Ottawa police close in on final protesters, vow to hold all participants accountable
47 people arrested Saturday; more than 100 arrested during Friday's police action
- 47 people arrested so far on Saturday for a total of 170.
- 53 vehicles towed and 22 licence plates seized since Friday.
- Ottawa police have used pepper spray on what they call assaultive behaviour.
- Police say they deployed 'mid range impact weapons' after protesters assaulted officers with weapons.
- Police have cleared the main encampment site in front of Parliament Hill.
As police continued to regain parts of the downtown core from vaccine mandate protesters on Saturday, the interim Ottawa police chief vowed to hold all participants to account — even if it takes months.
Police in the nation's capital said on Saturday they had arrested 47 people, bringing the total to 170, and had towed 53 vehicles since Friday. They also said they seized 22 licence plates and suspended 11 commercial vehicle operator registrations.
On Saturday evening, police said on Twitter that protesters assaulted officers with weapons, "warranting the deployment of mid range impact weapons."
While some demonstrators left the area of their own accord, interim police Chief Steve Bell said police will pursue charges.
"If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges," he said.
"This investigation will go on for months to come ... we will hold people accountable for taking our streets over."
For the first time in more than three weeks, the area in front of Parliament Hill is clear of demonstrators.
A team of police officers from several forces across the country gained back Wellington Street from the protesters, clearing the crowd around the National War Memorial, herding them away from the Parliamentary Precinct and then down O'Connor Street, a south-running artery.
Another crowd was corralled near Wellington and Bank streets before getting pushed south.
"We're not going anywhere until you have your streets back," Bell said. "This occupation is over."
Pepper spray used on crowd
Officers faced jeers and profanity as they worked to clear the downtown.
Some of those arrested were in body armour and had smoke grenades and fireworks in their bags, police said.
Earlier they reported that they had used a device that created a large bang during their advance, while one protester had also "launched a gas canister" at police.
At one point, police retaliated against what they called "assaultive behaviour" and launched pepper spray into the crowd.
Given the increasing force, Ottawa police asked families to stay away from the demonstration. Under the new federal emergency powers, it's illegal to bring minors to the protest zone.
Police also reported recovering a dog left in a truck and handing it over to the Ottawa Humane Society.
The action got underway shortly after 9 a.m. ET, when a large number of police officers — some holding riot batons and wearing face shields — reformed a line they had held Friday night and advanced on the crowd. That tactic helped clear vehicles and protesters from a large stretch of Rideau Street throughout the previous day.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he's concerned as the crowd begins to bleed into more residential areas.
"I have been since Day One. That has been my number one preoccupation," he told CBC News Network on Saturday afternoon.
"The fact that we have more police officers tells me that we will have to put more of them in residential areas, because we pushed some of these yahoos out of the Parliamentary Precinct and we don't want to cause another problem in a residential neighbourhood."
Organizers call out 'brutality'
As police pushed forward, members of the crowd hurled expletives at the front-line officers. Not long after, the crowd erupted into a round of O Canada and chants of "freedom."
A statement from Freedom Convoy, one of the main organizing groups, called out what it described as police brutality.
"We have therefore asked our truckers to move from Parliament Hill to avoid further brutality," the statement said. "This has been communicated with Ottawa police and we hope that they will show judicious restraint."
Bell said police will review any allegations of excessive use of force.
For weeks, protesters have occupied the area in front of the Parliament Buildings and other side streets, setting up tents and even building a stage.
Residents of Ottawa have reported being harassed by protesters who have camped out on downtown streets, leading Ottawa police to set up a special phone number to report hate crimes.
"I don't think there's a lot of faith that's left in the city to protect its residents," said Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the convoy protest.
Ottawa police also appealed on Saturday for people to stop flooding its 911 line as a means to "express displeasure about the police action."
During the first week, the protesters honked incessantly at all hours of the day and set off fireworks near homes and businesses.
Police have repeatedly told protesters to leave or face possible arrest, as they seek to end anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations that have lasted more than three weeks.
Several big-rig trucks were seen pulling away from the protest site and driving south through Ottawa's downtown over the past two days. On Saturday, police said 87 vehicles on Kent Street and all of the trucks south of Queen Street have left.
There were noticeably fewer protesters on the streets early Saturday morning, whereas many more crowded onto the streets on Friday to slow the police line.
The Parliamentary Precinct is in a "hold and secure" situation — meaning the perimeter doors are locked — and MPs, who have resumed debate on the Emergencies Act, have been advised against leaving the building.
Ottawa police said they had arrested more than 100 people connected to the protests as of late Friday evening. On Saturday, police announced that another organizer, Pat King, is facing four criminal charges. Several other prominent figures within the convoy protest have also been arrested.