OTTAWA — Police clashed with antigovernment protesters in Ottawa on Saturday, pushing deeper into the national capital and closing in on the heart of the site where they have been encamped since late January.
The second day of the massive police enforcement effort comes as members of parliament resumed debating the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in a bit 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.
Police moved towards the protesters swinging batons at them, while the crowd pushed back amid shouts of “shame” and “freedom.”
Police later tweeted that they had arrested protesters wearing body armour and carrying “smoke grenades and miscellaneous fireworks,” noting more were found in a nearby vehicle.
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.
The clashes occurred after police issued warnings to protesters to clear the area and appeared to have made some arrests.
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 was gas launched by the police or the protesters.
It 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.
In the nearby 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.
“When I look at the role that the police have played over the last few days, you know 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.
Angus said an inquiry is 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.
He called the leaders of the protest “racists” who belong in the “crowbar hotel.”
“We cannot be made to look like a failed state to the world,” he said.
The debate was begun 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.
Meanwhile, some of the protest’s most high-rofile organizers prepared to face charges in an Ottawa courtroom following their arrests in recent days.
This includes Pat King, one of the leading figures behind the Parliament Hill protest, who Ottawa police said was arrested on Friday.
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., livestreamed his own arrest on Facebook Friday.
He 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.
King, Lich and other organizers of the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ 2022 protests also saw a temporary freeze to their bank accounts — including Bitcoin and cryptocurrency funds — following an Ontario Superior Court ruling on Thursday.
Police say at least 21 vehicles were towed Friday as hundreds of officers — some of them on horseback — fanned out across the area to take back the streets from the hundreds of big rigs and trucks idling there.
The well-coordinated police action began peacefully on Friday, but tensions escalated as the day wore on with police accusing protesters of assaulting officers, trying to take their weapons, and in one case throwing a bicycle at a police horse. Some protesters claimed they were assaulted by officers.
Ottawa police interim chief Steve Bell told a Friday evening news conference that clearing the area would take time, but the operation was “deliberate and methodical” and police were in control on the ground.
He said no serious injuries had been reported, and those arrested had been charged with various offences including mischief, adding that police were still urging demonstrators to leave peacefully.