OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Ottawa’s police chief resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his department’s inaction against the trucker protests that have paralyzed Canada’s capital for over two weeks, a federal government official said.
A judge on Friday ordered an end to the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Sunday acknowledged the resolution to the bridge demonstration, which it said had “widespread damaging impacts” on the “lives and livelihoods of people” on both sides of the border.
The Windsor protest began to dwindle Saturday after police persuaded many protesters to remove vehicles blocking the road to the bridge. But in Ottawa, Saturday’s crowd swelled to what police said were 4,000 demonstrators, and a counter-protest of frustrated Ottawa residents attempting to block the convoy of trucks from entering downtown emerged Sunday.
Clayton Goodwin, a 45-year-old military veteran who was among the counterprotesters, said it was time for residents to stand up against the protesters.
“I’m horrified that other veterans would be down there co-opting my flag, co-opting my service,” said Goodwin, who is the CEO of the Veterans Accountability Commission, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It’s a grift. The city was free. We’re 92% vaccinated. We’re ready to support our businesses.”
Colleen Sinclair, another counterprotester, said the demonstrators have had their say and need to move on — with the police force, if necessary.
“They’re occupiers,” she said. “This is domestic terrorism and we want you out of our city. Go home.”
Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military but has said: “all options are on the table” to end the protests. Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they can’t order police what to do.
Major-General Steve Boivin, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said Sunday that two of his special forces soldiers were supporting the protests in Ottawa and were in the “process of being released” from service. Boivin said the activity goes against the military’s values and ethics.
The bumper-to-demonstration by hundreds of truck drivers against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions — and the failure of Police Chief Peter Sloly to break the siege early on — have infuriated many Ottawa residents.
The government official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked extraordinary emergency powers to try to end the occupation there and elsewhere around the country. Across Canada and beyond, the question in the coming days will be whether it will work.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said it is time for police to begin using their broad authority conferred under Canada’s Emergencies Act, which allows the government to ban the blockades and begin towing away trucks.
“We need law enforcement to take the reins, to utilize the Emergencies Act, and to enforce,” he said late Monday after Trudeau announced he was invoking the law. “We have given new powers to police and we need them to do the job now.”
Government leaders have not indicated when or where the crackdowns on the self-styled Freedom Convoy would begin. Mendicino said they were still working out the final details on where the prohibited zones will be.
The government will be able to ban blockades at border crossings, airports, and in Ottawa; freeze truckers’ personal and corporate bank accounts and suspend their licenses; and target crowd-funding sites that are being used to support the blockades.
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It also can force tow trucks to move the big rigs out of intersections and neighborhoods. Up to now, some towing companies have been reluctant to cooperate because of their support for the truckers or fears of violence.
Since late January, protesters in trucks and other vehicles have jammed the streets of the capital and obstructed border crossings, decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 precautions and condemning Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Trudeau’s decision came amid growing frustration with government inaction and a day after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 11 people at the blockaded border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, opposite Montana, and seized a cache of guns and ammunition.
“What the operation revealed is that you got a very small, hardened core driven by ideology,” Mendicino said.
The public safety minister said the nation can no longer tolerate disruptions and threats.
“We have been fortunate thus far there has not been mass violence,” he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province includes Ottawa and Windsor, the site of a now-disbanded blockade at the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, said: “Hopefully the police in the next few days, hopefully, sooner, can move.”
Ford said the siege in Ottawa is complicated by the presence of children in the protest. “They have kids there. We don’t want anything to happen to kids. Bring your kids home,” he said.
The busiest and most important border crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, was reopened on Sunday after police arrested dozens of demonstrators. The nearly week-long siege had disrupted auto production in both countries.
Authorities also said traffic was moving again at the Pacific Highway border crossing south of Vancouver. The Mounties said officers ordered demonstrators out late Monday and several were arrested.
One of the protest organizers in the capital vowed on Monday not to back down in the face of pressure from the government. “There are no threats that will frighten us. We will hold the line,” Tamara Lich said.
The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists in Canada and have been cheered on in the U.S. by Fox News personalities and conservatives such as Donald Trump.
Over the past weeks, authorities have hesitated to move against the protesters, citing in some cases a lack of manpower and fears of violence.
The demonstrations have inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. U.S. authorities have said that truck convoys may be in the works in the United States.
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Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press writer Ted Shaffrey in Ottawa, Ontario contributed to this report.