Canadian police end anti-vaccination lockdown and begin cleaning up capital

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City workers cleaned up trash and towed trucks on Sunday as Canada’s capital Ottawa calmed for the first time in three weeks after a police mega-operation ended a blockade of anti-vaccination protesters.

Protest organizers have used hundreds of trucks and vehicles to blockade the city center since January 28. In response, police arrested at least 191 people in two days of intervention – in what has become one of the biggest crises of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s term.

On Sunday morning, several police checkpoints restricted access to a large area of ​​downtown Ottawa, while security forces occupied land that had been used by truck drivers.

Ottawa police issued a reminder to ban traffic on that perimeter, except for local residents and workers. According to agents, so far 57 vehicles have been towed out of the city.

After being expelled, many of them told the AFP news agency that they would continue to fight for their cause.

The acts began by opposing health measures enacted to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and ended with protesters calling for Trudeau’s downfall. Under pressure, he declared a national state of emergency, which allows the government to use force against protesters.

This Saturday (19), police used pepper spray and stun grenades on protesters who still remained in the area in front of parliament. Other protesters abandoned positions in other parts of the city center overnight.

Inmates so far face 389 different criminal charges, including obstructing police action, disobeying a court order, possessing a weapon and assaulting police, Ottawa Acting Police Chief Steve Bell told reporters.

Bell also said protesters who left the city but were filmed by police could also be held accountable.

“We will seek to identify them and assess financial sanctions and criminal charges. This investigation will continue in the coming months,” he said.

During the last two days of protests, a group closed a passage south of Vancouver, British Columbia, where several TV reporters were insulted by protesters. Canadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne condemned the act on Twitter.

As part of a national state of emergency, those suspected of supporting the lockdowns can have their accounts frozen without the need for a court order. So far, 206 bank and corporate accounts have been frozen, the police said, adding that it was still gathering information on companies and people.

The so-called Freedom Train began a month ago against the requirement to be vaccinated to cross the border with the United States. As the days passed, it gained adherents and inspired similar protests in other countries.

At least three protest leaders were detained and 32 million Canadian dollars in donations and bank accounts linked to the movement were frozen.

Some of them, with military backgrounds and in right-wing organizations, orchestrated a disciplined and highly coordinated occupation, according to a report in The New York Times.

The team includes former police officers, military veterans and conservative activists, a collaboration that helped transform a protest against mandatory vaccines into a force that destabilized the city of Ottawa and sent shockwaves across Canada.

The rally’s main public face, former fitness instructor Tamara Lich played an important role in organizing a campaign on the GoFundMe website that raised US$7.8 million for the protests before the vaquinhas closed it, after receiving “police reports of violence and other illegal activities”.

Lich has ties to the Maverick Party, a small center-right group based in Calgary created to promote the separation of three provinces from the rest of the country.

Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino warned this week that some of the protesters “have a strong connection with a far-right organization that has leaders in Ottawa.”

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