Cleanup crews replace protesters in downtown Ottawa as heavy police presence remains

The snowy streets of downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill will likely remain off-limits to vehicles for the near future as Ottawa police say they're working to ensure no further protesters return.

Police working to ensure 'nobody returns to occupy our streets again,' says Interim Ottawa police Chief

A lone protester stands draped in the Canadian flag at a temporary fence controlling access to streets near Parliament in Ottawa on Sunday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
  • Confederation Line LRT service resuming Monday morning.
  • Local police say businesses that closed during protests should now feel safe to reopen.
  • Police working to ensure protesters don't return to Ottawa streets, interim police chief Steve Bell says.
  • Hundreds of charges filed against protesters, with more than 200 personal and corporate accounts frozen.
  • SIU investigating two cases where police tried to clear protesters from Ottawa streets.
  • Police continue to warn people to avoid the downtown core.
  • Only Parliamentary staffers allowed north of Sparks Street.
  • Cleanup crews are removing garbage, signs left behind after protest.
  • Mayor Jim Watson suggests towed vehicles should be sold to help cover city's cost.

The snowy streets of downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill remain off-limits for the near future as Ottawa police say they're working to ensure no further protesters return.

Police officers and City of Ottawa cleanup crews are the few people who remain in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street, where thousands of  demonstrators rallying against COVID-19 mandates occupied the streets for more than three weeks, terrorizing some residents.

"We are deeply committed to the community healing that we know now needs to take place," interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

Over the next several days, Bell said police will figure out how to maintain a presence in the downtown core "to make sure that nobody returns to occupy our streets again."

On Monday morning, police sent out social media reports advising people only parliamentary employees would be permitted north of Sparks Street between Elgin Street and Bay Street. Wellington Street, once the focal point of the protest, is closed to all traffic. 

There are approximately 100 police checkpoints surrounding the secured downtown area. Police say they are asking people for their reason for travelling within the area. 

Ottawa interim police Chief Steve Bell speaks to reporters during a press conference in Ottawa on Sunday. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Part of that concern stems from reports some members of the convoy have regrouped outside the city. More than 50 vehicles were seen this weekend at Herb's Truck Stop in Vankleek Hill, Ont., less than 100 kilometres from downtown Ottawa. 

Bell did not say when downtown roads would reopen to residents or whether vehicle traffic would be barred from Wellington Street indefinitely.

By Sunday morning, officers had fenced off the area immediately surrounding the Parliamentary Precinct, where protesters had been entrenched since late January, until a series of police advances throughout the day Saturday pushed the crowd first west, then south, away from Parliament Hill.

Late last week, they set up a secure area stretching from Bronson Avenue to the Rideau Canal, and from the Queensway to Parliament Hill.

WATCH | What Ottawa looks like Sunday after blockades, protesters cleared: 

What Ottawa looks like Sunday after blockades, protesters cleared

1 year ago
Duration 5:43
Streets in downtown Ottawa are quieter after a massive police operation cleared protesters and convoy trucks demonstrating for weeks in the city's core. Ottawa Police Service says it would maintain a police presence and continue to identify and charge protesters.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents part of Ottawa's downtown, told CBC News that it was a "sigh of relief" to see police making progress, saying residents are "cautiously optimistic."

"Now we're just ensuring the residential areas in and around where this occurred continue to be free of sympathizers to this illegal occupation coming back to the area," McKenney said.

Police continue to tell people to avoid the downtown core and warn residents who have vehicles parked between Metcalfe and Bay streets and Albert and Gloucester streets to move their vehicles or risk being towed.

Only parliamentary staffers are currently allowed north of Sparks Street.

"It's bizarre how quiet it is," said Tyler Mercier, who was out walking with his partner Maria Barrett-Morris and their children Sunday for the first time since the occupation took hold.

"It's been frightening," said Barrett-Morris. "We haven't allowed them to be outdoors [or to walk] home from school alone. We've had to get them again."

Around 50 vehicles could be seen at Herb's Truck Stop in Vankleek Hill, Ont., east of Ottawa, on Sunday. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

Slow return to normalcy

Police have opened up Rideau Street at Sussex Drive, but it remains closed westbound at Dalhousie Street. Mackenzie Avenue southbound, Sussex Drive northbound and Colonel By Drive are open to pedestrian and vehicle traffic, police said. 

Businesses that closed in that area should now feel safe to reopen, Ottawa police said.

The force also asked people Sunday evening to to avoid a small demonstration happening near the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and Booth Street, one where children were in attendance.

Fifteen bus routes serving downtown are now free of charge and will stay that way until 30 days after Ottawa's state of emergency is lifted, OC Transpo announced Sunday.

For now, however, bus routes serving downtown remain on detour. The free rides also apply to Para Transpo trips to and from Rideau-Vanier and Somerset wards.

Starting Monday morning, LRT service will resume along the entire length of the Confederation Line, according to a memo from transit services general manager Renée Amilcar.

The City of Ottawa is warning that any communications that appear to come from the city involving financial compensation over the convoy protests are not authentic.

Dozens of commercial, passenger vehicles seized, towed

By Sunday afternoon, police announced they had made 191 arrests and laid 389 charges against 103 people.

The charges include obstructing police, disobeying a court order, mischief, assault, possessing a weapon and assaulting a police officer.

Bell said in one instance, a protester tried to take an officer's Taser.

Eighty-nine people arrested had been released on bail conditions that include being prohibited from going within a certain area of the protests. Others were released without any conditions.

Police also towed 79 vehicles related to the protest. The vehicles include heavy trucks, pickup trucks and cars. 

Twelve Ontario licence plates and 24 out-of-province plates have also been seized, said Chris Harkins, deputy commissioner for the Ontario Provincial Police.

Harkins said Sunday that the Ministry of Transportation had also taken action against 36 commercial vehicles. Thirteen of those were registered in Ontario, he said, with the others registered outside the province.

Emergencies Act spurs tense debate

MPs debated in the House of Commons all weekend, ahead of a vote on whether to ratify use of the Emergencies Act. Debate continued Monday morning, ahead of an evening vote. 

Part of the act allows Canadian financial institutions to temporarily cease providing financial services if it suspects an account is being used to further the illegal blockades and occupations.

The RCMP says to date, 206 personal and corporate bank accounts have been frozen.

"We're hearing very clearly from the law enforcement community that the tools they had available to them were insufficient to respond," Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told CBC News earlier in the day. "We provided additional supports, and it's having the positive effect of bringing this matter to a peaceful end."

But there are questions about whether the measures taken by police have been truly peaceful, with officers in riot gear using batons and anti-riot weapons to disperse the crowds — prompting Ontario's police watchdog to get involved.

On Saturday, officers, including members of the Ontario Provincial Police, Sûreté du Quebec, Toronto's public order unit and Durham Region in Ontario, began using pepper spray at about noon in response to what the Ottawa Police Service called "assaultive behaviour" from protesters. By about 7:30 p.m., Ottawa police said officers were using "mid-range impact weapons" in response to assaults from protesters.

WATCH | Ottawa police use chemical irritant during Saturday confrontation: 

Ottawa police use chemical irritant as they confront protesters

1 year ago
Duration 3:14
Police in downtown Ottawa used chemical irritant Saturday afternoon as they pushed through the main protest encampment.

On Sunday, the Special Investigations Unit said it was investigating two incidents that occurred on Friday and Saturday, when officers were clearing the streets.

One involved a 49-year-old woman who reported a serious injury after an interaction with a Toronto police officer on horseback, and the other stems from officers discharging Anti-Riot Weapon Enfields at people near Sparks Street and Bank Street.

Police said vehicles will be impounded for seven days, but Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Saturday he would like the impounded vehicles to be sold to help the city recover the costs of the occupation.

Watson told CBC News that the city has the power to do so from the Emergencies Act, which was invoked by the federal government last week.

Few people can be seen on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill on Sunday, a significant change from previous weekends, as police continue to clear the downtown core of protesters and vehicles. (Ellen Mauro/CBC)

Police action downtown convinced at least some protesters at the other major protest site — the semi-permanent camp at the Coventry Road parking lot — to pack up and leave.

Tents and other structures at the site were dismantled over the course of several hours on Saturday afternoon, despite no visible police presence in the area.

Approximately two dozen vehicles remained in the parking lot on Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, police were delivering notices containing a list of potential offences that could lead to trespassing charges to those who remained.

Officers started to move in just before 5 p.m.

Top convoy organizers charged

On Sunday, police announced various charges against Tyson George Billings, 44, from High Prairie, Alta. He's facing one count each of mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to disobey a court order, obstructing police and counselling to obstruct police.

Three top convoy organizers are all facing similar charges, including western separatist Tamara Lich, Saskatchewan trucker Chris Barber and Alberta resident Pat King. Former RCMP officer Daniel Bulford was also arrested late last week.

The organizers are some of those named in a proposed class-action lawsuit seeking $306 million that has been expanded to include a wider geographic area, as well as workers and businesses. 

WATCH | Ottawa resident says locals were 'suffering' under convoy occupation: 

Ottawa resident says locals were 'suffering' under convoy occupation

1 year ago
Duration 12:30
Zexi Li, an Ottawa resident who helped launch a class-action lawsuit against the convoy organizers, says police action is long overdue as many residents have been in distress due to the protesters for days and weeks.

With files from Bobby Hristova, Denis Babin, and Rachelle Elsiufi