpoints restricting access to an area of about 200 hectares in downtown Ottawa, while a heavy deployment of security forces occupied land reclaimed from truck drivers.
An AFP journalist saw a group of protesters in the area. One of them, who identified himself as John, said he was packing after wandering for hours with the Canadian flag in hand. “The place is completely closed, all I see is the police everywhere,” he told AFP.
Ottawa police have issued a reminder to ban traffic in that perimeter except for local residents and workers.
– ‘Absolute hell’ –
And the authorities warned, Sunday, that the police operation “is still ongoing.”
“We promised this week that we would liberate our streets and give them back to our residents,” Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said at a news conference. “Every passing hour brings us closer to achieving that goal.”
Meanwhile, the last tents, food stalls and other temporary buildings were demolished by the clean-up teams by protesters, and snow piles were swept from the streets in preparation for the reopening of local businesses.
“People have a right to protest, but at the end of the day after you make your point, you have to go home,” said Dave Chapin, who first came out in weeks after feeling “trapped.”
“These guys just stood around honking their horns, frightening (the neighbors) and disrupting our lives,” he added.
For Chapin, “the past few weeks have been absolute hell.”
– Washington prepares –
After they were expelled, many protesters told AFP they would continue to fight for their cause.
“The protest will remain in my heart forever,” said Nicole Craig, who was returning home Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faces a lawsuit from the ACLU and criticism from political opponents over the decision to invoke emergency powers that are rarely used to quell protests.
Polls show that Canadians, once largely sympathetic to the trucker-led movement, now reject it.
The so-called “Freedom Caravan” began about a month ago in protest of the duty to vaccinate against COVID-19 to cross the US border.
It has gained momentum and inspired similar protests in other countries, and now Washington is bracing for a possible truckers’ protest to coincide with President Joe Biden’s annual address to Congress next week.
The convoy in Canada created a blockade of border crossings that had an economic impact on both sides of the border. The police cleared them a week ago.
Dozens were arrested in these operations, including at least three protest leaders, and C$32 million in donations and bank accounts linked to the truckers’ movement were frozen.
amc / ec / mlm / ll / rsr