Ottawa, February 18: Ottawa police made several arrests Thursday evening on Parliament Hill as hundreds of ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters continued to ignore demands they leave the city’s downtown area.
Reporters on the ground witnessed several people on Parliament Hill being put in handcuffs by police, including convoy organizers Chris Barber and Tamara Lich.
Fellow organizer Pat King confirmed Barber had been arrested. A lawyer representing some of the convoy’s organizers confirmed on Twitter that Lich had been detained.
Barber and Lich will face charges of mischief and counseling to commit mischief.
In video footage posted online of Lich being arrested, she can be heard telling the remaining protesters to “hold the line.”
Despite the arrests, many protesters continued to dance in the snow while blasting music as dozens of rigs remained parked in the area.
Protesters have camped out since the end of January on Wellington Street, where Parliament is located, and in surrounding neighborhoods to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions. In spite of recent court injunctions that were obtained to silence truck horns downtown, many continue to blare their horns.
Large numbers of police officers in yellow vests were seen Wednesday and earlier Thursday handing leaflets to protesters, warning them to leave or face the risk of arrest.
The arrests began hours after the city’s interim police chief warned Thursday afternoon that action to remove “Freedom Convoy” demonstrators was “imminent.”
Speaking at a press conference, Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell, who replaced former police chief Peter Sloly this week following his resignation, urged protesters to leave the downtown area.
“We want to end this unlawful protest peacefully and safely,” Bell said.
Bell said police from different parts of Ontario and Quebec, as well as the RCMP, have joined Ottawa officers and they are “absolutely committed” to ending the protest.
The city is preparing for its fourth straight weekend of demonstrations, as Environment Canada warns of a winter storm in the Ottawa area, with between 20 and 30 centimeters of snow expected by Friday morning.
Workers have installed new fencing around Parliament to harden the perimeter and police say actions to remove demonstrators and move vehicles that have now been blocking city streets for nearly three weeks will happen over the next couple days.
However, Bell maintained that the upcoming weekend in Ottawa will not look like previous ones.
Bell said there will be a secure area with over 100 checkpoints to make sure only those working and living in the downtown core will be allowed in, as well as those with a “lawful reason” to be in the area, such as a doctor’s appointment.
The latest police warnings and arrests come following the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act on Monday, marking the first time it has been used since becoming law in 1988.
Under the act, police say anyone coming to Ottawa to join the protests is breaking the law. However, many demonstrators refuse to leave even under the threat of losing their commercial licenses or having their vehicles seized.
Police, members of the federal government and other officials have commonly referred to the protests as an unlawful “occupation” and have warned protesters to go home or face severe consequences.
The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa urged parents on Wednesday to make “necessary alternate care arrangements” should they be separated from their children due to police actions as the Emergencies Act prohibits children from participating in the protests. Ottawa police have repeatedly mentioned the 100 or so children living in the trucks.
Meanwhile, a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of Ottawa residents has been expanded to include some businesses as plaintiffs and is now seeking $306 million from not only truckers but donors and others.