Canadian police smashed yesterday the windows of vehicles abandoned in the downtown core of the capital to search and tow them away, and city workers cleaned up trash after two days of stand-offs and 191 arrests ended a three-week occupation of Ottawa.
Demonstrators had used hundreds of trucks and vehicles to block the city centre since January 28, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke rarely used emergency powers.
Fifty-seven vehicles had been towed by midday, police said.
The streets of Canada’s capital were quiet for the first time in three weeks after a massive police operation ended a drawn-out siege over coronavirus (Covid-19) health rules.
The last few protesters stayed late into Saturday night, singing 80s protest anthems and setting off fireworks at a 4m-high (13’) security fence erected around the parliamentary precinct.
However, the last gasp protest-turned-street-party fizzled as a deep freeze gripped the city.
Police were manning checkpoints in the morning yesterday, restricting access to a 500-acre downtown area, while a sizeable force remained on standby to defend the ground reclaimed from the truckers.
An AFP journalist saw only a handful of protesters in the area, testing the perimeter.
Ottawa police issued a reminder that the core area remains off-limits except to local residents and workers.
Police tweeted midmorning that two people had just been arrested – and a total of 191 since police moved in on Friday.
Meanwhile, crews took down the last tents, food stands and other makeshift structures erected by demonstrators, and cleared heaps of snow from streets in preparation for a reopening of local businesses.
And for the first time in weeks, Ottawa residents were not startled awake by the incessant honking that had become a staple of the protests.
One resident said that he felt relief.
“We seem to have gotten over the hump,” Ottawa resident Tim Abray told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
However, the communications consultant said the political division will not go away so easily.
Refusing to admit defeat after being dislodged, many protesters told AFP that they would keep pressing their cause.
The few stragglers yesterday began packing up a logistics depot the so-called “Freedom Convoy” set up in a parking lot near the highway to supply the protesters camped several kilometres away in front of parliament.
“We were running support for the convoy and the people in the downtown core – food, fuel, basic necessities,” said Winton Marchant, a retired firefighter from Windsor, Ontario. “This was the base camp and we are cleaning up.”
Although pandemic health rules in Canada have eased as case numbers trend downward, protesters have vowed to press for a full lifting of restrictions, which have been among the world’s strictest.
Trudeau’s government is meanwhile facing a lawsuit from a civil liberties group and pushback from political rivals over the decision to invoke rarely-used emergency powers to crack down on the unlawful protests.
This is despite polls showing Canadians, once sympathetic to the trucker-led movement, have turned against them.
Trudeau himself kept his distance as the police operation unfolded, refraining from public comment.
The convoy began a month ago as a protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to cross the US border.
It has inspired copycats in other countries, with Washington girding for a possible trucker protest to coincide with next week’s State of the Union address.
The Canada convoy triggered economically damaging blockades at the US border, which police cleared a week ago.
Dozens there were arrested, including at least three protest leaders, while C$32mn in donations and bank accounts linked to the trucker movement were frozen.
Protesters who were filmed by police and have since left the city will be held to account, Ottawa’s Interim Chief of Police Steve Bell said on Saturday.
“We will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges ... this investigation will go on for months to come,” the official warned.
Flowers and a flag hang on a barrier fence near Ottawa’s Parliament Hill.