Police Break Protest in Canada’s Capital, as ‘Freedom Convoy’ Calls for Retreat

Police in Ottawa have pushed the anti-vaccine mandate truckers away from Parliament Hill, where they were entrenched for three weeks.
Protestors and cops face off in front of Canada's Parliament.
Protesters and cops face off in front of Canada's Parliament. All photos by Mack Lamoureux

The “freedom convoy” organizers are calling for a full retreat of their supporters after police retook the area in front of Canada’s Parliament, effectively ending the three-week siege of Ottawa by the anti-vaccine mandate protests. 

The “freedom convoy” issued a statement  on their Twitter and website asking for time to move their trucks from the area to avoid more “brutality.” At a press conference Saturday afternoon, one of the few organizers who remains in the city, and has yet to be arrested, said they will be leaving the city if police take down blockades.

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Some protesters are still facing off with police and some encampments exist, but the protesters’ main grounds have fallen. And while horns still angrily rip through the city, the protesters have been steadily losing numbers after police started making arrests on Friday. 

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Police advancing on the protestors. Photo by Mack Lamoureux.

Despite cries of “Hold the line”, the mood among protesters was dire Saturday, as they didn’t even manage to hold the line until lunch. Many people said they were considering this the end of the road for the “freedom convoy.” Still, they chanted "freedom" and sang the national anthem.

One of the main organizers of the convoy, Chris Barber, stepped down Saturday after he spent a single night in jail, saying his organizing days “are over.”

The convoy has been occupying Ottawa since Jan. 29. While there was not any full-scale violence with police, residents have reported being bullied and harassed. A core group of protesters had set up several encampments throughout the city and during the weekends people would flood the city for a mask-free tailgate party.

The convoy inspired other protests across Canada, several of which shut down border crossings for a significant amount of time—one of which ended with conspiracy to commit murder charges. The Ottawa police’s handling of the protest, which many felt allowed the situation to go on for far too long, has been roundly criticized and Ottawa's police chief stepped down amid the crisis. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enacted the Emergencies Act, which grants the state extra powers, to aid him in dealing with the protest. The Act has mostly been used to crack down on the finances of the convoy.

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The “freedom convoy” claimed to be about vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the border, but from the very beginning it was beset with vaccine misinformation, connections to the far-right, and numerous anti-government grievances—and most organizers were not actually truckers.

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"The line." Photo by Mack Lamoureux.

But it all came crashing down, starting Friday, when many of the organizers were arrested and police began an actual operation to clear them out of Ottawa. It was primarily focused on Wellington Street, the street in front of Canada’s Parliament buildings. Friday’s operation was slow-moving, but police pushed back the protestors metre by metre. At one point, they brought in horses and some protesters were hit by the police animals. Footage of the incident has gone viral, and a false rumour that one of the protesters was killed ran rampant through the crowd—and was later amplified by a Fox News contributor—but Ottawa Police vehemently deny that anyone was killed, let alone even seriously injured. The Fox News contributor eventually apologized for tweeting the misinformation.

On Friday, police said they’d arrested over 100 people, and on Saturday they said they’d arrested 47 people and removed 28 vehicles.

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The crowd retreating. Photo by Mack Lamoureux.

On Saturday morning about 200 to 300 people remained on Wellington to try to hold onto the space, but police pushed protesters back. The front line of cops held batons, which they used at times to push back the protestors. Some parents briefly faced the line of police with their young children. At times some sort of irritant gas filled the air. Police eventually pushed the crowd back until they were completely funneled off Wellington and onto a side street.

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A protestor who has spend weeks in Ottawa digs out his car in preperation to leave. Photo by Mack Lamoureux.

On other streets, people who had been there for weeks dug out their cars and prepared to drive away. One street, where music blared non-stop, was silent during the day for the first time in weeks as the protesters put away their sound equipment. Organizers who stayed in hotels near the protest packed up their things and moved out. Many in the crowd were crying, and others, who had never been to a protest before, expressed their disbelief in the tactics police were using.

“I can’t believe this,” one protester said to himself as he dug his car out of a large snow pile, after being parked in downtown Ottawa for three weeks.

He did not honk his horn.

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